Penalties paid, Heimlich ready to return for Beavers baseball
Oregon State's No 2-ranked baseball team opens its season Feb. 16 against New Mexico at Surprise, Arizona.
The Beavers are expected to send senior left-hander Luke Heimlich to the mound against the Lobos.
Eight months ago, that didn't seem likely.
Heimlich, the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year and the national ERA leader with an 11-1 record, withdrew from the OSU team before its Super Regional against Vanderbilt last June. He was not with the Beavers during their College World Series appearance, either. In a written statement to the media, he said he didn't want to be a distraction in the wake of reports in The Oregonian that, at age 16, he pleaded guilty to one count of felony child molestation.
The charge, brought forth by the ex-wife of Heimlich's brother and mother of his niece, was that Luke inappropriately touched the girl in a private area of her body at his family's home in Puyallup, Washington, at least twice when he was age 13 to 15 and she 4 to 6, from 2010-12. Heimlich pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced to two years probation, with the possibility of it being sealed from his record at the end of a five-year period.
(That has happened. Heimlich's court records were sealed on Aug. 28 in Pierce County Juvenile Court.)
Heimlich was near the end of his third season pitching for Oregon State when word of his juvenile adjudication was made public — nearly three years after his probationary term was over and little more than two months before the end of the five-year period.
If 16 or older, a juvenile offender in Washington must notify state officials of any address change through the five-year period in which he is registered as a sex offender. (The timeline is two years if the offender is 15 or younger. Heimlich had turned 16 by the time his case came to court in August 2012.) Heimlich gave notice of a couple of moves during his time in Corvallis. Shortly after his 21st birthday — Feb. 3, 2017 — he received a citation from Benton County for failure to re-register. Oregon officials had incorrectly determined him to be a resident of the state. Washington state rules do not require re-registration on a 21st birthday. Heimlich's attorney, Stephen Ensor, took the case to court, and the citation was dismissed.
In the interim, however, The Oregonian learned of Heimlich's case and printed a story on his legal situation, including a quote from the niece's mother saying she was "appalled " that Oregon State would have him on its team. (The newspaper did not name the mother to protect the identity of the child.)
The backlash was considerable. Heimlich was excoriated by many members of the media, locally and nationally, and by a portion of the public.
Heimlich received plenty of support, too, from people who felt he had paid his dues, or wondered about the veracity of the charges. Hundreds of friends and family members reached out to Oregon State President Ed Ray on Heimlich's behalf as, in effect, character witnesses.
On June 14, the day before the College World Series began, Ray released a statement in which he said he concurred with the decision for Heimlich not to participate in the national championship tournament. But, said Ray, "If Luke wishes to do so, I support him continuing his education at Oregon State and rejoining the baseball team next season."
Heimlich is back with Beaver baseball and is on target to earn his degree in communications and political science this summer. He carries a 3.3 GPA in college.
Heimlich and his family have chosen not to be quoted about his situation. But they recently provided the Portland Tribune with therapist reports and court records, which offer some information not previously made public. The Tribune also conducted interviews with Luke, his father, Mark Heimlich, his mother, Meridee Heimlich, and his sister, Faith Heimlich, who all gave perspective on Luke's life, and theirs together.
Many things have become evident, including that Luke has been steadfast in denying the allegations against him, from the time he first met with police officers in 2012 until today.
Among the things learned from the interviews:
• Luke is the seventh of eight children of Mark and Meridee Heimlich. It's a family of five boys and three girls.
Mark works as a construction manager for a residential home builder. Meridee is a social worker for "Step by Step," a nonprofit that helps single mothers find housing, jobs or educational opportunities.
Mark was an ordained pastor for CityGate Church Mission of Puyallup, a nondenominational Christian church, and volunteered as a chaplain for the local fire department and a nursing home. He remains an ordained pastor but is not conducting services and is no longer serving as a volunteer chaplain.
By various accounts, the Heimlichs are a religious family. All but one of the children (Luke's sister, Melissa) carry biblical names, including Joshua, Judah, Josiah, Caleb and Susanna. According to family members, they were raised with the power of prayer and the importance of a relationship with God.
Through high school, Luke was involved with his church youth group, at one point helping conduct Bible readings on a mission trip to Native American reservations in Eastern Washington. At Oregon State, he is part of a Bible study group, regularly attends church and is close to the church pastor.
All of the Heimlich children, including Luke, were home-schooled by their mother until high school. Luke graduated from Puyallup High in three years with a 3.75 grade-point average and was a member of the debate team there as well as the star of its baseball team. He enrolled at Oregon State early in the fall of 2014.
• Luke has five nephews and nieces, including two by his oldest brother, Josh. Josh was married for a few years to his ex-wife, who has moved out of state. Soon after their divorce, Josh was granted custody of their two children. The mother had visitation rights that allowed her to have the children with her over Christmas holidays and for a portion of the summer. It was during the summer of 2012 that she brought up the allegations of abuse to Josh after a discussion with their daughter.
Josh spoke with his father, who then had several talks with Luke. During each of the conversations, Luke denied the allegations.
