Georgia House Speaker David Ralston used his authority to delay a case for years, preventing a preacher who molested a 14-year-old girl in her home from receiving justice.
Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge, frequently told the court that he had pressing business that he needed to address in the state legislature. Because of a law that was on the books at the time, this allowed Ralston to delay the court proceedings for many years, shielding preacher Jason Brothers in the process.
Last week, Brothers pleaded guilty to two counts of felony sexual battery on a minor. He admitted to molesting the 14-year-old girl’s breast and vaginal areas while staying at her parents’ home after preaching in a nearby church.
Ralston filed at least eight case delays based on his supposed need to conduct legislative business, which helped elongate the trial for nearly six years. Brothers will serve no jail time as a part of a plea deal.
“As is often the case in criminal proceedings, the Brothers case was resolved by a negotiated plea agreed to by the District Attorney and my client and accepted in open court,” Ralston’s spokesman told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Brothers will be allowed to go back to his home state of Ohio and serve four years of probation, being given credit for the six years he has spent under house arrest while on trial. Enotah Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jeff Langley claims that this was the best that he could do, and Ralston’s questionable tactics made the case much more difficult to prosecute.
“The jury sees a 21-year-old woman, not that 14-year-old victim,” Langley said. “We were relying on witnesses remembering something that happened in 2012. That makes it difficult on prosecutors. It raises all those questions about how clear are memories.”
The victim and her family feels that a miscarriage of justice has taken place, and Ralston’s tactics are the likely reason why Brothers received such a lenient sentence for his crimes.
“Someone I knew and trusted invaded my body and soul,” said the victim, who is now 21 years of age, in court, “and in the process tearing me apart … Some days, I don’t even recognize myself or the person I have become as this trauma has shaped me into someone else.”
The victim now suffers from seizures, needs oxygen and a feeding tube, and has a severe thyroid problem with an iron deficiency. These complications have worsened after a suicide attempt resulting from the trauma related to Brothers’ assault against her. Her mother, Laurie Wilson, says the plea deal was accepted to spare her daughter the agony of a jury trial and possible series of appeals.
“I feel like he got just a slap on the wrist,” Wilson said. “I think that’s what all Ralston’s clients intend to get, which is why they hire him.”
Ralston’s legal tactics have helped another accused child predator to walk recently. Derek J. Key, another Ralston client, was accused of engaging in sexual misconduct with two 15-year-old boys a decade ago. Prosecutors dropped the case after the alleged victims stopped complying as the case lagged on.
The law that Ralston has used to stall cases has been amended in recent years. Judges can now deny these types of delays using a four-part test where the legislative duties are scrutinized. Ralston takes credit for the reform being put in place.
“Throughout this process, I have honored the two promises I made in February,” Ralston said in an email statement.
“First, that we would review the legislative leave law and make changes if necessary, and we did. Second, that I would not accept any new criminal cases until the four discussed in the media were resolved – the Brothers case being the last – and they have been,” he added.
Brothers was charged in 2013 with rape, statutory rape, two counts of aggravated child molestation, three counts of child molestation and simple assault. The preacher, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, allegedly asked the victim for a hug when she got up at night for a glass of water. When she hugged Brothers, that is when the vicious assault took place.
“I know in my heart that the charges on the paper will never compare to what he did to me that night,” she said, “but I hope after all this time I will finally be able to get some peace and move on with my life as a stronger person than I was before.”
Ten Georgia lawmakers have called on Ralston to resign from his post as a result of this scandal. He has no plans to give up his spot as House Speaker, a title he has held since 2010.
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