Now that Oregon State won the College World Series, I've seen a fresh batch of stories on one of their star pitchers, Luke Heimlich. Heimlich was on the cover of Sports Illustrated recently and he's currently a hot topic on sports radio. Mr. Heimlich has been one of college baseball's best pitchers over the past couple of seasons. He led the nation in wins this season. He's also a convicted sex offender.
I heard of this story last year around this time, which also coincided with the end of the college baseball season. This is the short version of the story: when he was 15, Heimlich pleaded guilty to a felony count of molesting his six-year old niece. He maintains his innocence to this day and insists that the only reason he took a guilty plea is because he wanted to spare his niece from having to take a witness stand and testify and to spare his family the heartache that would necessarily ensue. Last year, when the story original broke, Heimlich decided to take a “leave of absence” during Oregon State's College World Series run. He was allowed to return to the team for his senior season and has been lights out this year (notwithstanding getting shelled in Game 1 of the CWS). From what I have read, Heimlich has first or second round talent, but he was bypassed in both last year's and this year's MLB draft, which, of course, is a result of his conviction and the potential PR fallout.
I am surprised that this information regarding Heimlich's case came out in the first place considering that he was charged and prosecuted as a juvenile. As per the SI article, “Washington state doesn't automatically seal juvenile records for certain crimes.” Here in Louisiana, that is not the case (with very, very rare exception). Juvenile records are almost never available to the general public. That a reporter from a major newspaper was able to obtain the entire record of Heimlich's juvenile case simply astounds me. Furthermore, juvenile records cannot be used to impeach a witness, and if a court wants to take a look at a defendant's juvenile record for sentencing purposes in Louisiana, it must make a written request to do so, and only then is entitled to an “abstract” containing the offense(s) for which a juvenile was adjudicated delinquent.
Furthermore, it is not unusual for a person to take a plea when they have not in fact committed the crime charged. The SI article quotes a juvenile defense lawyer and an assistant professor at Northwestern as recounting the following quote from a national columnist: “If you were absolutely innocent—as Heimlich contended—how many of you would plead guilty to felony child molestation simply to avoid trial? Thought so.” She then goes on to say “That's another instance where, if you're a practitioner in this world, you're ripping your hair out . . . I'm, like, Dude, this happens all the time.” She's right. People who are not guilty of the crimes alleged agree to plead guilty for all types of reasons. Perhaps they believe that the system will not work in their favor (which is often true). Perhaps they are afraid of an extended prison sentence. Perhaps they just want to get it behind them. Or, perhaps they want to spare the family the pain of a trial, as so claimed by Mr. Heimlich.
To be clear, I am not a “baseball person,” and I don't know shit about running a baseball team, whether it be in Little League or the big leagues. There has to be a major risk involved in signing Heimlich to a contract. More people know his story now and if he is signed by a big-league team, I can only imagine that the team would take a substantial PR hit. I have read that only one MLB team has expressed any interest whatsoever in signing him, that being the Kansas City Royals.
That's what I don't know. This is what I do know: everybody is entitled to write the story of their own redemption. If you don't want to read that story, that's on you. Sex offenses are the modern day “scarlet letter.” Sex offenders are generally excluded from polite society, prevented from living in many areas of their choosing, forced to obtain driver's licenses and/or license plates identifying them as sex offenders, and subject to a litany of other degrading and humiliating restrictions. This, despite a growing understanding and realization that the oft-repeated sex offender recidivism rate is flawed. By all accounts, Heimlich has done everything he was supposed to do after his guilty plea and his record is currently sealed as a result (and he no longer has to register as a sex offender). Note that this is why it is so important to have a good lawyer in these types of cases.
You can hate Luke Heimlich all you want. The crime to which he pleaded guilty was undoubtedly a heinous one. As a father to two young girls, it does not sit well with me at all. That's why if I were a GM of a big-league team I'd probably decide not to take the chance. But he's paid his debt. We, as a society, should not deny Mr. Heimlich and others in similar positions the ability to write their own stories or to travel as far as their talent will take them. Maybe Heimlich's future story will be written in professional baseball, maybe not. The only thing I can say is that I hope wherever life takes him, he becomes a productive member of society and rises above the infamy of his case. I am an unwaveringly strong believer in rehabilitation and second chances. I truly hope that everything works out for Heimlich (whether in baseball or not) and that his niece bears no lasting scars deriving from his (alleged) conduct.
These are obviously tough discussions, as many in the criminal justice arena are. If you need tough questions like these answered, contact the Law Office of Alex Kriksciun today!