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2012-05-31

Court cases charge child molestation

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

A Bandera County Grand Jury indicted an alleged child molester for a second time on Monday, May 21, while another pled 'no contest' to a similar charge on Friday, May 25.

According to a press release by the Bandera County Sheriff's Office, a grand jury indicted Lakehills resident Michael Paul Odom for aggravated sexual assault and sexual assault. Bonds had been preset at $35,000 for each charge. He bonded out of jail on Wednesday, May 23.

Deputy Matt Johnson arrested Odom, 35, at an RV park on Highway 16 South, on Tuesday, May 22. Grand juries had previously indicted Odom on sexual assault charges on March 28, 2011, and aggravated sexual assault on August 22, 2011. However, in a controversial decision, 216th District Attorney Bruce Curry dismissed charges against Odom in September 2011, citing, in the court documents, "newly discovered evidence."

At that time, the Bandera County Courier emailed Assistant District Attorney Steve Wadsworth and asked for clarification of the "newly discovered evidence." Wadsworth, who would have prosecuted the case(s), replied, "Not really. I am sorry."

Later, however, Beverly Hays, grandmother of one of the minor female victims, received an email from Wadsworth that indicated that the charge(s) would be re-presented to a future grand jury. According to Wadsworth, the dismissal came because the case had already been presented to a grand jury in 2003, and "more evidence was presented then and that grand jury no-billed it."

Wadsworth continued, "Our policy is that we do not re-present grand jury cases unless there is new evidence and there was none in this case.
Since the (second) grand jury did not have all of the evidence, we dismissed the case and will re-present it with all evidence being before this new grand jury."

When the cases were dismissed in September, law enforcement officers involved in the cold cases that had allegedly occurred in 2001 speculated that neither case would ever be brought before a grand jury again.

Although ultimately proven wrong, as was pointed out, "An indictment is a long way from a trial."

Sgt. Jose Baretto of the Bandera County Sheriff's Office served as lead investigator on the cold case that involved a 14-year-old girl who was babysitting Odom's stepchildren at the time of the alleged sexual assault.

Although the mother of the teenager filed a sexual assault complaint with the BCSO in 2001, the investigation went nowhere. As Barreto explained in an interview last fall, "The complaint was filed in June and the case was closed in July. Nothing seemed to have been done. There was no follow-up." According to Baretto, not even an interview with Odom exists in the slim investigatory file.

Knowing it would be difficult to prove his case after so much time, the veteran law enforcement officer had painstakingly unearthed and subpoenaed a series of similar complaints filed against Odom in the past decade. To build his case, Baretto needed to show a consistent behavioral pattern by Odom. "There was no forensic evidence so we needed to show a pattern," he explained.

None of the series of complaints ever saw the inside of a courtroom; however, the information concerning the purported sexual abuse of seven juveniles remain in the active case file.

Additionally, according to Baretto, Curry insisted that he also take to the grand jury a cold case that involved an alleged sexual assault by Odom against his then 7-year-old stepdaughter - a case Baretto said he was reluctant to take forward.
"After meeting with the DA, I expressed reservations about presenting this case along with the one involving the 14-year-old. I wanted my case to stand alone because, as I explained to the DA, I had not investigated the second case," Baretto said. He reiterated that he felt his primary case - the one involving the 14-year-old babysitter - should have stood alone.

"I only represent my victim. If we can get our case heard, everything else will come out," he added.
In another case involving a sexual assault of a minor female, Mark Aaron Wilhelm of Wharton's Dock Road, pled "no contest" to indecency with a child by contact. The child involved was his daughter who was 5 years old at the time of the sexual assault.

Although the assault occurred in September 2005, Wilhelm was not indicted for the sex crime until 2009.

While no contest is technically not an admission of guilt, judges typically treat a no contest plea as an admission of guilt and find the defendant guilty as charged, according to dictionary.law.com.

Wilhelm received two years deferred adjudication-probation, according to court records. He will also pay a $500 fine and court costs of $719, and do 200 hours of community service. Additionally, Wilhelm must register as a sex offender.

His ex-wife, Amy Jones, along with the couple's two children, was in the courtroom for the sentencing. Wilhelm will also be required to pay child support to Jones. His no contest plea is not subject to appeal. Had he been found guilty of the 2nd degree felony charge, Wilhelm could have faced a maximum of 20 years incarceration in the Texas Department of Corrections and fined a maximum of $10,000.

However, his judicial woes are not finished yet. Jones said that Wilhelm also faces five additional charges in Ector County that include aggravated sexual assault of a child, sexual assault of a child and continued aggravated sexual assault of a child.

Wilhelm is expected to receive 10 years of deferred adjudication-probation for those charges.

According to Jones, the sexual assaults against her daughter had occurred in Odessa while the couple's children were living with Wilhelm in Ector County.

Unhappy with what she considered the lenient sentences of her ex-husband, Jones said, "To me, it seems the case in Bandera County just fell through the cracks in the (judicial) system.

It's like he's walking free. He'll never see the inside of a jail for what he's done to these children."

Jones said her ex-husband was also prepared to plead guilty in the 216th Judicial Court last week. However, as a stipulation, Wilhelm wanted his 14-year-old son banned from the courtroom - a request presiding Judge Robert Barton refused. Accordingly, Wilhelm changed his plea from guilty to no contest.