Walking with Nick

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Country confidence is something that is bred into folks who are raised in a rural community. This confidence comes from close family and neighbors whom many are relatives or relatives of friends. We are all brought up with the same values: hard work, faith in God and faith in community. This is the framework that guides us.

In these shared values we take great strength. We are puzzled by people in larger communities who seem to live in fear. They must live behind locked doors and must be ever so careful of neighbors they choose to have contact with.

Of course all communities must rely upon institutions: law enforcement, fire departments, hospitals and court systems. There is a difference though even in these institutions. In an urban setting you probably wouldn’t have personal connection to these officials. In a rural area these institutions are run by your family and neighbors. For example, a volunteer fire department versus a municipal fire department in the city.

Yes, country confidence allows us to live our lives free of fear in many ways. For we believe that if anything the deck is stacked in our favor. That is why it is puzzling that in times of trouble you are faced with problems which you struggle to cope with. Support you thought you were born with vanishes. From a local sheriff you know and have worked with failing in his duty to fully investigate an accident you are involved in. Even going so far as “accidently” destroying evidence, twice!

Then to a coroner who perhaps because of his self-confessed alcoholism, failed to determine the actual cause of death in a case involving a quadruple vehicular manslaughter charge.

To an assistant prosecutor who seemed to orchestrate the entire affair. One by being present at the scene and controlling the evidence he wished to be brought into the case. An example of which was not taking advantage of the highway patrol assistance to complete a scientific reconstruction when it was offered on the scene. Two by making statements to the press even after a gag order was put into place.

Finally, a judge who when confronted by a scientific reconstruction (the only physical evidence in the case), considered it just a cartoon and of no merit. An opinion that must been very heartening to many people who have been convicted using these reconstructions.

Even our own defense attorney’s got into the act by securing an accident investigator to solely convince us that the accident happened exactly the way it had been reported. All the while the investigator had never done any direct review to base an opinion on. Ultimately, the goal of the defense council was to convince us not to have a trial and to throw ourselves on the mercy of the court. A decision that I hope was based more on faith in people than stupidity.

I must admit that my good old country confidence has been shaken to its core!                                                                    
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It is 2:50am, Saturday, March 15, 2008.  In just moments, a small community will be forever changed.  Two cars collide on a dark country road.  Upon impact, four lives are gone and two lives are spared.  A few moments later, one of the young men comes to, not knowing what has just occurred.  He looks over at his passenger and they both exit the car stunned, not knowing what has just happened.  It would not be until later that he would find out he was involved in a deadly car accident.

Flashback..

Nicholas Robert Schwieterman was born on September 19th, 1985.  He was raised in a loving family and although he had never wanted for anything from his parents, he knew the value of hard work.  Throughout his late teens he found fulltime employment in the summers and other part-time employment throughout the school year.

 

The community in which he was raised instilled in him the values of hard work and dedication.  This small community believed in a “work hard, play harder” mentality.  As in many small towns, there wasn’t much to do.  So, in this small community many worked, drank and went to church.   People were proud of their jobs which allowed them to have nice homes, nice cars and a comfortable life. To fill their time on the weekend, many were raised in households in which binge drinking was the norm.  Consequently, the majority of teens, young adults and even parents often frequented local house parties and neighborhood bars.   Subsequently, many times they would return to their homes while under the influence of alcohol.   Many in the community had DUI’s or problems because of their alcohol use.  The citizens of this little community would never admit that some within the community even used illegal drugs.  It was a secret that was well kept by the users.  In fact, many felt the use of drugs was taboo and their community was above the use of drugs.  They didn’t believe that being under the influence of alcohol was in fact being under the influence of a drug.  This small community soon realized, in a horrible way, the consequences of drugs and alcohol.

 

At 2:51am on Saturday, March 15th, 2008 two cars collide.  Shortly after, a passerby comes upon the scene.  When he starts to investigate what has happened, he notices a car in the ditch.  Upon exiting his car, he notices another car quite a distance away in the field.  There is no movement.   He then dials 911 and proceeds out into the field to check on the second car.  At about that time, Nicholas Schwieterman, the driver of the first car he encountered, was coming to.  Within approximately 10 minutes, the first police cruiser arrived on the scene.  By this time, the driver who had come to and his passenger exited the car.  After the driver exited his car, he believed he was in a single car accident.  He knew that earlier in the evening he had consumed alcohol and drugs.  Nicholas knew that because he was under the influence he would likely get a DUI if a policeman came across the scene. One of his friends lived about a mile from the scene.  So, he and his passenger had the initial thought of walking to his home.  He had not seen the other car in the field just as he had never seen the car coming down the road.  When the police cruisers and the ambulances arrived, Nicholas was suffering from a concussion and was still in shock.  He and his passenger still had not comprehended what had just transpired.  Shortly thereafter they were placed in ambulances and transported to a local hospital to be treated for their injuries. 

