Michael Huizenga
Michael Huizenga

OTTAWA — A Continental man facing 11 sex-related charges is in Putnam County Common Pleas Court this week.

On March 20 of last year, Michael Huizenga, 51, was indicted by a grand jury on seven counts rape, all felonies of the first degree, and four counts gross sexual imposition, felonies of the third degree. Horrifically, the charges were levelled by a now 10-year-old family member, a young girl who asserts the abuse began on her third birthday.

According to testimony presented both Monday and Tuesday, during the first two days of a jury trial in the matter, the alleged abuse came to light in mid-March of last year. During class recess on the 13th day of the month, after engaging in what was described in various testimonies as a game, a prank, or a lie, the alleged victim — Jane Doe-D.O.B. 10-19-2009 — told her third-grade teacher that an adult male family member had engaged in inappropriate behavior of a sexual nature, had molested and raped her.

After eliciting preliminary details from the child, the teacher and a school administator reported Jane Doe’s account to Children’s Services in Putnam County. The ensuing investigation resulted in the 11 count indictment against Huizenga, charges Assistant Prosecutor Todd Schroeder referenced in his opening statement on Monday.

“An option would have been to charge him with dozens upon dozens upon dozens of crimes for each time (Jane Doe) would say that this abuse occured,” Schroeder told the seven men and five women of the jury. “We did not do that. We charged him in a way that’s incredibly fair to the defendant. We charged him with one count of rape for a calendar year of abuse; so ages four, age five, age six, age seven, age eight, and age nine.”

For its part, the defense took issue with the child’s account, referencing the “prank” the child played on her fellow students — a search for a non-existent magical ring Jane Doe claimed to have lost — that evolved into what Defense Attorney Charles Bates categorized as a lie that spawned more and more lies until the child’s teacher was forced to intervene.

“This is a case about how a picture is worth a thousand words, and how a thousand words from a child don’t make a clearer picture for the State of Ohio when you look at the whole picture,” Bates said in his opening statement. “You will hear that on that Tuesday, March 13, 2019, (Jane Doe) was out on the playground pulling what she later characterised as a prank on her friends. You will hear how she claimed to have lost a ring and had all her friends out looking for it ... You will learn that first (Jane Doe) was upset about getting caught in a lie, and then getting in trouble for getting her friends all upset. Which brings us to her, then, wanting to tell (her teacher) another story about what (the defendant) might have supposedly been doing to her. This story also got bigger and bigger as she told it again and again.”

Over the course of Monday and Tuesday, the first two days of the trial, the prosecution introduced witnesses running the gamut of local law enforcement, to a Toledo-based physician trained in child sexual abuse, to a polygraph examiner, as well as the wrenching testimony of the child herself; testimony recorded last January and presented to the jury on Monday.

Today, the prosecution will introduce its final witness; Cheryl Stauffer, a therapist employed at Van Wert Counseling Services, where she practices play therapy with children. Following her testimony, the prosecution is expected to rest its case, opening the opportunity for the defense to call its witnesses.

(Editor’s Note: The specifics of this case have been left intentionally vague, going so far as to conceal the identities of principal witnesses in the case: the child’s teacher, her parent and grandparents. This protects the identity of the ten-year-old child around whom this case has revolved, and permits the trial to move forward without increasing the potential for compromising its integrity. The prosecution will call another witness today, Wednesday, before bringing its case to a close, and defense hasn’t called a single witness. Once the jury has returned a verdict — an event all parties believe likely to occur today — the Sentinel will post online a comprehensive account of the trial and its outcome, as well as publish a full account in next week’s print edition.)