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COA reverses child welfare molestation case

October 31, 2008

The Indiana Court of Appeals has tossed out the convictions and 106-year sentence of a former Hamilton County child welfare worker accused of molesting two boys, including an autistic boy who he'd mentored.

In a 19-page decision in Cory Heinzman v. State of Indiana, No. 29A04-0710-CR-553, the court ruled 2-1 to reverse and remand the case on its official misconduct aspect regarding one victim.

Heinzman was a Department of Child Services caseworker from 2002 until the accusations surfaced in May 2005. A then-13-year-old autistic boy's mother called a hospital to report that Heinzman had molested her son during an eight-month period, and another teenager came forward after that to make similar accusations. A jury in June 2007 found him guilty on 16 counts of official misconduct and various sexual offenses involving minors and acquitted him of four. Hamilton Superior Judge Daniel Pfleging sentenced him to 106½ years.

The appellate majority didn't find a clear error in the trial court's decision not to sever the trial and that no error existed by not changing venue. But the court found that Heinzman established prima facie error in his convictions of official misconduct regarding the autistic boy, as there was no evidence that he was performing any "official duties" when the offenses against that minor were committed.

Judge Nancy Vaidik dissented, writing a separate six-page opinion that says she'd affirm the convictions and that she departs from her colleagues on the question of whether Heinzman's crimes against that minor relate to the performance of official duties.

She determined the majority improperly reweighed evidence in reaching the result and that the jury believed Heinzman had continued working with the autistic boy's family in a manner related to his Child Protective Services employment throughout spring 2005 when those inappropriate interactions occurred. Checking on the boy's needs fit into those official responsibilities as a family case manager, the judge wrote.

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