Douglas Wirth Found Not Guilty Of Abusing Adopted Son
By David Owens
ARTFORD — A Hartford Superior Court judge Monday found a former Glastonbury man not guilty of physically and sexually abusing one of the sons he and his former husband adopted through the state Department of Children and Families..
Judge Julia D. Dewey said the evidence against Douglas Wirth was simply not believable.
"Not guilty of all charges," the judge said after summarizing her findings.
The trial was based on the charges brought by one son, who is now 19. Wirth, 46, and his former husband, George Harasz, 51, were accused of sexually and physically abusing him over several years. He was one of nine boys they adopted through the state Department of Children and Families.
Harasz is scheduled to go to trial in late October.
The accuser's long history of lying — a therapist described him as a pathological liar — undermined the state's charges.
"The [Glastonbury] police investigation in this case was initiated after [a] statement by the primary complainant," Dewey said. "His credibility was critical. Even a cursory examination would have revealed the fact that his credibility was already suspect. After the investigation began, he continued to lie about several factors, some significant and some inconsequential."
Wirth opted for a court trial, where Dewey - and not a jury - would evaluate the evidence and render a verdict. Dewey she said evaluated each witness just as a jury would have.
"The fabrications, the inconsistencies, the omissions went to the heart of the allegations in this case," Dewey said. "The complainant's testimony was more than simply forgetting things."
The accuser's claims of abuse "fluctuated dramatically from the first account to the last," Dewey said. "The evidence in this case reveals multiple accusations throughout the years."
And while victims of sexual abuse often take a long time to fully disclose the crimes against them, in the Wirth case "the complainant's disclosure was more opportunistic than therapeutic," Dewey said. "Something happened to this complainant, but there is no credible testimony that links [Wirth] to any of the criminal sexual acts alleged by the state."
As to the allegations of physical abuse, the evidence was just as thin. Dewey said she disagrees with some of the discipline methods Harasz was alleged to have used, but they were not criminal. Among the allegations was that Wirth failed to intervene on behalf of the children.
"Indeed, DCF was aware of many of the allegations, yet did not sustain any of the complainants' earlier complaints," Dewey said. "Given the brigade of social workers, educators, [DCF] personnel and medical providers who provided intense services to the complainant and his siblings, it is inconceivable that not one of these disinterested persons saw any signs of physical abuse."
Dewey also criticized DCF and others for their failure to comply with court orders to release all documents related to the case. Prosecutors, she added, were under the impression they had already received all documents.
"The litigants prepared under the misapprehension that they were in possession of all relevant government and medical records," Dewey said. Instead, on the eve of trial, DCF delivered 10,000 to 12,000 pages of documents to Dewey for review. She turned over about 2,000 pages of those documents to the lawyers.
But that wasn't the end of the trickle of documents related to the case, the judge said.
I wonder if they will waste the money and still put the other man on trial?
"Most incredibly, the pre-adoption history of the complainant and his siblings had never been made available to either counsel," Dewey said. "The state never should have proceeded to trial without this material. This comment bears repeating. Before this trial began, none of the counsel had seen the pre-adoption records. These records contained extraordinarily exculpatory information."
Prosecutors also did not see "all of the critical narrative summaries prepared by DCF workers who testified as prosecution witnesses," the judge said. "The state had an obligation to secure and review all relevant material before it began the criminal process. The glaring absence of these records should have alerted the prosecution that something was amiss."
In a statement released through a spokesman, Katz did not address DCF's failure to release documents related to the case. She did say she was disappointed in the verdict and thanked prosecutors for going forward with the case "under difficult circumstances."
Wirth's lawyer, Michael Dwyer, said he was gratified by Dewey's finding.
"We're fortunate to have a judge who took the time to go through the thousands of pages of documents and come to a decision consistent with what we maintained all along," Dwyer said.
Wirth said he was relieved. "I'm just glad [with] the judge's decision and that she was able to look at the facts objectively and come to a reasonable judgment," Wirth said. "It's been a long time coming."
After the judge announced her verdict, Wirth's family and friends, including his parents, stood and embraced and thanked Dwyer for his efforts.
The charges against Wirth included first-degree sexual assault, four counts of third-degree sexual assault, risk of injury to a minor and two counts of illicit sexual contact with a minor.
The case almost did not go to trial. In January 2013 Wirth and Harasz pleaded no contest to risk of injury to a minor and agreed to suspended prison sentences. The deal, negotiated by prosecutor David Zagaja and lawyers for the men, was scrapped after the accuser made new allegations of abuse. A DCF lawyer also said the agency opposed the plea agreement.
Harasz's lawyer, Hubert J. Santos, in June accused DCF Commissioner Joette Katz of meddling in the case and having Zagaja removed as prosecutor.
Santos said she was actively involved in the case and "intervened to remove one of the prosecutors in this case" and was "intent on convicting each of our respective clients."
Zagaja had earlier expressed reservations about the state's case and said he did not believe the state could prove its case at a trial. "We have no forensic evidence in this case," he said at a previous court hearing. "We have some corroboration of events by other children," as well as "reports from some children that contradict some allegations, and others that flat out claim some of the conduct never happened."
Prosecutor Anthony Bochicchio, who along with colleague Elizabeth Tanaka tried the case, disputed Santos' allegations that Katz had Zagaja removed or dictated any actions by the state's attorney's office, although he said DCF opposed the plea agreement Zagaja negotiated with Wirth and Harasz.
"I've had a number of meetings with the Department of Children and Families, with foster parents, with case workers, [and] at least three meetings with the commissioner directly," Bochicchio said. "In all those meetings, she expressed her opinion and we expressed ours. They at no point dictated our actions."
Zagaja dropped out of the case, Bochicchio said, "because it was our feeling that if we were to go to trial and we did not prevail, then there'd always be the accusation that 'he didn't want to try it anyway.' That's why he's no longer on the case. It had nothing to do with requests by anybody."