 

At the hospital, detectives soon arrived and instructed the hospital staff to separate the two young men and not allow anyone to speak to them.  The driver continuously asked the detectives and hospital staff to make a call to his parents, but he was not granted that request.  The detective entered the area to question Nicholas about the circumstances surrounding the accident.  At this time, he still believed that his was the only car involved in the accident.  He didn’t understand why the detectives were there, and he continued to request a phone call.  While at the hospital, both Nicholas and his friend’s blood were drawn to test for alcohol and drugs in their system.  As the hospital staff worked to insert staples to close the gash in Nicholas’ head, he began to realize that this was more than a single car accident.  There were too many cops and detectives for it not to be something more.  He began to ask the detective what happened and who else was involved. The detective continued his questioning and when the medical staff had completed their evaluation, the detective placed Nicholas under arrest.  Nicholas asked the detective again why he was being arrested and the detective replied, “You fucking killed four people.”  At that moment, Nicholas was placed into the police cruiser.

 

While Nicholas and his passenger were taken from the accident scene, the first responders, police and firefighters found that the four young men in the second car had perished as a result of the accident.   As the four young men were removed from their car, the police began their “investigation.”  We later learned the investigation only gathered a minimal amount of information.  They did measure the skid marks of both cars; they also measured from the point of impact to the final resting place of each car; they took pictures of the scene and took pictures of the cars (including speedometers). This was all in an effort to gather what evidence they needed.  I believe once the alcohol and drug screenings were completed this investigation really didn’t move much further.  The Mercer County Sheriff’s Department even went so far as to deny assistance from a state highway patrolman who had arrived at the scene.  He was there to offer assistance, should the county sheriff need assistance.  However, upon arriving, the sheriff noted that he had everything under control.   We later found out this was only the beginning of the injustices that would occur in Nick’s case.

 

My flashback

It was 8:20am on March 15th, 2008 when the phone rang.  It was my sister Kara.  She immediately asked if I knew where our brother was or if I had talked to him.  I told her that I hadn’t and she explained that there had been an accident earlier that morning.  She said that our parents hadn’t heard from Nicholas either. Immediately, my mind and body went into overdrive.  I jumped out of bed, got dressed and within moments was in my car driving to Nicholas’ friend’s house to see if Nicholas was there.  I pounded on the door and immediately his friend opened the door.  He stood there staring at me with a stunned look on his face. I asked him if Nicholas was there and he answered no.  I also asked him when he had seen Nicholas last, and he said last night when they were dropped off.  They had all spent the night together.  In that moment, my heart sank.  As I entered the house I found my mom sitting on the loveseat in a daze.  I asked my mom if she had heard from Nicholas yet and she said no. 

 

Knowing there had been an accident earlier that morning I dialed the phone number of one of our local hospitals.  When the receptionist answered, I asked for the ER.  I was transferred and a woman picked up the phone.  In a panic, I explained to her who I was and that I had been unable to locate my brother.  I asked if he was there and she told me that she couldn’t share that information.  I next asked if he had been there, and she again replied that she couldn’t share that information. Frantically, I asked her if she knew if Nicholas was alive or dead.  I screamed at her trying to get her to understand that I just wanted to locate my brother.  I didn’t understand why she wouldn’t share any information with me.  I hung up on her.

 

Next, I dialed the phone number of another local hospital.  I asked for the ER. When the woman answered, I asked if Nicholas Schwieterman had been there.  To which she responded, “No.”  Just then I saw a number flash on the phone’s caller ID.  It was the phone number of one of Nicholas’ friends.  As I thanked the woman on the other end of the phone I felt a pit forming in my stomach because I instinctively knew that this call would give me the answer I was looking for.  I clicked to the other line and the father of Nicholas’ friend told me that I could find my brother at the Mercer County Jail.  When I asked him what happened, he said he didn’t know all of the details at this point.  When I walked back into the house, my mother still sat in the same place with the same stunned look on her face.  As my father entered the room, I knew the next bit of information I shared would crush them. 

