“In the end, this wasn’t a case of a parent and child, where a parent in a position of authority sexually abused or exploited their child. This was a situation where four siblings engaged in acts with their sister. I offered a 15-year prison sentence based on this ... it was a different relationship. And I made the decision not to send them to the DOC, to suspend the sentences. These two young men would’ve been eaten alive in the state prison system.”
— Webster County Prosecuting, Attorney Ben Berkstresser
Two Amish brothers, 22-year-old Aaron C.M. Schwartzand 18-year-old Petie C.M. Schwartz, plead guilty last week to two counts of third-degree child molestation with a child under the age of 14, a Class C felony, in connection with events last year and earlier this year when they and two of their younger brothers, both minors, engaged in sexual relations with their younger sister, who was only 12 and13 years old at the time of the alleged sexual acts.
Trial in the case was set for last Tuesday, Sept. 8, but prior to court proceedings, a plea agreement between the two brothers, their legal counsel, Springfield attorney Will Worsham,and Webster County Prosecuting Attorney Ben Berkstresser was reached, where the brothers received a 10-year sentence in the Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) on the first count and a five-year DOC sentence on the second count, with a suspended execution of sentence on both counts, meaning neither brother will initially serve time in a state prison.
Instead, both Aaron C.M. and Petie C.M. Schwartz will be on probation for five years, must complete the Missouri Sex Offender Treatment Program (MOSOP) by Sept. 8, 2021, must complete 100 hours of community service and each write an apology letter to Seymour’s Amish community within 30 days.
Both Schwartz brothers also must pay $250 to the Law Enforcement Restitution Fund (LERF), per the plea agreement, which provides funding to improve the operation of the sheriff’s department and the prosecutor’s office.
Berkstresser said Friday that he’s aware the punishment received by the brothers, who initially were each charged with six felony counts of statutory rape and one felony count of incest, will draw criticism from many in the Seymour area and southern Webster County.
“It needs to be noted that in this case, there were four brothers, two of them minors, while the other two legally are adults,” Berkstresser explained.
“All of them had sexual relations with their sister. There is no question this occurred.”
He noted that the older brothers, as well as members of the Amish community residing in rural Seymour, weren’t wanting to hire legal counsel. Berkstresser said he felt the brothers did need legal representation and helped connect them with Worsham, who previously had represented Amish clients in Webster County.
“In the end, this wasn’t a case of a parent and child, where a parent in a position of authority sexually abused or exploited their child,” he said. “This was a situation where four siblings engaged in acts with their sister. I offered a 15-year prison sentence based on this ... it was a different relationship.
And I made the decision not to send them to the DOC, to suspend the sentences.
“These two young men would’ve been eaten alive in the state prison system.”
Berkstresser said that both Aaron C.M. and Petie C.M. Schwartz will be registered sex offenders for life.
“Previously, I’ve been very harsh on the Amish when they’ve been charged with crimes of this nature,” he said.
“We had a previous case where a father committed sexual acts with his daughter, and he went to prison.
“In this instance, these two boys are very immature relative to their respective ages. Maturity wise, they are much younger than their age.”
He added that the victim, who is 13 years old, had a baby just two weeks ago.
“One of the brothers is the father of this child,” Berkstresser said.
“But within the Amish community that primarily lives in the Seymour area, (the Amish) don’t see the authority we have to do anything to them. This was a tough case to prosecute.
The Amish community was cooperative yet upset.
They made it clear to me that they had punished all four of the boys for their actions, and they made it clear that this punishment was very severe.”
In the end, Berkstresser said his office had to do its job and prosecute the case.
“There isn’t a question of what happened,” he said.
The alleged crimes were revealed on June 6 when, during the course of an investigation by the Webster County Sheriff’s Department, it was discovered that the victim, who had turned 13, was pregnant, Cpl. Ryan Wells said in a probable cause statement.
All four brothers, as well as their sister, resided on Short State Highway P, about six miles north of Seymour.
“The only reason we knew of this was because the sister got pregnant, and a doctor found out and hotlined it,” Berkstresser said.
Per Wells’ probable-cause statement, the 13-year-old girl disclosed to the doctor that she had been having sexual intercourse with four of her brothers.
Later, Aaron C.M. and Petie C.M. Schwartz admitted to Wells that they had engaged in sex with their younger sister on several occasions, described by Aaron C.M. Schwartz as “six times” and by Aaron C.M. Schwartz as “a half dozen” times.
Berkstresser said that as part of the plea agreement, the two brothers also must write a letter to him that must be completed in 30 days.
“Both young men must write a letter to me, explaining how they are going to protect their children from this happening to them,” Berkstresser said. “They have 30 days to get this letter to me.”
He added that he wants for the brothers’ 100 hours of community service to be served locally, preferably in the Seymour area.
Finally, Berkstresser said that if either brother doesn’t complete the court-ordered MOSOP by Sept. 8, 2021, there will be severe consequences.
“They will go to prison if the Missouri Sex Offender Treatment Program isn’t completed in a year,” he noted.
“This won’t be easy for either of them to do, but I’ll assure you they will face the consequences if the program isn’t completed.
“And that consequence will be prison.”
Presiding over last week’s trial was 30th Circuit Court Judge Michael O. Hendrickson.