I’m late to this party, but I hope that being on my honeymoon provides some excuse. Around the time I was enjoying watermelon champagne soup with my bride in this delightful seaside town, the Anchorage Daily News was reporting that Florida authorities have dropped a charge of child sexual battery against Bill Weimar, a former Alaska corrections magnate convicted of felonies in the federal probe into public corruption on the Last Frontier.
I used to evaluate child sexual cases for a living when I was an assistant district attorney for the State of Alaska. These are difficult cases that pose unusual challenges, and Lisa Demer’s article makes it look like the Florida prosecutors went all-out to make the charge stick against Weimar before dismissing it.
With my special knowledge of child sexual abuse prosecutions, I am not here to say that the Florida authorities blundered. Let’s review the pros and cons of the prosecution’s case as set out in the coverage provided by the Anchorage Daily News and uncovered by my own reporting.
The prosecution had a six-year-old girl’s statements to her mother and an investigator that she had performed fellatio on Weimar at his request. This crime allegedly occurred when the child’s mother left the girl in Weimar’s care while the mother went to the airport.
The Florida authorities also had the fact that Weimar went to Cuba and then Mexico after being questioned by investigators about the allegations but before he was charged, a trip that prosecutors would want to characterize as flight reflecting consciousness of guilt.
And the government might also have had the advantage of exploiting Weimar’s shady background. It’s not just Weimar’s status as a convicted felon that the prosecutors might have been able to get in front of a jury. The ex-tycoon and powerbroker had a reputation among his long-time associates for committing various crimes he has never been charged with. I hasten to point out that Weimar was never before suspected of child sexual abuse, even among the most disappointed of his former friends. But there was some possibility that the jury might conclude that the defendant was a bad man who needed to be punished for something.
“Bill Weimar is a horse rustler. I’ve seen him rustle horses all over the state,” an Alaskan who spent a lot with Weimar for years told me when the news of the child abuse case arose. “Now he’s charged with horse rustling again. I don’t know if he rustled this horse, but if they hang him for it they’ll be hanging a horse rustler.”
So those were the things that the prosecution had going for it, but they didn’t seem to be enough for the Florida authorities. The recognition that the case was lacking seemed to prompt the government to push hard to make it stronger. The Florida authorities trolled for other victims of Weimar by placing notices in Alaska and Seattle, where the multimillionaire also lived. The prosecution also arranged for a surreptitiously recorded telephone call of Weimar, but the law school graduate made no admissions of guilt.
There was no medical or physical evidence to corroborate the child’s allegations, according to a prosecution memo explaining the case’s dismissal reported by the Anchorage Daily News. Particularly in the age of jurors who regularly watch TV shows like CSI, the prosecution’s argument that fellatio will often not leave traces might not been enough.
But the potential problems for the prosecution at trial didn’t end there. The prosecution also faced a defense argument that Weimar’s jaunt across the Caribbean on his yacht was the moving up of a previously planned vacation, not the desperate flight of a fugitive conscious of his guilt.
And my reporting has shown that the prosecution might have also had to deal with a defense attack that the little girl was manipulated by a parent who could be portrayed as having a pre-existing bias against Weimar.
The reactions of various people showed the feelings often surrounding child abuse cases and underscored the differences between them and other kinds of crimes. The child’s father told the Anchorage Daily News that he was disappointed the prosecution had dropped the case but relieved that his daughter didn’t have to testify in court.
"Based on a single statement by a child, a man can be arrested on his vacation in Mexico, with helicopters, gunships, dogs, blacked-out Suburbans and machine guns,” Weimar’s lawyer told Alaska’s largest newspaper. "Thrown into a jail in Mexico, transported to the border, handed over to the U.S. marshals, brought to a jail in Texas, thrown into a holding cell for a week or two without being able to contact his lawyer or know what's going on, and then transported in a van across the country that took almost 2 1/2 weeks going from county to county."
Although Weimar’s attorney complained that his client lost his reputation and “a small fortune,” the former Alaska powerhouse is very relieved today and knows that he is a very lucky man. If Weimar had been convicted of the crime he was charged with, he probably would have died in prison.
(This blog post was particularly improved by suggestions from a fine editor named Theresa Philbrick, who now doubles as my wife. And unless something really big happens, you’ll have to wait until next week for my analyses of the current state of play in the cases of Vic Kohring and Pete Kott, including their motions to move their trials out of Anchorage.)