 

The 15 minute drive to the Mercer County Jail seemed like an eternity.  My father drove my mother and me.  I don’t believe a single word was uttered during the drive.  As we approached the jail, my heart raced, not knowing what we were about to find.  I thought, “Could this really be happening…What is going on?”  As we walked into the jail, I felt even more confused. Nicholas’ friend was waving at me from behind the window of a locked cell door.  I remember him almost slightly smiling. 

 

I don’t recall which officer greeted us in the jail lobby, but I remember someone saying that Nicholas was inside.  It was further explained that Nicholas had been placed under suicide watch.  Nicholas was inconsolable and that we would be permitted to go back into the cell and speak with him.  We were told that because Nicholas was on suicide watch he was in a darkened cell with only a suicide vest on and we needed to prepare ourselves. I thought, “How the hell do I prepare myself for this…How am I going to do this?”  As mom, dad and I walked through the hall, I got my first glimpse of my brother.  He was lying on a hard metal bunk with no mat, no pillow, only that suicide vest.  I first thought, “Who is this?  This can’t be my brother;  this can’t be real.” But as I knelt down beside him and touched his trembling hand, I could almost feel his pain surge through me.  After that moment it’s hard to recall what happened for the next several minutes but I know my mother and father embraced Nicholas as did I.  I can hear him saying over and over, “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.  Everyone hates me; you all hate me.”  I squared myself with Nicholas and put my hands on his upper arms. I looked him directly in the eyes (although he wasn’t paying any attention to me) and sternly told him to look at me! Listen!  Again I said, “Look me in the eyes; look me in the eyes!”  In that moment, he did.  I told him that we all loved him and nothing could ever change that.  I believe I told him that we would stand by him no matter what.  We were his family and we would love him no matter what happened.  I hugged him again when I heard my cell phone ring across the hall.  As I stood up to answer my phone my mom replaced me and sat next to my brother.  I had to walk out of the cell and when I walked toward the table I felt faint.  When I glanced down at my phone, I noticed that I had missed a call from my sister.  As the guard left me out, I walked toward the door.  I saw my sister and future brother-in-law walking across the street. Sobbing I grabbed her and hugged her.  I didn’t want to turn back around but I knew our brother needed us.  Kara and I were permitted to enter the cell where we found our mom and dad still trying to console Nicholas.  I can’t remember how many minutes we were allowed to stay with him.  But I can say, they were the longest and shortest minutes I’ve ever spent in my life.  As we walked out of the jail all we knew was that four young men had died in a two car accident in which my brother was driving one of the cars involved. 

 

Over the next 24 hours, it is hard to explain what actually happened.  That evening, Saturday, March 15, we returned to the jail knowing that we would not be able to see Nicholas but we could meet with the Pastor who had the opportunity to speak with Nicholas.  As we waited into the jail lobby, we all looked at one another and I believe it was my father who said, “What actually happened? Do we even know?”  I got up and asked the guard behind the window, “What actually happened?”  She looked at me and replied, “What do you mean?”  Again I asked, “What actually happened in the car accident?”  She then replied, “Your brother T-boned the other car.” As she said this, she looked at me disgustedly and formed her hands into a T.  So that was it? Nicholas was guilty? 

 

We had no idea what to do next.  What was our first stop going to be? The next day as we researched attorneys to represent my brother, we came across the names, Marc Ross and Scott Calaway.  While we didn’t know how this process worked, we knew that we needed guidance, and we needed it now.   Marc and Scott offered to see us and talk about the case on Sunday evening, March 16th.  We now had a decision to make.  We were aware that a prayer vigil had been organized for that same evening but we wondered, “Would we be accepted at that vigil? Or, should we take the meeting with Scott and Marc on behalf of Nicholas?”  On that evening, we had to choose Nicholas.  Looking back, while we needed to choose the meeting, we feel the prayer vigil would have been the way to unite all parties involved.  However, this is where the division began.  That evening as we welcomed Scott and Marc into our home, we were looking for answers.  However, I don’t even know if we had the questions to ask.  Throughout the course of the next three weeks, we were bombarded with information stemming from the night of the accident.  Nicholas began his journey through the legal system, and we continued to learn how this system worked or at least how we thought it should work.   

               

          We believed that our legal system would put all the facts on the table.  We believed that the accident would be fully investigated.  We also believed that because of what the Sheriff told us, the accident had happened the way it was originally explained to us by the jailer.  We believed it was his job to make sure that justice was served for ALL parties involved.  That’s how it works right?

