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In case of ex-coach, will punishment fit the 'crime'?

Robert Schuppert Jr. is guilty, per the police, the district attorney’s office, and a jury of his peers. But according to Schuppert, to the alleged victim, to her mother, and to a lie detector test voluntary taken and passed by Schuppert himself, the 30-year-old Forest Grove resident and former Forest Grove High School basketball coach is simply the victim of a system gone wrong.

Schuppert was found guilty of third degree sexual abuse (a Class A misdemeanor) and luring a minor (a Class C felony) based primarily on what prosecutors claimed were lascivious text messages between he and the girl involved. According to court documents, Schuppert’s use of the term “sexy,” in addition to referring to her as “his booty,” were central to his conviction.  He was later asked if he’d use the terms “my booty” or “sexy” with a member of the basketball team.

“In a joking manner, the way I did with ‘the victim,’ yes I would,” Schuppert said.

The texts and other questionable evidence nonetheless led to a conviction that means Schuppert will need to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. That’s a tragedy, according to one surprising Schuppert supporter: the victim’s mother.

“It’s disturbing how the people who take oaths to protect individuals destroy the trust by making a friendship into something perverted and they should be ashamed of themselves,” she wrote in a statement released to KATU News following Schuppert’s Jan. 28 conviction.

I’m not here to point a finger at the authorities responsible for adjudicating this case. They’re simply upholding current law. What I am doing is asking questions about whether that law is fair. Is justice being done in Schuppert’s case and others like it? Or are they being treated, tried and punished far out of proportion to the “crime” committed?

Whitney Houston once famously sang, “I believe the children are our future.  Treat them well and let them lead the way.” One would be hard-pressed to argue with that, and one needn’t be Gandhi or Mother Teresa to side with the notion of protecting those who aren’t yet capable of protecting themselves.  But at what cost?

Crimes against kids, specifically those of a sexual nature, have no place in the world. They’re the crimes that keep on taking. They aren’t just directly responsible for unthinkable levels of pain, but indirectly damage their victims for years and suffocate them for lifetimes. But the “sex offender” label is a modern day scarlet letter that should only be levied as the result of guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Meaning: facts should connect the dots, as opposed to assumptions. Evidence should paint an entire picture, rather than just a rough outline. And someone or something should say directly, “This happened.”

In Schuppert’s case, the jury was instructed to draw conclusions based on limited evidence, and no one involved — including the victim and her mother — said anything criminal happened.

To the contrary, the alleged victim told KPTV FOX12, “Investigators think RJ was the one who made the move on me, when I was the one who made the move on him. And he was like, ‘No, no, no, we can’t do that.’”

And the girl’s mother spoke glowingly of Schuppert, telling KATU, “He knew his boundaries ... there was no ‘relationship,’” she said. “They’re grasping at things that just aren’t there.” Odd rhetoric from someone regarding a person accused of abusing one’s daughter?  Yes — and a strong statement regarding a person unjustly accused of a crime that never happened.

Sex-offender status never goes away. It will perpetually inhibit Schuppert from opportunities you and I take for granted. It might be appropriate punishment for many convicted of sex crimes, but in a case in which the “victim” and her mother defend the alleged perpetrator, it will be a never-ending scar in spite of a “shadow of a doubt,” which in many cases would exonerate the accused, or at least call into question whether a lifelong punishment was warranted. After all, text messages — while potentially damning in a vacuum — may often be misconstrued by a third party without the knowledge of tone or context. 

“If there is anything that we want people to know is how RJ has helped (my daughter) through difficult times,” said the girl’s mother, who had strong words for those who brought about Schuppert’s conviction and, as of Monday, March 23, still stands firmly by her statement: “They have ruined these two amazing, young and unique individuals’ lives and the jury will have to live with what they have done.”

Is that justice? 

Appropriate due to behavior unbecoming? 

Or unfairly harsh for a young man engaging in what the “victim” and her mother describe as a friendly, nurturing and harmless relationship?

It may not be for me to decide, but it is something for all of us to think about.

On March 30, Robert Schuppert Jr. will be sentenced. I’ll be watching and wondering: Does this punishment fit the crime? 

And maybe you should be, too.

Wade Evanson is a freelance writer who lives in Aloha.

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