“Nothing ever happened,” he said, when asked for specifics about what might have occurred between him and his niece.
The girl’s mother, whose name is being withheld to protect the identity of the victim, said her daughter’s account is the truth. “There is no way he didn’t do it,” she said in an interview with The Times in which she described her daughter’s descriptions of abuse as “very specific.”
Heimlich’s assertion of his innocence is not likely to stop the questions that surround Oregon State and its baseball team. Questions that both Heimlich’s critics and his fans have been asking for months.
Should the fact he has fulfilled his court obligations be enough, or was the nature of the crime so egregious he should never be let back on the team?
What, now, to make of his denial and the insistence of the victim’s mother that it did occur?
And how does the victim’s enduring anguish figure into a quest for redemption and a new beginning?
The Past Goes Public
Last June, when The Oregonian first reported Heimlich’s guilty plea, it said he originally had faced two charges stemming from incidents between 2009 and 2011. The victim is the daughter of one of Heimlich’s older brothers. She has not been identified by name.
According to court records, the newspaper said, she told investigators that she was in Heimlich’s bedroom at his home south of Seattle when he pulled her underwear down and “touched her on both the inside and outside.” The Oregonian quoted the documents as saying, “She told him to stop, but he wouldn’t.”
As part of a plea deal, reached when Heimlich was 16, one of the charges was dropped and he was placed on two years’ probation, took court-ordered classes and had to register for five years as a Level 1 sex offender, a designation the state of Washington uses for someone considered of low risk to the community and unlikely to become a repeat offender.
Heimlich also had to write a letter apologizing to his niece.
Heimlich’s case might never have been made public if not for the fact that, years later, while pitching for Oregon State, he failed to update his whereabouts for a state registry of sex offenders, which led to a police citation, which in turn tipped reporters to his case.
Heimlich’s court records were sealed last August, two months after the first news stories broke. That month, five years after the date of his plea, he said, the records were expunged. He no longer has to register as a sex offender.
The news of the case roiled the Oregon State campus and made national headlines. Heimlich left the baseball team, saying he did not want to be a distraction. Other than a brief statement in which he said he had taken responsibility for his conduct as a teenager, he declined to comment.
Now, on Saturday, in the interviews with The Times, he spoke about what he called his “unique situation.” Asked about the critics who have demanded that Oregon State refuse to let him rejoin the team, he was succinct:
“I don’t have anything to tell them,” he said. “They can have their opinions of me. Ultimately the people around me know who I am. That is what matters. Everybody else can say what they want.”
The case, he said, is “a delicate family situation,” though he declined to go into the details.
Did he abuse his niece?
Heimlich insisted he did not.
“I always denied anything ever happened,” he said. “Even after I pled guilty, which was a decision me and my parents thought was the best option to move forward as a family. And after that, even when I was going through counseling and treatment, I maintained my innocence the whole time.”
There was no interaction with his niece that he could imagine would have been misinterpreted, he said, adding, “Nothing ever happened, so there is no incident to look back on.”
Heimlich had written an apology to the victim, but he now says he did so because “there were certain requirements when going through counseling that had to be done to finish.”
He suggested the idea that his niece would face aggressive questioning in a trial factored into his decision to plead guilty.
“Trials aren’t fun things and, as I said before, it is a delicate situation within a family,” he said. “We didn’t want to do anything to complicate things.”
Pleading out held the promise that, “five years from the date, everything would go back to normal.”
Heimlich said he was ready to play in the major leagues. After spending much of this season trying hard to “prove people wrong” with his pitching, he said that he is feeling comfortable again, both on the mound and off.
He said that he has talked to several big-league general managers, even to owners, and that he has been contacted by most teams.
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