Kenton County Commonwealth's Attorney Rob Sanders has launched his own investigation into former Gov. Matt Bevin's controversial pardon of a convicted child rapist from an influential family.
It is the first official investigation announced into Bevin's recent pardons, which have drawn stinging criticism from Democrats and Republicans.
After a two-week trial, a judge sentenced Micah Culver Schoettle on Aug. 9, 2018, to 23 years in prison for rape, sodomy and other sexual crimes, but Schoettle walked out of prison last week after serving a little more than a year.
The victim told police, and later a jury, she was 9 to 12 years old during the abuse.
"It's mind-boggling how any governor could be this irresponsible," said Sanders, who personally led the prosecution.
"I was somebody who supported him and believed in him, and I am disgusted at myself for having done so."
Sanders said the state attorney general's office, the FBI, and Rob Duncan, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky are aware of "suspicious pardons" signed by Bevin in Frankfort, but he hasn't been notified that anyone has launched a probe.
"Until I hear of someone stepping up to lead these investigations, I'm going to continue to conduct my own" into the Schoettle pardon, said Sanders, who didn't elaborate.
In interviews with reporters and on social media, Bevin defended his pardons and said he is convinced Schoettle is innocent.
The former governor said he reviewed this and other case files and wrote in Schoettle's pardon order that the investigation and prosecution were "sloppy at best."
"Go sit down, talk to (Schoettle), talk to the other people involved, talk to the mother of the daughter, who was involved in the accusation," Bevin told The Courier Journal Saturday. "You dig into that thing and find out what did or didn't happen."
But Bevin didn't talk to prosecutors, the teen who reported the abuse or her mother before granting the pardon, according to the lead prosecutor, the teen and her mother.
Sanders also said Bevin didn't look through his files or police files and wouldn't have had the time to thoroughly review the official court case file, which are all with the Kentucky Supreme Court because the case had been on appeal.
In his public statements, Bevin has not elaborated on which documents he reviewed, though in his pardon order he said, "any and all evidence that is available ... refutes the allegations that were made."
Sanders said Schoettle's trial attorney, Wilbur Zevely, also never talked to Bevin or shared his case files.
"The defense attorney told me they had nothing to do with the pardon application," the prosecutor said. "They were as surprised as I was that Mr. Schoettle got a pardon."
Zevely declined to comment on the pardon.
Schoettle's mother, Deborah Jo Durr, has served on several boards, as well as two terms on the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission from 2009-17. Former House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Democrat, appointed her to the commission.
She is president of Richwood Manor, a horse farm in northern Kentucky.
R.C. Durr, Schoettle's stepfather, was a well-known businessman, horseman and philanthropist who helped found the Bank of Kentucky and build hundreds of miles of Kentucky highways through his construction and contracting business.
Durr was appointed to the Kentucky State Racing Commission in 1980 by then Gov. John Y. Brown Jr. and was president of both the Kentucky Road Builders Association and the Kentucky Highway Division of the Associated General Contractors of America.
When he died at age 88 in 2007, he endowed a foundation in his name that still operates today, focused on causes in northern Kentucky. "I would love for someone to ask Matt Bevin if he's ever had a private meeting with Schoettle's mom," Sanders said.
Kentucky Registry of Election Finance records do not show any donations from the Durrs to Bevin's campaign. But Sanders said he would like to ask Durr if she has given donations to groups that support Bevin.
A voicemail seeking comment from Schoettle's mother was not immediately returned.
A man who answered the phone associated with Schoettle on Tuesday and responded to the name Micah disconnected the call.
The teenager who said she was abused, now age 16, said she had been excited to shake hands with Bevin in August when he toured her school. Now, she feels he made rash decisions -- including pardoning several murderers -- that hurt her and many others during a "temper tantrum" over losing his bid to remain governor.
Her mother said the teen is more hurt that she admits over Bevin's social media posts essentially calling her a liar. The teen told The Courier Journal, "I try not to take it personally. He doesn't know me."
The Courier Journal typically does not identify victims of sexual abuse and is not naming the girl or her mother to protect the teen's identity.
The teen said it was difficult to find the courage to report the abuse when she was 12 to a school resource officer in middle school and then tell police investigators. She told detectives in September 2016 that she was scared but didn't want her younger siblings or anyone else to be abused, according to police investigatory records provided to The Courier Journal.
The records show that when Schoettle was interviewed by a detective and confronted with the abuse allegations, he became "upset." He expressed concern to the officer that someone may have coached the girl regarding the accusations against him, according to a police summary of an interview with Schoettle.
After talking briefly to investigators, Schoettle said his attorney didn't want him to talk anymore.
During the 2018 trial, the girl -- then age 14 -- testified for hours detailing the years of abuse. Schoettle testified that she was a troubled teen who lied.
Her mother said the girl lashed out at school at age 9, pulling out her hair, biting her arms and telling her teacher she wanted to die. The mother now believes that was in response to the hidden sexual abuse.
"Not everything that you are told is true, including in a courtroom," Bevin told The Courier Journal, pointing out that there was no physical, medical or eyewitness evidence in the case.
Sanders called Bevin's comments offensive.
"Child molestation doesn't happen in front of security cameras or witnesses like bank robberies," Sanders said.
"There's a little girl that got raped that sat in front of 12 jurors and confessed her deepest darkest secrets about the most horrible days of her life. He testified in his own defense and the jury believed the little girl, not Mr. Schoettle."
Prosecutors learned of Schoettle's pardon on Dec. 11, calling to alert the victim's mother.
She told The Courier Journal she nearly collapsed upon hearing the news and then got an even more disturbing call five minutes later. Someone with the state Department of Corrections told her Schoettle had already been freed that day.
"I actually picked up my blender and threw it against the wall," the mother said. "My husband is still finding glass on the kitchen floor" a week later.
"He spent less time in prison that he spent raping my daughter."
She then had to tell her daughter that the man was free. The teen replied, "It figures. They always get away with it."
During the trial, the judge allowed testimony from experts on common behavioral patterns of abused children and "delayed disclosure," to explain that it is common for young victims to wait to report the abuse.
This was precedent-setting testimony, Sanders said.
His office spent years researching case law and pushing for the testimony through court motions. They were confident the state's highest court would uphold the conviction and their use of the experts.
They had already received calls from prosecutors in other jurisdictions who wanted guidance to use similar testimony in other child abuse cases.
"It was going to be an advancement in the law," Sanders said. "Matt Bevin just erased the entire case. It sets us back to square one."
Last year, when the jury convicted Schoettle, the victim's mother told her: "Your sister's safe. He can't do this anymore."
The teen smiled, relieved.
Schoettle would have to register as a sex offender, forever. Not anymore.
"All that's gone," the mother said. "It was taken away from us, and it scares the hell out of me."