From about 2010 to 2012, and after Josh's divorce, Meridee would watch his children at her home after school while he was at work. She would have them for an hour each morning before they'd go to school. She would pick up the kids from school and bring them home in the afternoon, and Josh would retrieve them after he got off work. During that time is when the alleged incidents involving Luke occurred.
Meridee was with the kids virtually the entire time and witnessed nothing involving the kids and Luke. During a large portion of that period, Luke participated on football, basketball and baseball teams that practiced during that time frame, so he was not often at home when Josh's kids were there.
Josh eventually went to the police about the matter. After interviews with the ex-wife and her daughter, two charges of abuse were levied against Luke.
• The parents retained an attorney on Luke's behalf. Luke continued to maintain his innocence.
In May 2012, Luke's sexual history was obtained via clinical interview and a sexual history polygraph conducted by Rick Minnich, chief examiner of Minnich Polygraph Services of Burien, Washington.
Minnich was prohibited from asking any question directly related to Luke's niece.
From the report:
"It was the opinion of Mr. Minnich that Luke was truthful when he answered 'no' to the following questions: 'Not to include (the niece), have you engaged in sexual conduct with any member of your family?' And, 'Not to include (the niece), have you engaged in sexual contact with anyone else more than two years younger than you?'"
Polygraph tests often are used to determine the veracity of suspects or witnesses, and to monitor criminal offenders on probation. Luke and his parents would have welcomed the opportunity for a polygraph asking questions directly related to his niece, but their attorney said polygraph results are inadmissible in Washington court, and he advised against asking Luke specific questions.
• The attorney outlined two choices to Luke and his parents.
Luke could plead not guilty but face the possibility of 40 weeks placement in a juvenile institution if found guilty of the charges.
If he were to plead guilty, his case would be reduced to one charge of "child molestation of the first degree," with probation for a maximum of two years. With that, he would agree to undergo juvenile sex offender treatment, which included a number of stipulations. Among them: complete a bi-weekly counseling program, comply with curfew restrictions approved by the probation officer, have no unsupervised internet access, have no contact with the niece, have no contact with any child born after Feb. 2, 1998, not possess or consume alcohol or any controlled substance except by doctor's prescription, register as a sex offender and write a letter of apology to the niece.
Luke's parents believed in his innocence. There were several issues, however.
The attorney led them to believe chances were strong that, if Luke fought the charges, he would be judged guilty by the court. The attorney expressed that view that the court system favors the testimony of the victim.
The only way to get into the two-year probationary program was with a guilty plea. If Luke contested the charges, the Heimlichs were led to believe the logical conclusion would be adjudication.
That would mean Luke's incarceration at a juvenile facility for nearly a year, causing him to miss a year of school and a season of baseball. His parents also were concerned that if Luke were found guilty, Josh might lose custody of his children to his ex-wife and that Mark and Meridee would lose the opportunity to be with their granddaughter.
Collectively, Luke and his parents decided a guilty plea was the best route. He could stay at home, attend school and lead a somewhat normal life. If he followed all the rules through the five-year period, his records would be sealed. The parents felt that path would be the quickest toward healing and recovery of the family. They were were concerned that, if Luke contested the charges, it would require aggressive questioning to break down their granddaughter's story. They weren't comfortable with putting her through that.
On Aug. 27, 2012, Luke pleaded guilty to the single charge.
• After his initial meeting with Luke and his parents prior to the court plea, his court-appointed therapist wrote a report that included the following:
"He has a very loving and supportive family who are very involved in their church. Luke has been involved in organized sports since a very early age and has many friends, who are positive influences in his life. There is no history of behavioral or emotional problems."
Also: "Luke adamantly denies all allegations against him, but has accepted a plea agreement from the prosecutor to amend his two counts of child molestation in the first degree to just one count. In the past, treatment providers have shown some reluctance to treat someone who denies guilt of the committing offense. However, research into juvenile sexual recidivism has shown that categorical denial by someone who has no history of delinquency is NOT a contributing risk factor for sexual recidivism … furthermore, there is at least one study that revealed those adolescents who denied their offenses were significantly LESS likely to reoffend sexually. … Luke appears to be at low risk for sexual recidivism in both the long term and the short term."
Also: "Luke has accepted a plea agreement and will be entering a guilty plea. Therefore risk assessment is conducted with the assumption of guilt even though the client does not actually admit to the allegations."
The therapist also wrote that Luke "will need assistance coping with the short- and long-term consequences to himself and to his family for being labeled and having to register as a sexual offender."
• The therapist issued periodic reports about his sessions with Luke.
On Nov. 21, 2012, he wrote: "Because Luke does not admit to committing the offense for which he has pled guilty, he is in individual therapy (instead of group) on a bi-weekly basis. … this writer has spent considerable time discussing with Luke the various reasons why juveniles deny committing a sexual offense that they are accused of. Luke becomes very emotional and tearful when discussing the effects of the whole situation on his family. He expresses feeling responsible even though he 'did nothing wrong.' …he is a very mature and well-rounded young man who does well academically, has a positive peer network and is actively involved in athletics. He has never been a behavior problem in the home or in the community … he is a very respectful young man who is making a good effort in treatment, despite his denial of the offense."
