“Well, the court ... Ben said he doesn’t have any restrictions, so that’s what we got from the court.”
— Petie C.M. Schwartz, 18, to probation officer Valerie Ritter in court testimony Thursday.
“The only difference (in the two letters) is that each of them has a different signature. They obviously don’t respect our courts.”
— Webster County Prosecuting Attorney Ben Berkstresser
Amish brothers Aaron C.M. and Petie C.M. Schwartz are headed to prison.
Last Thursday, 30th Circuit Court Judge Michael O. Hendrickson sent the two brothers, who are 22 and 18 years old, respectively, to a Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) facility for 15 years after each was found guilty of violating their terms of probation after previously receiving suspended sentences.
Under a plea agreement in September, the Schwartz brothers had been ordered to complete fi ve years’ probation, serving no time in a DOC prison, after pleading guilty 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 and 13 years old at the time of the alleged sexual acts.
In separate interviews in July with Cpl. Ryan Wells of the Webster County Sheriff’s Department, Aaron C.M., 22, and Petie C.M. Schwartz, 18, each admitted to having sexual intercourse with their teenage sister at least six times. Last month, their sister, now 13, gave birth to a child that was conceived because of the sexual acts between she and her four brothers.
A key component of the plea agreement was that the two brothers were to have no contact with the victim, their sister, and also write apology letters to the Amish community.
The brothers also were to complete the Missouri Sex Offenders Program (MOSOP) by Sept. 8, 2021, and complete 100 hours of community service. By doing this, their 15-year DOC prison sentences were suspended, per the plea agreement.
Hendrickson’s ruling Thursday afternoon determined that the brothers had violated the plea agreement.
Late last month, Berkstresser asked for a probation hearing, citing a report from a state probation offi cer that the two men had been in contact with their sister. Above that, Berkstresser alleged that the brothers had been in contact with their sister within three days of Sept. 8, which is when both men signed their probation agreements.
Appearing as Berkstresser’s first witness last Thursday was Valerie Ritter, the brothers’ probation officer, whose report said the two brothers moved into the family home with the victim, adding that each brother admitted that this had occurred.
In testimony Thursday, Ritter said Aaron C.M. Schwartz told her he thought “there were no restrictions,” and Petie C.M. Schwartz told her nearly the same thing, although each of the signed and received a copy of their plea agreements.
Per Ritter, Petie C.M. Schwartz said, “Well, the court ... Ben said he doesn’t have any restrictions, so that’s what we got from the court.”
The other violation cited by Berkstresser was that the letters of apology written by the brothers were identical.
“The only difference (in the letters) is that each of them has a different signature,” Berkstresser told the court.
He also asked the brothers if they had attended Amish church services, which are held in a home, since they had returned home after the plea agreement.
Both answered yes; however, each said they had done so in an excluded environment away from their sister.
Throughout Thursday’s hearing, the brothers only looked up when asked direct questions; otherwise, they kept their heads down with their black hats resting on their chests.
Berkstresser asked Hendrickson to revoke probation from each brother, asking that they be sent to the DOC.
“They obviously don’t respect our courts,” he said.
Will Worsham, a Springfield attorney representing the Schwartz brothers, said they were only guilty of a minor, technical violation and didn’t realize that they weren’t to be in contact with their sister.
He argued that although it was accurate that they moved back into the home, they were gone immediately after they learned they couldn’t be there.
After the hearing started at 3 p.m., a recess arrived less than 30 minutes later at 3:24 p.m.
At 3:53 p.m., Hendrickson returned to the courtroom and issued his verdict.
Berkstresser was asked for his final comments.
“I will let the court see deemed as fit,” he said.
Hendrickson then sent the brothers to prison, executing their respective 15-year DOC sentences.
After the ruling, the brothers were placed in handcuffs.
Both looked to members of the Amish community once they were handcuffed, visibly showing shock and surprise.
Quietly, each brother appeared to say “bye” to the members of the Amish community, which included their parents.
They were then escorted to a sheriff’s department vehicle and taken to the Webster County Jail, located on the northeast corner of the Marshfield square.
The alleged crimes, including the statutory rape of their sister, 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 just turned 13, was pregnant.
The four brothers, Aaron C.M., Petie C.M. and two who are deemed juveniles by the court, resided with their sister on Short State Highway P, about six miles northeast of Seymour.
Per Wells’ probable-cause statement submitted prior to felony charges being fi led in July, the 13-year-old girl had disclosed to a local doctor that she had been having sexual relations with four of her brothers.
Initially, Aaron C.M. and Petie C.M. Schwartz each were charged with six felony counts of statutory rape and one felony count of incest.
Only three media outlets were present at Thursday’s court hearing — a reporter from the Springfi eld News-Leader, a daily newspaper, a television station from Springfield and Anna Sturdefant from the Webster County Citizen. Courtroom occupancy was limited because of public-health concerns due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of Monday, it’s uncertain which DOC prison facility the brothers will be sentenced, as that destination, per court records, hasn’t yet been determined.