Amish Man Sentenced to 38-76 Years in Prison for Child Sexual Abuse

On Friday David and I attended the sentencing of David Smucker in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, along with several other victim advocates. So often in court cases involving perpetrators among the Plain People, community members will show up in support of the perpetrator, leaving the victims feeling alone. We wanted to ensure this didn’t happen. This was a particularly horrific case because of the severity of the abuse, the soul-wrenching circumstances of the victims (including their age), the abuser had not admitted his crimes, and he had been housed in an unlicensed and unsecured facility (Whispering Hope) since March of last year.

People gathered in two groups outside Courtroom 8 in the Lancaster County courthouse on Friday morning, ahead of the 9:00 sentencing. One group was dressed in Plain clothes, and the other was not. Those of us who were not gathered near the courtroom door. At some point when I looked at the crowd of Amish people surrounding us, I felt a bit claustrophobic. I had not been surrounded by Amish folks since my mother’s funeral in 2005. This gathering had the same somber feel to it as a funeral.

When David Smucker was wheeled in to the hallway area, I noticed his face was devoid of any expression. I did not expect that. I was expecting him to play the martyr with a sorrowful face, possibly even crying. But there was none of that. He was wheeled behind a column and shielded from view by those around him.

Some of us had arrived ahead of the Amish folks, thinking we were securing our chances of getting in. But when an usher opened the courtroom door, he invited “the family” in. All the Amish (dozens) filed right past us. The usher came out and counted our group. When he went back in, I muttered under my breath that “there better be enough seats for all of us.” When he came back out, he said that we would need to sit in the jury box, and that not all of us would be able to be seated. I was among the first to go in, and the usher motioned three of us to fill the spots left on one of the benches. Thus, I found myself sitting right next to an Amish man. When the seats in the jury box filled up, the usher had the rest of the advocates leave.

A few minutes later, while the usher was not in the room, an Amish couple came walking in. They stood there and surveyed the room, looking for a place to sit. Suddenly, the Amish sitting behind me scooted over to make room for them and they sat down. I looked at David and whispered, “That is not right!” It was everything I could do not to stand up and say something about the injustice.

Once everyone had settled in, everything became so still, I could hear myself breathe for several long minutes. Then the usher came back in and said, “All rise!” and Judge Reinaker walked in. After everyone was seated, the Assistant District Attorney, Fritz Haverstick, called a case worker to the stand for questioning. She described how the victims were exhibiting “sexual reactive” behavior and how it had become instinctual for them. The girls have been separated from one another, their families, and all other children. They are eleven and twelve years old (the three younger ones are triplets). They can no longer go to church or school because they cannot be around other children. They are conflicted — on the one hand, they don’t want to be around other children because they know they will find a way to act out on them and they know that they cannot help themselves. On the other hand, they miss their family and and their church.

ADA Haverstick then provided testimony. It was excruciating to hear how the girls’ lost their mother before the abuse started, making them especially vulnerable to being taken advantage of. It was gut-wrenching to hear the details and severity of the abuse, starting from the time the girls were four and five years old, and continuing for years until it was discovered in 2018. Haverstick said David Smucker will not show any remorse for what he has done, even though he used his four granddaughters as sex toys. He added that these four victims are not the only ones affected by Mr. Smucker’s abuse, and that the number of victims and the damage he has done cannot be measured because this has affected the whole community. Haverstick requested that David Smucker not be granted any leniency because there is no sentence long enough for him to atone for his heinous crimes.

Defense attorney, Christopher Sarno, was asked if he had anything to say. Mr. Sarno proceeded to list Mr. Smucker’s ailments, including an hours-long back surgery he’d gone through, heart problems, and prostate problems. He then described how the Lancaster prison was unable to care for him because Mr. Smucker was not able to help himself to the bathroom, and so he had fallen in his own waste and hit his head. (This is why Mr. Smucker was then transferred to Whispering Hope, the facility I mentioned earlier.) He requested that Mr. Smucker be transferred to a hospital or other facility until a space in state prison becomes available. He also said Mr. Smucker was a farmer for many years, and that he had been generous in helping others with his money. Mr. Smucker has been married for fifty years. He has ten children and 65 grandchildren.

I am sure I am not the only one in that room who shuddered at the number of grandchildren. I cannot imagine that these four girls were his first victims. Most sexual predators begin abusing long before they are 69 years old, which is how old he was when these girls were four and five.