 

In the weeks following the accident, we learned that on the morning of March 15, 2008 Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey told the Ohio State Highway Patrol that he had the scene under control and did not need their assistance. I didn’t understand why Sheriff Grey did not utilize this agency and their accident reconstruction software. This was a car accident and a computer reconstruction of the accident would be key in proving how it occurred.  He could have utilized these resources with the Ohio State Highway Patrol and proved that it was a T-bone accident if that is what he truly believed.  However, he decided that instead of utilizing this resource he would use “guesstimation” to decide how this accident actually happened. There were four dead young men and someone needed to take the blame, right?

 

 I also found it very ironic that during this same time Sheriff Grey was campaigning to have a new “state of the art” jail built in our county.  One of the main benefits I recall hearing about was how the jail would have all the new technology.  I found this interesting since he wasn’t interested in using the technology available to truly understand what happened that night.  In addition, each of the cars had a “black box” which recorded their speeds when the accident occurred.  A detective with the Sheriff’s Department contacted General Motors to learn more about these “black boxes.”  However, when the call wasn’t returned, the detective didn’t follow up.  Our Sheriff’s Department decided that they would try to access the information/evidence by visiting a local car lot and attaching each box to a similar make and model of car.  When they did this with the first “black box,” they weren’t able to read any of the information and in fact, erased it.  So, they decided to connect the second “black box” to the car.  Again, they weren’t able to read any of the information and again they erased crucial evidence.  Now, I’m not an expert but I question how they thought the car would read the “black boxes” and give them information.  Did they think the cars would give them a print out?  It could be easily argued that they should have sent the black boxes/evidence to the Ohio State Highway Patrol for forensic testing.  However, by connecting these boxes to the cars, they erased any information/evidence that may have shed light on what happened in the moments before the accident.  And again, they did this not once but twice!  So, the Mercer County Sheriff’s Office, which was working to improve technology within our county, completely pushed technology to the side in this case.

 

We also learned that Prosecutor Andy Hinders and Assistant Prosecutor Matt Fox were both on the scene the morning of the accident instructing officers on how to handle the evidence.  This made both of them witnesses to the accident and therefore they should not have been able to prosecute this case.  However, this was overlooked by our county courts.

 

Have you ever heard of a member of the prosecution being on the scene of a crime?  I thought it was the job of the Sheriff’s Department to collect the evidence from the scene.  Why would a member of the prosecutor’s office be at the scene of a crime?  My guess is that they wanted to control the scene.  They wanted to make sure that the Sheriff’s Department did exactly what they needed them to do and only gather information that would benefit the prosecution in the ensuing case. However, you can make your own assumptions.

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On April the 8th I received a phone call from Scott.  He explained to me that there was new evidence in the case and it wasn’t good.  He said that a new indictment had been brought against Nicholas.  Included in this indictment were charges of a first degree felony.  These charges stemmed from new evidence showing that Nicholas had been high on cocaine the night of the accident.   The gaping wound that formed only three weeks earlier was ripped open even further. Along with the feelings of hurt and loss, these new charges meant that Nicholas would now be facing 41 years in prison.  This new indictment also brought a new amount of bail.  Over the past three weeks, we knew that in order for Nicholas to survive the early stages of this tragedy, he would need to be home, with us.  We were in fact trying to save his life.  So, when the bail was raised from a $1,000,000 bond to a $2,000,000 bond we scrambled to gather the 10% ($200,000) to bring Nicholas home.  On April 11th, we finally had everything in place for Nicholas to come home on house arrest.  When he walked through the doors of the jail, mom, dad and I embraced him.  It was the most joy I had felt in quite some time.   When we arrived home, it was hard to understand what Nicholas was feeling.  We were all different people, but still a family.  You see, over the past three weeks, we found that we needed to rely on God to get us through.  We learned how to pray as a family and now realized what home truly was. 

 

Over that summer, many things happened that were difficult to understand. We wanted to give Nicholas as peaceful of an environment as possible.  We wanted to spend as much time together as we could and try to heal.  Nicholas continued talking to the Mercer County Jail’s Social Worker, Roberta.  She was also employed as a social worker at our county agency, Foundations.  She was a great help to Nicholas.  I believe that Nicholas was able to learn a lot about who he was, and Roberta was able to help Nicholas understand that he wasn’t a horrible person. If I recall correctly, some of the information from the counseling sessions were made available to the court / probation officer.  While on house arrest, there were only a couple of places that Nicholas could go.   One place he could go was to these counseling sessions and he could visit his court appointed probation officer.

