An Idaho prosecuting attorney is drawing complaints for allowing child sex abuse suspects to escape serious punishment with plea deals considered to be too lenient by some members of the community he serves.
East Idaho News investigated some of those complaints and found Karl Lewies, the Fremont County prosecutor, had allowed men accused of raping and sexually abusing children to admit to less serious charges and avoid prison time and even skip sex offender registration.
Lewies refused to answer questions by email or phone about the plea agreements, and the prosecutor lashed out when East Idaho News reporter Nate Eaton confronted him for an explanation earlier this month at the courthouse.
“No, nothing I want to say,” Lewies said. “Not this style, Nate, not this style.”
Eaton reminded the prosecutor that he’s neglected to return phone calls and emails seeking comment, and the reporter told Lewies that he was investigating citizen complaints about his handling of sex abuse cases.
“I’d ask who they are,” Lewies said, before getting into an elevator to leave.
The prosecutor emailed the reporter hours later to complain that his actions in the courthouse were “appalling and unnecessary.”
The website investigated three cases that Lewies prosecuted, involving Timothy Greene, Keith Strawn and Cody Polatis.
Greene, a 46-year-old Ashton man, was accused of raping a 16-year-old friend of his daughter’s at his home on New Year’s Day.
Court documents show the girl was intoxicated and semiconscious during the assault, and Greene admitted to having oral and vaginal intercourse with the girl.
A DNA sample confirmed the sexual activity, and Greene was charged Feb. 25 with rape, which carried a maximum life sentence and possible $50,000 fine.
Greene told Judge Gregory Moeller during an Aug. 18 hearing that he didn’t “want to believe” he engaged in sex acts with the girl, but the evidence proved he did.
He said he was “very, very sorry,” but he denied that his behavior caused the girl “physical pain or mental suffering.”
“No, sir, I believe none of that happened,” Greene told the judge, who asked again if he thought he’d harmed the child. “No, sir.”
Moeller allowed Greene to enter an Alford plea, which allowed him to receive a penalty without admitting guilt, since he refused to accept full responsibility for his alleged crime.
That’s when Lewies agreed to drop that charge in exchange for a felony injury to a child charge, which carries a potential 10-year prison term and possible $50,000 fine.
Greene also won’t have to register as a sex offender.
In another case, Lewies recommended just 10 days in jail for another Ashton man, Keith Strawn, who took his pregnant 14-year-old daughter to Missouri to marry her 24-year-old rapist.
Court records show he allowed Aaron Seaton, who was convicted of rape and sentenced to 15 years in prison, to live with the family after impregnating the teen, who eventually had a miscarriage.
“If you get them pregnant, then you marry them,” Strawn told the court.
Strawn was charged with two counts felony injury to a child and one felony count of accessory to rape, but Lewiess agreed to drop one of the injury charges and the accessory charge.
Moeller, who was the judge in that case, as well, adamantly disagreed with the prosecutors recommendation and instead sentenced Strawn to a four-year suspended prison sentence and 120 days in jail.
In a third case, Lewies agreed to drop felony charges against a Salem man who repeatedly broke into a neighbor’s home, stole a teenage girl’s underwear valued at $1,300 and masturbated over her bed.
Cody Polatis, who became known as the “Sunday bandit” because he broke in while the family was at church, was originally charged with felony burglary, stalking and public display of offensive sexual material.
But Lewies offered a plea agreement that allowed Polatis, whose actions were captured by a hidden video camera, to admit to misdemeanor unlawful entry and stalking in exchange for dropping the other sexual material charge.
Judge Gilman Gardner sentenced the 21-year-old Polatis to 360 days in jail in October, but suspended all but 10 days of that term and placed him on four years of probation.
Polatis, had previously pleaded guilty to taking women’s clothing from Kmart in 2014, found himself back in front of Gardner in June, after he was accused of violating the terms of probation.
Gardner ordered him to serve 72 days in jail after Polatis admitted to breaking into a Madison County home in June, but he insisted he planned only to masturbate and leave — but not steal any clothing.
Lewies, who served two separate terms as Fremont County prosecutor, has consistently declined to explain his reasons for offering the plea deals.
But he won’t be serving as prosecutor much longer, after losing a Republican primary in May to newcomer Marcia Murdoch, a 2009 law school graduate and Fremont County school board member.
No Democrats or independents filed as candidates, so Murdoch will take over the job in January.