One Strike and You're Out: Is Redemption Possible for Luke Heimlich?

Luke Heimlich made headlines this week after a missed registration deadline presented the Oregonian with an opportunity to revisit his past misdeed. Until his past was dredged up, Luke, a rising college baseball player, was slated to be a first day pick for the major league amateur draft. Predictably, there was immediate backlash with people crucifying Luke for his supposed duplicity and calling for more punishment. Then on Friday, Luke released a statement in which he excused himself from playing in the super regionals. The extremely harsh public reaction to Luke’s criminal history merely highlights our distorted view of crime and punishment today, but to what end?

As a teenager, Luke plead guilty for inappropriately touching a 6-year-old he knew. He was sentenced to 40 weeks in a juvenile detention facility, but the sentence was dropped after Luke completed both sex offender treatment and two years of probation. In a statement released Friday, Luke remarked he was “grateful” for the counseling he received.

We ought to accept Luke’s responsibility and calm down. This isn’t an “either.. or” situation. The criminal legal system has a responsibility to both parties. We can be deeply troubled by the harm caused to the 6-year-old, and we shouldn’t minimize the impact of the harm. We should also agree Luke met his legal and moral obligations for his past transgression.

As Oregon State President Ed Ray reiterated, “this case involves a criminal matter that was previously addressed by the judicial system in the state of Washington.” Luke admitted to and took responsibility for his actions. What we shouldn’t agree to is Luke’s endless public flogging.

Setting aside the media fear mongering for sensationalism and ratings; when does redemption begin?

Vicki Henry, of Women Against the Registry, is troubled by the lack of compassion. "When I see the 're-trial by media' of this young individual who, by all evidence based research will not re-offend, I am alarmed at the endless denigration and total lack of public forgiveness. Setting aside the media fear mongering for sensationalism and ratings; when does redemption begin?"

Luke’s had over five years to contemplate the harm he caused, during which time he accepted responsibility for his harms. We should be encouraging Luke to learn from his transgression and be a better person. This includes achieving higher education and becoming employed, both of which contribute to reduced rates of re-offending.

Further on in Friday’s statement, Luke observes “the only way forward was to work each day on becoming the best person.” He understands ”many people now see me differently,” but hopes he “can eventually be judged for the person I am today.” It is incredibly senseless that the Oregonian is implicitly calling for more punishment. We should be supporting his rehabilitative efforts, especially if our expectation is for Luke to not harm another person.

I hope I can eventually be judged for the person I am today

In justification for excoriating Luke’s past, the Oregonian remarks it is “a tragic story on so many levels. But we believed the crime against a young, innocent and defenseless child had to be disclosed and that we had an obligation as journalists to disclose it.”

Stop. Just stop. Your exposé of Luke Heimlich is hardly innocent, hitting readers already in a high state of anxiety about child sex abuse.   

I agree it is a tragic story, but not for the reasons you assume. It is tragic, because, in pursuit of sensationalism, the Oregonian has upended a number of young lives. The Oregonian asks you to believe they pursued this story for the person harmed, but that is far from the truth. They unconscionably all but identified her by disclosing, not only that she is a relative, but also her gender and current age. The Oregonian didn’t have to print her name. Luke only has but so many 11-year-old female relatives. Identifying her was not your choice to make, nor was it her mother’s. It should be up to her to decide whether or not she wants to reveal this personal information.

As it was, "she doesn't really remember everything that happened." Now, due to the viralness of the exposé, she will be forced to relive what she does remember. Only this time, it will be in the public eye. Any peers, teachers, or community members who know her will figure it out. The Oregonian has apparently forgotten she is a person above all else. I hope she is able to get the care, support, and love she needs to heal.   

He served his punishment, so what more do you want?

Inarguably, Luke didn’t make a mistake. He harmed another person, but the Oregonian irrefutably caused more. They needlessly exploited the person harmed, and assumed she wants her childhood trauma exposed to the world.

If the Oregonian wanted the pitchforks and torches, they got them.

Despite Luke’s rehabilitation, the Oregonian skewered him in a deeply misguided attempt to ensure registrants “carry the burden of their conviction well after their sentences end – and that juvenile sex crimes should follow offenders into adulthood.”

Trust me, your assistance wasn’t needed. Luke already has a felony conviction for a sex crime. In the unlikely event he does reoffend, the penalties and stakes are much higher. Not to mention, Luke is saddled with lifetime collateral consequences that will severely limit his housing and employment opportunities. In short, there is no way he escapes his criminal record.

If the Oregonian wanted leading and hard hitting journalism, they could have taken a much different stance. Luke’s troubled past and his acknowledgement of the harm done to the 6-year-old could have been highlighted. This could have been a story about how someone harmed another person, was punished for it, acknowledged the harm, and took responsibility for his behavior. Instead, the angle was to punish not only Luke, but the person he harmed.   

Whatever happened to reason and justice?

When will enough be enough? Luke stepped down from the team. Baseball teams are dropping him as a prospect. His academic career may be in jeopardy. And this is what we do know.

What about Luke’s mental health? Is he stable? Does he have supports?

The Oregonian egregiously pushed to destabilize someone striving for redemption. He served his punishment, so what more do you want? How did your exposé serve the community? Whatever happened to reason and justice?

At the Sex Law and Policy Center, we see you and we hear you Luke. We hope you have the audacity to continue challenging society’s misbegotten notions of redemption. Everyone deserves a second chance, and yes, that includes people on the registry.