 

Sometime in late August or early September, my mother drove Nicholas to the Mercer County Courthouse to meet with his probation officer for his PSI (Pre-Sentence Investigation).  During the meeting, they discussed several things but as the meeting came to a completion, Nicholas asked to use a phone to call my mother at my grandparents’ home.  The probation officer asked Nicholas how far my grandparents lived from the courthouse, and Nicholas told her it was only several blocks away.  She told Nicholas that he should enjoy the nice day and walk to our grandparents’ home.  Nicholas couldn’t believe it!  He wondered if he was being tested by her in some way.  After all, he was currently on house arrest on a $2,000,000 bond.  However, she wasn’t testing him and let him walk free for those few blocks to the house.  What!?!  Why would a member of the court allow acriminal on house arrest to walk freely down the street?  Maybe it was because she knew that Nicholas wasn’t a violent criminal and he wasn’t a threat to society as the prosecutor and media had portrayed him to be.

 

Throughout that summer we were also faced with the reality that there was a long journey ahead.  It seemed like we had daily contact with the attorneys as we tried to better understand the legal system.  During this time, there were many hours of discussion regarding what truly happened that night.  The most frustrating was the fact that Nicholas could remember most of the moments immediately leading up to the accident but not the accident itself.  He remembered stopping at the intersection of Harrison and Brockman Roads which was less than half a mile from the accident scene. As we sifted through his memories, we realized that if he was going to remember, he just would.  As we studied the pictures of the accident scene, we studied the damage of the cars and the locations of their final resting place.  During this time we so badly wanted to know just exactly how this accident occurred.  While I was hopeful that we would find an answer, I believed that only God would know with 100% certainty what happened that night.

 

As we studied the pictures, there were two that specifically caught our attention.  Those were the pictures of the speedometers.  The pictures showing the speedometer of Nicholas’ car as fixed at 12mph.  In contrast, the speedometer of the car in which the four young men died was fixed on 84mph.  I researched this fact online to help me understand what it could mean.  Do the speedometers stay at the speed the cars were traveling at upon impact?  One article I read noted that the speedometer needles in older makes of cars had a powder that would make an imprint on the face of the speedometer upon impact.  I found this information very interesting because at that time we were still being led to believe that Nicholas had blown through the stop sign and was the sole cause of the accident.  I questioned our attorneys about the possibility of investigating this further, but nothing was ever done.

 

I was the main person working with our attorneys.  After the drug indictment came down, they told us that Nicholas would need to throw himself on the mercy of the court.  They explained that because of how the law works we wouldn’t have a case and that Nicholas’ only hope was that the court would have mercy on him. Marc and Scott were the “experts;” that’s why they get paid a lot of money. Right? 

 

Over time I started to agree with them.  We needed to minimize the number of years Nicholas would spend in prison.  These defense attorneys really didn’t form a defense.  The reason we went along with this was two-fold.  First, we had never been in any kind of legal situation such as this in the past.  As a result, we continued to believe they were the experts and continued to listen to their advice. Second, we were so afraid to say anything for fear of the backlash from the community.  My family, as well as Nicholas, wanted to make this as easy as possible for the four families involved.  In hind sight, this was the wrong thing to do. 

 

My father studied the information and photos from the accident for hours and days on end.  He wanted to find an answer to our questions surrounding the night of the accident.  He didn’t agree with the “investigation” done by the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department.   He felt that there had to be more involved than what they concluded happened that night.  As he looked at the pictures of the cars, he noted that Nicholas’ car didn’t have much, if any, front end damage.  If Nicholas T-boned the other car at a high rate of speed as previously stated, then why wasn’t there more damage to his car.  Also, why did the other car end up over 125 feet out in the field at a diagonal from the accident?  Why did Nicholas’ car remain just a few feet from the impact of the crash?  If he was traveling at a high rate of speed, his car would have surely moved further than a few feet from impact.  Right?  He also noticed that in the pictures taken by the Sheriff’s Department  Nicholas’ car looked as though it was bent to one side.  He felt this was consistent with the other car hitting Nicholas’ car and not Nicholas T-boning them. 

 

While he had these questions about the accident, we continued to listen to our attorneys.  They assured dad that if he wanted to hire someone to do a full reconstruction it would be better to wait until after the sentencing.  Marc, Scott and I convinced dad that we needed to minimize the number of years Nicholas would spend in prison.  Marc and Scott told us that a trial could do more harm than good because it could make Nicholas look like he wasn’t being cooperative.  So, in October we made the decision to move forward with a no contest plea in an effort to show cooperation.  We knew this was an ACCIDENT and felt that the court would see that Nicholas was taking responsibility for his part in the accident.  The only facts were that he was involved and driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.  He knew that four young men died because of an accident he was involved in.  Finally, dad was convinced that we would need to do what was best for Nicholas and that was that Nicholas would “throw himself on the mercy of the court.”  Just like our attorneys had instructed us to do.

