In Oklahoma, David Harold Earls, 64, has received a one-year jail sentence after raping a 4-year-old girl. The sentence has caused an outcry across the country and moves in the legislature to recall District Judge Thomas Bartheld, who gave Earls a twenty-year sentence with nineteen years suspended under a plea agreement between the prosecutors and defense counsel. He also fined Earls $1,000.
The allegations in McAlester, Oklahoma came to light in a conversation over the dinner table between the girl and her grandmother soon after the girl turned five. The mother said that she was uneasy about Earls, who liked to play with the children and even tried to look up his record. She did not see that Earls had an extensive record, including shooting a man, stabbing a woman or that he had spent over six years in prison. The mother allowed him to babysit and watch the children over three or four weekends. The mother had previously been the subject of an unfit ruling where the child was removed from her home as she took classes on being a parent.
The low plea was the creation of the prosecution and defense — not the court. Bartheld insists that he was locked into a plea agreement with the prosecution: “Some people think I could have given a different sentence, and I couldn’t. In any plea bargain, where there is a negotiated plea, the court can’t change it.”
The prosecution was faced with a serious problem. There was no forensic evidence and the child was not going to testify. While they gave a detailed affidavit, the children changed their story later. The daughter walked about the hearing room in the middle of her testimony and did not offer incriminating testimony to support the charges. The prosecutors could not show that she was fit to testify.
During the hearing, Earls’ attorney asked, “Do you remember what David Earls did?”
She said, “I don’t remember David Earls doing anything.
Under the circumstances, it would appear difficult to get a trial let alone a conviction when there is no forensic evidence and conflicting testimony from the victim. The prosecutors acted in what they insist was the best interests of the child.
There may be new charges. The daughter Earls has come forward to say that she was raped by her father when she was a child, here. Denise Earls, 43, calls her father “a monster.”
Since Earls was held in prison pending trial, he will only serve three months given his time served.
Earls reportedly has terminal cancer and has an estimated three years to live.
In the meantime, legislators are calling for the removal of District Judge Thomas Bartheld of Pittsburg County is now under fire, many saying he should be thrown off the bench. He is also being blamed for a ruling in an earlier notorious case in this small town. In 1995, Barheld awarded custody of a two-year-old boy to his grandfather, Don Luke, editor of the McAlester News-Capital, after the mother was found unfit. The boy later died from a skull fracture and the grandfather, the mother and the mother’s live-in boyfriend were charged with the boy’s death. However, I cannot see why this ruling was viewed as an abuse by the court. The grandfather was an established figure in the community and a close relative for the purposes of custody. Bartheld has a reputation for making tough evidentiary calls in criminal cases, including another case involving Erick Stachmus who is accused of murdering his wife.
Notably, recently Bartfeld was honored by the Pittsburg County Child Abuse Response Effort (PC-CARE), which includes advocacy for such child victims.
While this case has been highlighted by Bill O’Reilly and Geraldo Rivera, the accounts largely omit that fact that there was a virtual absence of admissible evidence. It is far easier to secure convictions on “The No Spin Zone” than in a court of law. More importantly, judges generally uphold plea agreements reached by the prosecution. If this case had gone to trial, Earls would probably have been acquitted or any conviction later thrown out on appeal.
For the story, click here.