Ben Berkstresser is the Webster County, Missouri, prosecutor who is facing backlash after seeking a reduced sentence for two Amish brothers who admitted to sexually assaulting their younger sister over concerns they would be “eaten alive” in prison.
Aaron Schwartz, 22, and Petie Schwartz, 18, of Seymour, Missouri, admitted in Septemberto police “that they had engaged in sex with their younger sister on several occasions” in 2019 and early 2020, according to the Webster County Citizen. She had been 12 and 13 at the times of the abuse.
Berkstresser reduced their initial charges of six counts of statutory rape and one count of incest to third-degree child molestation, a Class C felony, the outlet continued. The original plea deal of 15 years in prison was also suspended over the prosecutor’s fear that they would not survive the state prison system, the Webster County Citizen reported.
“These two young men would’ve been eaten alive,” Berkstresser expressed to the newspaper.
According to the Webster County Citizen, “the brothers received a 10-year sentence in the Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) on the first count and a five-year DOC sentence on the second count, with a suspended execution of sentence on both counts.”
Both brothers will be on probation for five years and must complete the Missouri Sex Offender Treatment Program (MOSOP) by September 8 of next year, the Webster County Citizen reported.
Here’s what you need to know about Ben Berkstresser:
1. Berkstresser Is Now Seeking to Revoke the Brothers’ Probation
On Thursday, Berkstresser sought to revoke the Schwartz brothers’ probation after he claimed they both violated their requirements “by having contact with the victim of the crime, after signing the sex offender supervision agreement that prohibited contact with the victim,” the Springfield News-Leader reported.
The violation took place “with the victim at her residence,” the outlet added.
Neither Aaron nor Petie Schwartz are currently in custody “as of right now,” according to the Springfield News-Leader, citing a Webster County Sheriff’s Office representative.
2. An Online Petition Calling for Berkstresser’s Resignation Has Garnered Over 3,000 Signatures
— Jacqui Fanatia (@JFanatia) September 22, 2020
A Change.org petition calling for the prosecutor’s immediate resignation was created by a person named Sam Duffy and addressed to U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, as well as others.
The petition, asking for 5,000 signatures, claims Berkstresser’s decision surrounding the Amish brothers was a “mockery of our judicial system, writing:
Last week the victim’s brothers plead guilty, AARON CM SCWARTZ, 22, and PETIE CM SCHWARTZ, 18, received probation and 100 hours of community service from head prosecutor Ben Berkstresser. Not only is this sentence a mockery of our judicial system and a slap in the face to the community, but the victim will also have to live with shame, guilt, judgment by the church, depression, and a long list of unknown traumas.
So far, the petition has amassed over 3,000 signatures.
3. Berkstresser Has Worked as the Webster County Prosecuting Attorney for Almost 6 Years
Berkstresser has worked in his role as the prosecuting attorney for Webster County for almost six years, beginning in January 2015, according to his LinkedIn.
He previously worked as a “Member/Attorney” at Replogle and Berkstresser, LLC from November 2006 to December 2014, his page continues, as well as an attorney at Hosmer King & Royce, LLC for two years and 10 months.
Berkstresser received his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Tulsa College of Law in 2001 and a bachelor’s degree from Missouri State University in 1998, his LinkedIn states.
4. Berkstresser was ‘Raised on a Family Dairy Farm’ in a ‘Christian Home’
Berkstresser was “raised on a family dairy farm, in a Christian home,” according to his official prosecutor bio.
The website describes him as “not your typical attorney,” claiming he “understands the meaning of work ethic and traditional, American values.”
Berkstresser stresses that he wants criminals to “know they won’t get away with hurting others” and that county residents can rely on him to protect their rights, his biography continues.
5. Berkstresser Has 2 Young Boys With His Wife of Over 13 Years
According to his prosecuting attorney bio, Berkstresser shares two young boys, Henry, 6, and Sawyer, 3, with his wife Melissa of 14 years.
“Family matters,” he states on the website.
He also asserts that they “own” their home, so he knows that “property rights matter.”