 

In the month leading up to the sentencing, Nicholas and I worked a lot outlining how he would like to reach out to the community.  He wanted to help people understand the choices and mistakes he made.  He wanted and still wants to help change lives.  Alcohol and drugs have negatively affected countless lives in this community both before and since this accident. 

 

November 12, 2008 arrived and it was sentencing day.  What a difficult day but nothing we couldn’t get through after the previous seven months.  Nicholas, as well as my family, were very anxious but in an odd way ready to get on with the next chapter of this tragedy.   As we prepared to leave, I remember Nicholas standing in the doorway of our garage just looking out at his surroundings.  I remember thinking, “What is going through his mind?”  He knew that this would be the last time he would stand free in his own home for quite some time.  We all knew that the hugs we gave him would be the last he would have for a while.  On that day our lawyers tried to prepare us by telling us that based upon their conversations with Judge Ingraham and Assistant Prosecutor Fox they believed that the maximum sentence that the judge would hand down would be sixteen years.  Although sixteen years is definitely a long time, we had begun to make our peace with this outcome. That is, except for my father.  Several times prior to this day my father repeated that we could have an expert complete an accident reconstruction after sentencing. You may be thinking, why would we wait until after sentencing?  The answer is comprised of a number of reasons.  First, fear.  We were afraid of the unknown, the community, and law enforcement.  Our own attorneys helped to create this fear in us. We believed that based upon the attorneys’ opinions, we had no other choice or Nicholas may suffer even more severe consequences.  Furthermore, our primary focus was to reduce the number of years that Nicholas would spend in prison. 

 

So on that morning, we drove to the Mercer County Courthouse and entered as a family.  We knew on that day, as on the days of Nicholas’ previous court appearances, we would encounter the families and friends of the four young men who had died.  We knew there would be hundreds of people supporting these four families on a day that they hoped would bring justice for their sons.  We also knew that the support for these families was so large that that the Mercer County Sheriff and Judge had made provisions to have closed circuit television set up in a nearby auditorium.  Living in such a small community, it was difficult to encounter such a large group of people, many of whom we considered friends and neighbors.  I personally felt the stress and strain on everyone in that courtroom, but most of all on my family and brother.  The scrutiny of our family and Nicholas was additionally highlighted by the various television and newspaper organizations that sat with cameras and notebooks in hand voyeuristically watching over our every move.  I even remember at one time during the sentencing looking over at a television reporter who smiled with her thumbs up at her camera man.  I thought, “How could anyone smile at such a time as this?” It angered me to think this tragedy had become what many would call “a dog and pony show.” 

 

As members of each individual family stood to give their victim’s impact statement, the pain we felt for them only intensified.  I guess that’s the reason for victims’ impact statements.  Right?  However, I know this process is actually designed to give them closure.  The pain we heard coming from each of those family members confirmed in our hearts that forgiveness was far from beginning. However, to some degree we understood that pain because we too felt a similar pain of loss.  As their statements concluded, we knew that Nicholas was preparing to give his words of apology to the families and friends of these four young men.

 

As Nicholas crossed the courtroom, he turned to face the families of the victims. These are the notes of what he said:

Good afternoon your honor.  I have been waiting eight long months to speak to all of you.  Words can’t explain how much sorrow I feel for the pain and suffering I have caused all of you.  In the early morning hours of March 15th, I made the worst decision of my life.  The decision I made not only affected my own life but the lives of four young men: Brad Roeckner, Jordan Moeller, Jordan Diller and Jordan Goettemoeller and their families and friends.  I am sorry.  Not a day will pass during the rest of my life that I won’t think of that horrible night and the four great lives that were taken.

I ask God everyday why would something so horrible happen?  Why didn’t he take my life that night?  The truth is, no one will ever know the reason.  God allows the things he does to happen but he does have a reason for everything.

The consequences of that horrible night don’t start today; they started the second after this all happened.  My decision for getting behind the wheel, while under the influence, was a horrible mistake that night and I will pay for this mistake for the rest of my life.  No matter where I am, not a day will go by that I don’t think of these four young men.  I just hope that someday I will get the chance to talk about the horrible morning of March 15, 2008.  Maybe I could prevent even one person from going through the nightmare you and I go through every day and will for the rest of our lives.  I feel this may be the only way something positive can come out of so much tragedy.  I hope that someday somehow everyone can find peace in their hearts and the strength in their hearts to forgive me.

