Convicted child molesters in Webster County avoid jail time

Prosecutor says lack of evidence led to lesser charges
Published: Sep. 22, 2020 at 7:44 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Two Webster County men convicted of child molestation won’t end up serving any time behind bars.

“This result is not the result that I would have ever wanted,” says Webster County Prosecutor Ben Berkstresser.

In June, a pregnant 13 year-old Amish girl living in Seymour sought medical treatment.

“They used an English doctor, not an Amish and there was a hotline call. We would have never known about it,” he said.

As a result, Petie and Aaron Schwartz, members of the Amish community, were each charged with six counts of statutory rape.

“I had to follow and go where the evidence would support me,” said Berkstresser.

He says proving those charges wouldn’t have been easy. Even though a detective says both Schwartz’s admitted to it.

“I can’t rely on something that was said or may have not been said at a different time. I can’t present a piece of paper, well here it is, now you have to convict him,” he explained.

He says he offered a plea deal for lesser charges of third degree child molestation because of lack of evidence and cooperation by everyone involved.

It was a decision that upset many in the Webster County community.

“Part of the misperception initially was that I cared about the defendants more than I cared about the victim and the family. That is not even close to the truth. The defendants and what they look like did not impact, in any way, the decision that I made with regard to charging or plea options in this case,” said Berkstresser.

We asked, “Are there different exceptions for the Amish community when it comes to prosecution?”

“No,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if they’re Amish, Presbyterian or Buddhist. Those things are irrelvant. I want them to contribute and adhere to the laws the way the rest of us do.”

Berkstresser says, it’s not always easy to hold the Amish accountable.

“It seems like they get by with things that other people don’t get by with. I feel that frustration. I’m trying to work against it. I’m trying to make it a fair and equal application of the law regardless of who you are. I didn’t like it. It angered me but I took the evidence as far as I could take it,” he said.

As part of the plea deal, the two men had to pay a fine, serve 100 hours of community service and write an apology letter to the Amish community. They will also have to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives.

If they violate probation they could serve 15 years in prison.

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