Riems makes plea deal on patient abuse charges

SANDUSKY Faced with the possibility of being sentenced to a prison cell for 174 years, John Riems to
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

 

SANDUSKY

Faced with the possibility of being sentenced to a prison cell for 174 years, John Riems took a last-minute plea deal.

Using what's called an Alford plea, Riems pleaded guilty late Friday night to four counts of sexual battery and one count of gross sexual imposition.

For complete coverage of the Reims case, click HERE.

He was set to go to trial Tuesday.

An Alford plea allows a defendant to maintain his innocence, but forgo a trial and risk a harsher sentence, said Riems' attorney, Troy Wisehart.

Prosecutors and law enforcement investigators contend that Riems, a night shift supervisor and nurse at Concord Care and Rehabilitation Center in Perkins Township, sexually violated a 55-year-old male patient who could not speak.

Riems digitally penetrated the victims' rectums under the guise he was assisting them in removing fecal matter. But prosecutors and investigators say he did it for sexual gratification.

That single complaint led Riems to confess to sexually violating more than 100 nursing home patients during his 22-year career. He also provided investigators with a hand-written list of 23 victims.

Riems, 50, was indicted on 15 counts of rape, three counts of sexual battery, three counts of patient abuse, one count of gross sexual imposition and two counts of sexual penetration.

Erie County Common Pleas Judge Tygh Tone sentenced him to 12 1/2 years in prison -- a sentence that Erie County prosecutor Kevin Baxter and Riems' attorney agreed upon.

Riems, who wore an orange windbreaker over his green Erie County jail jump suit, told Tone prior to sentencing that he maintained his innocence.

"The people who know me know these things are not true," Riems said.

The case caused a furor locally when news of the allegations first broke almost a year ago to the day. TV news crews from Cleveland and Toledo converged on Sandusky for an initial press conference, but statewide media interest dwindled to zero in recent months.

Just two reporters were present for the plea hearing and sentencing.

Riems and his family members were split on whether they should take the case to trial or take the plea -- but Riems opted to take the deal to save his family from having to sit through a trial, Wisehart said.

"Some wanted to go to trial -- and I was in that camp -- and some wanted to minimize the damage," Wisehart said. "But ultimately he made the decision that he didn't want to put his family through it, minimize the damage, go on with life."

Several family members of the helpless victims spoke prior to the sentencing.

One woman, who was the daughter-in-law of one of the victims, told Riems "may what happened to our father never happen to your father or mother."

Another woman, whose sister's fiance was victimized by Riems, told him she worked in the nursing field for 30 years.

"I've seen a lot of things go on in the nursing home (setting), but nothing ever like this," she said. "My God. Help you, Mr. Riems."

Her voice rising and full of emotion, she called Riems a "disgrace" to the nursing field and the "human race."

An older man whose father was violated by Riems told him, "You are going to meet the Good Lord ... get straight with the Lord first and then get yourself fixed."

Riems was supported at Friday's hearing by a handful of people who appeared to be family members.

The case was by a no means a slam dunk, Baxter admitted after sentencing. Wisehart contended that Riems' confession was coerced by former Perkins police Det. Al Jenkins and Erie County Sheriff's Det. Jared Oliver. He also said the victims in the case had either died our could not communicate verbally. One victim, a former nurse, provided a videotaped deposition prior to her death stating she was never violated by Riems. Baxter said all those factored into the decision to work a plea deal in the case.

"The unfortunate part was we didn't have any cooberative evidence with his confession," Baxter said. "In fact it was borne out that two of the 23 victims he listed said it did not happen. They were really the only verbally communicative victims we had."

Wisehart told the victims that Riems maintained his innocence, a statement that caused one victim's family to laugh derisively.

"He didn't do this and your loved ones weren't hurt," Wisehart.

The lawyer called the case built against Riems "a perfect storm."

"His statements to police were not true," Wisehart said.

Jim Bilgin's father was one of Riems' victims. Asked after the hearing if he was satisfied with the 12 1/2 year sentence, he said: "You are never satisfied."