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VALPARAISO — Erick Boots has been a model probationer following his 2015 conviction for sexual battery against a young girl, according to testimony Friday.

The 27-year-old has complied with all the orders from the court, went to school, holds down a good-paying job and has convinced his attorney Mitch Peters that he is rehabilitated and will not reoffend again.

But Porter Circuit Court Judge Mary Harper denied a request to reduce Boots' three felony sexual battery convictions to misdemeanor counts of simple battery, which would have freed Boots from having to register as a sex offender and comply with those limitations for the remainder of his life.

"She was a very young girl," Harper said while explaining her decision.

The judge was not only concerned that Boots, at the age of 18, had forced a girl, somewhere between the ages of 7 and 10, to take part in a sexual act, but also that he had done it repeatedly.

There was also a young male involved in the accusations that was not part of the conviction, according to testimony Friday.

Harper questioned the legality of the request.

"I don't think it's the right thing to do to change the conviction," she said.

Harper did agree to remove no-contact orders that had prohibited Boots from having contact with the young woman and man named in the original accusations. She also reduced his probation from formal to administrative.

Rehabilitation questioned

Boots, who reportedly suffered abuse by a fellow member of Fairhaven Baptist Church in Porter, was originally charged with child molesting and other counts, but struck a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to three lesser felony charges of sexual battery.

He was released in June 2015 after serving nearly 4½ years behind bars and was ordered to register as a sex offender, submit to HIV testing, take part in a dual diagnosis treatment and pay back $1,837 in extradition fees.

The children, all under the age of 14, accused him of abusing them during the period of Jan. 17 and June 1 in 2010, according to court records.

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"Erick explained that he had been molested by a church member at age fifteen (15), and believed this behavior caused him to victimize (the victim)," according to charging information.

Germann, who served as the defense attorney, spoke in court in 2015 about Boots' "horrific family background" and said the young man appeared to him to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The female victim, who is now 17, and the now-18-year-old male are in favor of the proposed change, Peters said.

Also favoring the move Friday was Lake County Deputy Prosecutor Keith Anderson, who was brought in to handle the case because Porter County Prosecutor Gary Germann had represented Boots before taking his current elected post.

Anderson said while he was initially opposed to the request, his stance changed during the eight to 10 months he looked into the progress Boots has made.

"I feel that this is appropriate," he said. "He's been a model probationer."

Porter County Adult Probation Officer Jennifer York testified that Boots was in compliance and stood out because he has goals.

But when asked by the judge if she thought Boots was rehabilitated, York hesitated.

"It's a hard question to answer your honor," she said.

Boots' father, uncle and younger brother all testified Friday in favor of the proposed changes.

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Porter/LaPorte County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Bob is a 23-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.