 

As we listened to Nicholas’ statement, the emotion and stress at that moment overcame all of us.  Nicholas cried as he struggled to convey each and every word with compassion and conviction.  We knew that although his words would not change what had happened, we hoped that they would give the families a glimpse of Nicholas’remorse.  However, in the days following, we learned that the families didn’t perceive these words as remorse.  Their perception of Nicholas’ statement was one of a self-serving nature which couldn’t have been further from the truth. Because we knew the pain that Nicholas felt in his heart for those four young men and families would remain for the rest of his life. 

 

The Judge was now ready to impose his sentence upon Nicholas.  As he began to speak, I don’t remember hearing most of his words.  As I sat there praying and focused on my brother, I heard the words, “Six years to be served consecutively on each count of the indictment.”  While my mind worked to comprehend what had just been said, I realized that Nicholas was now facing 24 years in prison.  I seem to remember a soft cheer and smiles coming from the opposite side of the courtroom and my heart sank.  For now, I had not only lost my brother, who had a kind and gentle soul, but also the ability to be there for him during this time of need.  I wondered how anyone could find any satisfaction in more pain resulting from this tragedy.  As the deputies escorted Nicholas out of the courtroom, I sobbed; we all sobbed for the loss of the future promise and purpose which had once surrounded Nicholas.  What I don’t think the families understood was that we had not lost our brother and son in the same physical sense as they had lost their boys, but we had lost almost every other aspect of Nicholas.

 

Over the next few days, we were able to speak with Nicholas on the phone. We tried to console him and reassure him that we would do everything in our power to find a way to help him.  Over the following couple of months, we searched for an appeals attorney.  In January 2009 we decided to retain attorneys, John Poppe and Eric Allen, to start us on the appeal process. 

 

In preparation for our first meeting with these attorneys, we gathered all of the information that had been produced over the previous 10 months.  John began the arduous task of sifting through the discovery, court documents and the final plea agreement.  During our first meeting, John shared several observations.  The first was that the plea agreement Nicholas had signed didn’t entitle Nicholas to an appeal.  The only avenue we would have to get Nicholas back into court was under post-conviction relief.  John also shared that he had a connection to a man named Wilbur Meredith.  Mr. Meredith is an engineer by trade but had focused on accident reconstruction for the last 20 years of his career.  Will used the same accident software that the Ohio State Highway Patrol would have used if Sheriff Jeff Grey would have given them the opportunity.  This technology allowed us to truly understand what had happened that fateful night.  So, as we left that initial meeting, while we were frustrated with the fact that our previous attorneys had legally deprived Nicholas of an actual appeal, we were hopeful that Will Meredith would be able to give us some of the answers we had been looking for.  No matter how the reconstruction turned out, at least we would then understand the full picture of those fateful seconds in Nicholas’ life.

 

Over the next month we anxiously waited for the results of the accident reconstruction.  On February 27, 2009 we received the call we had been waiting for.  John explained to me that Will had completed the accident reconstruction and he was positive that Nicholas didn’t, “blow through,” the stop sign.  This news was the answer to countless prayers.  John explained that Will’s conclusion was based upon the following:  1.) the coordinates gathered by the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department; 2.) Will’s firsthand observation of the accident scene; and 3.) The data that was entered into the accident reconstruction software from the accident scene. Let me repeat, Will used the same EXACT software the Ohio State Highway Patrol utilizes.  So, our next step was to meet with John, Eric and Will to discuss the results.  During our meeting later that week, Will reviewed first some basic principles of physics.  One of which was perception/reaction time.  He demonstrated this principle by holding a dollar bill vertically with his thumb and forefinger.  He asked me to place my hand several inches below the dollar bill.  He explained that he would release the dollar bill without warning and I was to try and catch it with one hand.  As he released the dollar bill, I tried to grab it out of the air but I didn’t catch it.  He tried this experiment a couple of times with me and I continued to be unable to catch the dollar.  He explained that our perception was that it should not be difficult to catch the dollar but our reaction time is much different than what we perceive it to be.  He noted that in the case of this car accident Nicholas possibly never saw the other car coming. He backed this up with the following observations he had made:

 A) Nicholas had been traveling west on Brockman Rd. when he came to the intersection of County Road 716A, to the left there was a dense woods that came to within approximately 10 feet of the road.  So, as Nicholas approached this intersection he would have had no way of seeing the other car driving north on County Road 716A, furthermore the location of the stop sign was such that Nicholas would have needed to pull almost a full car length past it to see past the woods on his left.