The judge asked Mr. Smucker if he had anything to say. With his elbows resting on the arms of the wheelchair, and his head hanging low, Mr. Smucker shook his head and said a barely audible “No.”

Judge Reinaker began addressing Mr. Smucker in a measured, firm voice of authority. He said that in the fourteen years he has been sitting on that bench, he has had several other members of “your community” in the courtroom for similar offenses, but in every one of those other cases, the offenders had admitted their guilt and shown remorse for what they had done. He said, “But you, sir, have not once admitted what you did, and you have shown no remorse.” He said that when an offender admits to what he did, there is some small measure of healing for the victims, and by not admitting his guilt, Mr. Smucker was depriving his granddaughters of even that small measure of healing.

Judge Reinaker was not done yet. He said that Mr. Smucker knew that what he was doing was wrong because he had asked the girls not to tell anyone and the judge reasoned that if Mr. Smucker didn’t know this was wrong, he wouldn’t have made those requests. Judge Reinaker said he could not imagine “anything more offensive or evil than the conduct you have perpetrated.” He went on to say that because of the nature of Mr. Smucker’s crimes, he does not get a discount for age, nor does he get a discount for health. Judge Reinaker said he is sorry for the issues Mr. Smucker had at the prison, and said he would call and try to get Mr. Smucker a spot in the state prison (where they can accommodate infirm inmates) as soon as possible, but Mr. Smucker would have to go back to the Lancaster Prison until a space in state prison became available.

Judge Reinaker then read the details of the sentence for each count, ending with a total of 38 to 76 years, which is essentially life in prison for Mr. Smucker.

After the sentence was read, two female officers snapped on their gloves, handcuffed Mr. Smucker, and wheeled him from the courtroom. His face showed no more feeling on his way out of the courtroom than it did on the way in. The only time I saw anything but a blank look in his face is when the judge delivered his verdict. At that point, Mr. Smucker turned his head a bit to the right with a grimace for just a moment. Then he looked back down towards the floor in front of him.

I was both relieved that Mr. Smucker did not get off with a light sentence and in shock from hearing the details of the abuse and the effect it is having on his victims.

In retrospect, it may have been a good thing that all of the Amish who attended were sitting in the courtroom. Judge Reinaker’s decision is a major departure from other court cases involving Amish perpetrators. Most often they get away with lighter sentences than perpetrators with similar crimes in mainstream society. Perhaps this decision sent a message to them that they are not above the law, just because they are Amish. There is another reason why it was good for them to hear it. I wished the victims could hear and understand what Judge Reinaker had to say on their behalf. I would venture to guess that his ten children (or most of them) were sitting in the courtroom. If they were victimized by Mr. Smucker when they were children, it was good for them to hear Judge Reinaker’s admonitions. All victims need to hear “it was not your fault.”

In examining why the outcome of this case is different from most among the Plain People, I would venture to guess these were factors:

  1. The heinous nature of Mr. Smucker’s crimes.
  2. In most cases, Amish men will admit their guilt when their crimes are uncovered. David Smucker did not.
  3. David Smucker may not have had the support of his whole family and community for the same reason… he would not admit his guilt.
  4. The article in Cosmopolitan raised awareness of the breadth and depth of the abuse issues among Plain People.
  5. The letters Judge Reinaker received from victim advocates (which he mentioned during the proceedings) were influential.
  6. The presence of members of the press and victim advocates.

 

Victim advocates in front of the Lancaster County Courthouse. Photo by Stephanie Strasburg

I forgot to count how many advocates showed up for the sentencing, but I will guess there were between 20 and 25 in all. We crowded into a corner of a coffee shop for the next several hours to “debrief.” Peter Smith, from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote an article about our group that includes photos.

Peter Smith also wrote a report about the sentencing.

Hurubie Meko from LancasterOnline wrote a report about the sentencing,  a report about Whispering Hope, where Mr. Smucker had been staying since March, and another more detailed report about that center and others like it.

These are all worth reading. The last one is important because it relates to the mental health centers mentioned in the Cosmopolitan article by Sarah McClure.

The David Smucker case certainly substantiates the problem of sexual abuse among the Amish as reported in the Cosmo article.

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14 thoughts on “Amish Man Sentenced to 38-76 Years in Prison for Child Sexual Abuse”

  1. This is encouraging and sad at the same time. What the abused went through breaks my heart, and how they will live with the hurt and changes this man’s actions brought to them is unimaginable. May many more courts view these abusers in the same way:Law breakers who have taken advantage of children in heinous ways.