• On June 16, 2013, the therapist ended their sessions after nine months of treatment.
He noted that Luke "was court-ordered to write an apology letter (to his niece), which he was able to write from the position of someone guilty of the offense. His letter was written 'as if' he sexually abused his neice (sic)."
Also in the report: "Luke had no violations to his conditions of probation. He stayed active in high school and 'select' sports … he excelled academically … Luke was cooperative and compliant with the conditions of his probation and community safety plan. He was a model client.
"This provider is in no position to make a judgment on the subject of Luke's guilt or innocence. He pled guilty in court and was sentenced for that crime. He was given several opportunities throughout his treatment to admit to the crime, but he did not do so. He did, on multiple occasions, show tremendous guilt and responsibility for the impact this has had on his family. He expressed how, even though he knows he shouldn't feel responsible, he cannot help but feel responsible for how his parents and siblings are being affected.
"Even if Luke actually committed the offense for which he pled guilty, his recidivism risk remains very low. Compared to the average … client, significantly low. It is for this reason that I encourage Luke to pursue getting his registration requirement waived and his record sealed as soon as legally possible. For Luke, these consequences do nothing to protect the community and serve no other useful purpose than to create barriers to his future success, whether it be applying for jobs or applying for college/university admissions.
"Luke's continued denial that he committed the crime for which he pled guilty is not a risk factor for sexual recidivism. … This writer considers Luke to have completed his treatment and is discharging him from services."
• During his probationary period, Luke took three more polygraph tests in roughly six-month increments to determine whether he was compliant with the probationary rules set before him. He passed each time.
• On June 30, 2014, about 22 months after Luke's court date and shortly before he headed to Oregon State to begin his freshman year, Luke returned to court for a hearing that ended his probation.
The probation officer reported to the judge that Luke is "in full compliance … Luke has done everything that's been asked of him. Grades are excellent, and I have no concerns."
The judge addressed Luke: "I want to tell you how proud I am of you for completing the program so fast, and it's very impressive that you're ready to go to college. … it sounds like things are going well for you, and we expect great things. … congratulations. You deserve a big round of applause."
In the courtroom, Luke got one.
• On Aug. 28, 2017, Luke's record in juvenile court was sealed. He is no longer a registered sex offender. The restraining order on his nieces and nephews has been lifted. There are no restrictions on what he can do with his life. He is able to fully participate in all family activities.
• During the five years following Luke's juvenile adjudication, however, he felt a great deal of guilt over problems created by the case. His nieces and nephews couldn't come to his parents' house when he was there. His brother Josh wouldn't come to the house. If Luke left for a baseball tournament on a weekend, the rest of the family could be together. He felt his situation brought tension to the family. During sessions with his therapist, Luke would sometimes get emotional, understanding the effect it had on his family.
The case negatively impacted Luke's relationship with Josh. They have seen each other at family weddings and on holidays, but haven't really talked in the five years-plus since then.
Luke's parents recognize the relationship between his sons has been damaged, but believe it will be repaired with time. Josh has followed Luke's progress in school and in baseball and asks his father about Luke when they speak.
Family members say Luke's relationship with the rest of the family is excellent. He is particularly close to younger brother Josiah, who considers Luke a role model. Luke also is close to Judah and to Faith, the latter doing her student teaching at a high school in the Puyallup area.
Faith and his parents have had many discussions with Luke about the situation with his niece, expressing unconditional love and support, giving him the opportunity to confide in them if there was anything he had hidden from them or the courts. Through two probationary officers, a reconciliation counselor, a mental health counselor, meetings with pastors and with his family, Luke was given many opportunities to change his story. He has always maintained his innocence of the charges.
• Through his probationary period, Luke expressed deep concern about the impact on the rest of his family, often checking with Faith and his mother to see if they were doing OK. It was never just about Luke, they say.
• Heimlich also has received much support from his coaches and teammates at Oregon State.
Before the Super Regional in Corvallis last June, a team meeting was held in which he spoke to the coaches and teammates about the situation. It was a shock to all, but he considered the reaction positive. He considers his teammates his brothers. He believes they know the real Luke Heimlich.
• Since the 2012 court proceedings, Luke's father has had experts of law tell him there were legal options he didn't know were available at the time. Had he known what he knows now, he likely would have sought a different attorney. Given the risks and the circumstances, if he could have accomplished that without putting his granddaughter through turmoil, he would have changed the decision to have Luke agree to a guilty plea.
Mark and Meridee Heimlich love Josh's daughter, who just turned 12 and is progressing nicely. She is doing well in school and sports and spends a good deal of time with her grandparents, as do the rest of their grandchildren.
Mark believes Luke has given him no reason to doubt his word. Luke's character, believes his father, has demonstrated he deserves that kind of faith.
• Luke Heimlich was not chosen in last June's Major League Baseball draft, a direct result of news of his juvenile sex adjudication. He hopes to earn his college degree and have a successful enough senior season to gain an opportunity to pursue a professional baseball career beginning this summer.
His juvenile record cleared, there is reason to believe that will happen. The pursuit of that will resume in a couple of weeks in Arizona.