B) The photographs of each vehicle’s speedometers: The speedometer on Nicholas’ car was stuck on 12mph and the speedometer of the other car was stuck at 84mph.

C: The Mercer County Sheriff’s department had gathered measurements of the vehicles’ final resting places the morning of the accident.  This information was precisely recorded and measured as in any other accident.  Will used this data to utilize the accident reconstruction software.  After inputting the Sheriff’s Department’s precise measurements, the software was able to scientifically prove what happened that night.

 

After viewing the reconstruction you will see the software produced a scientific interpretation of what happened that night.  This is the way my father had thought the accident had happened for quite some time, and he finally had the technological evidence to prove it. 

 

At this point the only people who had seen the accident reconstruction were my family, a few friends, our attorneys and the county agencies listed above.  John prepared for a press conference to make public the information from the accident reconstruction.  Unfortunately, only a few news organizations came to this press conference and they didn’t seem to care what this information truly meant. 

 

In the weeks following, our attorneys shared this information with both the prosecutor’s office and the Sheriff’s Department.  John also worked to add this into the court record as legal evidence.

 

However, when the prosecutor’s office reviewed the reconstruction,  they provided a statement to the press.  Assistant prosecutor Matt Fox was quoted by The Daily Standard (11/18/09), “The cartoon animation is not justified by the laws of physics and gravity.”    He said this as a person who has not studied the laws and physics of gravity and without truly understanding how the accident reconstruction software worked.  He didn’t consult with our expert Will Meredith and made his comments based upon his lack of knowledge of the scientific data.

 

Based on Will Meredith’s accident reconstruction it was scientifically proven what happened that night.  Think about this for a moment…. Fifty years ago people were convicted of crimes based on factually perceived evidence.  Today we have DNA testing which scientifically proves who committed a crime.  Many people previously convicted of crimes have now been exonerated based on DNA evidence. Law enforcement uses this information to truly understand what and how a crime actually occurred.  There no longer needs to be doubt about who committed a crime when DNA testing is done.  Today accident reconstruction software works as DNA testing does in finding the cause of a motor vehicle accident. 

 

I question the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department’s reasoning for not utilizing the Ohio State Highway Patrol’s assistance in completing a thorough investigation with the use of their accident reconstruction software.  Why would they not want to fully understand how this accident occurred?  Why would they not want to ensure total justice for all parties involved?  Why wouldn’t they want scientific data as to how this accident occurred?  Why wouldn’t they want the full truth to be known?  Doesn’t the Bible tell us “the truth shall set you free”? 

 

During this time we contemplated all of these questions.  We believed that if the families of these four young men knew the truth they may be able to release some of the anger from their hearts. 

 

We hoped and prayed that Mercer County Judge Ingraham would see the benefit in this truth and grant Nicholas an evidentiary hearing.  However, when this petition was filed he dismissed this information as nothing more than a ploy.

 

                It seemed that none of these people could understand that we were not denying Nicholas’ involvement in this accident but we wanted people to understand that two wrongs don’t make a right.  At the same time, we were trying to save what years of Nicholas’ life that we could.  Over the ensuing year, Nick’s case traveled through the 3rd District Court of Appeals, to the Ohio Supreme Court, to the Ohio Appellate Court and to the Federal Supreme Court. 

 

                As the case continued through each of these courts, we began to more clearly understand that these elected officials didn’t want to take on a case that could ultimately affect the outcome of Nicholas’ current sentence.  We believe they had to question whether this case would negatively affect their ability to be reelected.  What judge would want to take on a case involving a “monster,” such as Nicholas, who killed four “completely” innocent young men?  I realize that this allegation is a pretty strong one.  However, these officials are all elected and I truly feel they wouldn’t want to put their jobs on the line to help my brother find the truth.  Why would they? 

 

From Nicholas…

Imagine one night you decide to bring your friend home and the next thing you know you’re being charged with the deaths of four young men.  What would you do?  Where would you turn? 

This has been the nightmare I have been living for over three years now.  We hope that this story hasn’t offended the families and friends of the four young men. We just want to share what really happened that night.  I feel the truth is what is needed to start the healing process.  Either way Jordan Diller, Jordan Moeller, Brad Roeckner and Jordan Goettemoeller will be the first people I think about each morning and the last I think about at night. 

If and when I do get a new trial and if they can prove that the accident happened otherwise, I will serve my time knowing  the truth has prevailed.

 

 

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