    1. Dee, I agree. I am hoping this is the start of a new way of dealing with abusers from Plain communities… that they get treated like any other abusers.

      And you’re right… it was gut-wrenching to hear how he altered the natural development of these girls’ lives. Haverstick was right… there is no prison sentence long enough for him.

  2. It is stomach turning. I’m glad that the man will be behind bars for the rest of his life. At the same time it occurs to me that being away from children may be a relief to him- I can’t fathom that he has no contrition.

    When my daughter was molested by an old – and very child-loving (ha) man who took groups of kids to explore the local beach, bringing home loads of shells, I had no idea that he was a predator and discovered it only by accident. I may have over-reacted- before I even called the police I picked up a fallen branch from a tree and whipped him with it all the way to his home. I’ll never forget his wife’s face where she stood in the doorway as we got to their house. Looking back, I have the feeling that she had suspected something of the sort.

    All that’s another story. Suffice it to say that I’m glad that Smucker got life.

    1. I am happy that justice has prevailed and that David Smucker will spend the rest of his life in prison.

      And for you Elva Bontrager, you did not overreact when you whipped that man who molested your child. Hopefully he also got to spend time in prison for his crime.

    2. Elva, that is quite the story! That was a very real and human reaction. Mama bear protects her cubs, after all. That is not an over-reaction in my way of thinking. I hope you got him where it hurts!

      I cannot imagine being married to a predator and not know it. That would take someone capable of a lot more denial than I could muster.

      I cannot fathom that this man has no contrition, and yet there was absolutely no sign of it. It may be he is a narcissist… it is my understanding that they are not capable of feeling remorse because they cannot put themselves into someone else’s shoes.

      Yes, I was relieved to know that he will be in prison for the rest of his life, away from any chance of creating more victims.

      1. Saloma, my first husband had apparently been molesting our two girls for a while when I accidentally discovered what was going on. I’d noticed that their Barbie and Ken play was a bit more “worldly” than I expected, but didn’t really put much thought into it. Then one morning we had a thunder storm – my younger daughter was very much afraid of thunder and “frightening” – and one of them remarked that “When it rains you can get into bed with Momma, but not with Daddy.” “Yeah, he makes me rub him on the outside.” “Huh, he makes me hold that old thing.”

        I nearly lost my breakfast, but I didn’t say a word. I talked to my pastor that afternoon, and the next morning I asked my parents for enough money to cover the fist month of an apartment. We were out of the house by the next weekend.

        I was totally unaware of what had been going on, but I hopped to when I found out!

  3. My first reaction when I saw a picture of the man in the wheel chair was that he was a first class creep. Those poor girls who he miss used!!I hope that they will get enough good counselling that they will have a chance to have good lives. It is too bad that this awful cloud is hanging over the Amish group that is caught in this kind of behavior. Look at what is going on with the really strict Mennonites in Mexico. This will take awhile to be taken care of.

    1. Yes, Mary, this is not an overnight fix. This is a major fix that is going to take generations. The Mennonites in Mexico is one example of major communal dysfunction, and so is the one of the Old World Mennonites in Bolivia. Nobody knows whether the abuse in the Plain communities here is that widespread or not. Given the male-domination and the systems for silencing victims, there is that possibility.

      1. I watched a program about the Old World Mennonites in South America, and I’m wondering if it was the same group? Somebody was breaking into houses in the middle of the night and raping the women. The men began sitting up at night to protect their wives, and the local bishop told them it wasn’t Christian to do so! The perpetrators were eventually caught, but the elders insisted they be released from prison, because their religion taught “forgiveness”. I’m all for forgiveness, mind you, but there is such a thing as “rendering unto Caesar”, and that includes obeying most of Caesar’s laws!

  4. I can’t help but note that the judge said Smucker’s not admitting his guilt was a major factor in his sentencing, but it appears that some Amish men who do admit their guilt and are forgiven by their community, go on to abuse again.

    1. You’re absolutely right, Johanna. In that regard, it is better for everyone (except for him) that he didn’t show remorse and given leniency.

      One of the things that happens in Plain groups is that if someone does show remorse, they will tell the judge that particular witnesses will only testify if the perpetrator does not get jail time. Without witnesses, there is no case. Often the judges feel like it’s better to give the perpetrator at least some probation.

      Part of the problem is that the Amish have become used to being treated differently than their counterparts in mainstream society. There is a feeling in the community that “worldly laws” are for those who live “in the world.” This is not doing their culture any favors. It allows the abuse to go unchecked.

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