Probation for sex abuse

Daniel Schott

A bench trial for Daniel Schott, 54, of Mascoutah, took place last Wednesday afternoon at the Monroe County Courthouse, during which Judge Jeremy Walker found him guilty of one count of aggravated criminal sexual abuse in that he knowingly and unlawfully committed an act of sexual conduct with a 14-year-old victim in Waterloo in 2005.

Schott, who was originally charged with aggravated criminal sexual abuse and criminal sexual assault in December 2019, was sentenced to two years of probation, ordered to pay a $839 fine after bond and must register as a sex offender.

As previously reported in 2020, Schott was arrested the same day charges were filed as he was leaving his job at Menard Correctional Center in Chester.

The case was originally overseen by then state’s attorney and current 24th Circuit Judge Chris Hitzemann, who at the time said the victim, Taylor Walls, actually contacted police the day of the incident in 2005.

“The victim decided to do a follow-up of what, if anything, had happened to her case and went on judici.com to look up the defendant prior to the filing of our (current 2019) case,” Hitzemann explained. “At that point, the victim saw that a case from 2007 had been dismissed and called our office to ask why the case had been dismissed.”

That 2007 case came about as Schott was then charged in Monroe County with aggravated criminal sexual abuse (victim under 13) in connection with a separate 2005 incident involving a different female.

That case was dismissed in May 2007 due to the alleged victim recanting her statement.

Also as part of the 2020 article, Hitzemann said his office began looking into the 2005 matter, finding the investigation file at the Waterloo Police Department along with evidence for the case which had been preserved.

Present at last week’s bench trial were Judge Walker, Schott, his attorney Nick Brown of Lawler Brown Law Firm in Marion, special prosecutor Jennifer Mudge and Walls, who was joined by her husband.

It was noted at the start of the bench trial that count two – criminal sexual assault – had been dismissed. Count one – criminal sexual abuse – was amended to note Schott engaged in sexual conduct with Walls when she was between 13-17, placing his hand under her shirt and bra while he was more than five years older than her.

Walls was 14 and Schott was 35 at the time of the incident.

As a Class 2 felony, Schott could have faced a sentence of conditional discharge, probation or 3-7 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Mudge recounted the events of the July 2005 incident and the subsequent police reports.

As Mudge said, Walls was at a friend’s house while Schott, her friend’s stepfather at the time, was drinking. He offered the girls drinks, leaving to buy cigarettes and peppermint schnapps which the girls drank.

Walls, her friend and Schott went outside on a trampoline, where Walls recalled passing out only to wake up vomiting.

Walls then remembered waking up on the living room couch with Schott on top of her, straddling her legs, trying to pull her shorts down. One of his hands went up her shirt, under her bra and touching her breasts. Schott also put his hand down her pants and placed his finger inside her vagina.

Walls rolled over to get Schott away and left the room, grabbing her phone and keys and running out of the home, setting off the alarm.

Walls called her cousin and another friend when she got home, who advised her to tell her parents. Upon telling her step-father, he immediately contacted the police.

Arriving at the police department, Walls gave a written statement consistent with the statement given to an officer on scene.

The friend she had called also offered a written statement, as did her stepfather who said Walls was hysterical and crying, saying “Dan tried to rape me” after he calmed her down.

Mudge said police recovered a bottle of alcohol from Schott’s home and Walls’ clothing.

A polygraph from Schott at the time provided inconclusive results, as he denied having touched Walls.

Walls’ friend whom she was visiting also provided a statement, describing how she woke up at 4:45 a.m. when the house alarm went off, and she saw Walls running from the house.

Mudge further said Walls had an interview with a child advocacy center following the incident, where she reported everything consistent with prior statements.

From there, no action took place until December 2019, when Walls reached out to the Monroe County State’s Attorney’s office. The case was referred to the WPD, and former officer Eric Zaber reopened the case and began investigating.

Walls’ 2019 statement was consistent with the statement she had given in 2005 when police arrived at her house.

After the 2019 charges were filed, police contacted the biological father of the friend Walls had been visiting, who recalled how she had been acting out and was scared to break up her family after the 2005 incident.

When police contacted Walls’ friend, the first thing she said was, “Is this about my case or is this about Taylor’s case?”

This friend said she had contacted Walls in college to apologize for the incident, also telling Walls that she had been abused as well.

Mudge said prosecution would expect Walls’ friend to testify that she reported sex abuse from Schott starting when she was 7. 

This friend was the alleged victim in the case which was dismissed in 2007 after she terminated prosecution.

A skin cell sample from Walls’ shorts was collected, and while Schott’s DNA could not be excluded, Mudge said a DNA expert contacted by the defense would be expected to testify that not enough DNA was located to perform a full profile.

Following Mudge’s recounting of the incident, Brown expressed that the defense stipulated to the evidence, though he added that the polygraph test was not admissable and the expected testimony of Walls’ friend would not be credible.

Following court proceedings, Walker requested Mudge’s recommended sentencing which was two years of probation, usual fines and costs and an order to perform sex offender treatment per the probation department.

Walls then provided a victim impact statement, addressing the judge and at times, Schott directly.

Walls opened her statement simply acknowledging that her rights – and herself – were violated, pointing out Schott didn’t get to face her 14-year-old self in court.

“I cried every day for a year,” Walls said. “I would take multiple showers every day in an effort to wash it off of me. I didn’t sleep. I couldn’t sleep. This man violated me when I was most vulnerable. To this day, I still struggle with insomnia. I started to question my trust of everyone. I locked my bedroom door at night. My friends and family were incredibly supportive, but nobody could fix this for me. And in the process, I’ve created vicarious trauma for each of them. And that kills me.”

She pointed out how Schott, given his career at Menard Correctional Center, knew well the consequences of what would happen were he caught but still wasn’t deterred.

Walls then spoke about her experiences as the case has carried on over the past five years, recalling how she originally told Hitzemann she wanted the charges to lead to a prison sentence.

Walls added she had hoped for a jury trial and the opportunity to tell 12 jurors about what Schott did to her. Walls said she would have preferred such jurors decide in Schott’s favor rather than have her state’s attorney dismiss a charge with a mandatory prison sentence.

She stressed that she “did not unpack my trauma and bring this back into my life for it to result in probation. No victim would.”

“I deserve justice and there’s zero justice in probation,” Walls added.

Walls closed her statement addressing Schott, calling him a coward who refused to face a jury.

“You spent 15 years thinking that you were smarter than the system and had gotten away with sticking your body parts inside a sleeping child. But here we are,” Walls said. “Everyone in this room and everyone you’ll ever meet who Googles your crappy name will know exactly what you are – a child molester whose compulsion is to sexually assault sleeping children. You are disgusting and I hope it eats you alive to know that you’ve done far worse to your other victims. But what you did to me is what got you caught – it’s what outed you to the rest of the world as a child molester.”

Following the trial, Walls spoke with the Republic-Times to discuss the case and her experiences.

Regarding the 15-year gap between the incident and the time charges were filed, Walls said then-state’s attorney Kris Reitz declined to file.

Walls read a message from Hitzemann describing Reitz’s declination sheet from the time which explained he declined because it was a matter of Walls’ word versus Schott’s, additionally pointing out the girls were intoxicated the night of the incident and there was insufficient evidence to convict.

Walls also spoke about the past five years between the filing and recent trial.

She spoke very positively about working with Hitzemann, who she said was supportive of her wishes to push the case to trial without diminishing a sentence.

Walls – who currently works as a criminal investigator and has experience working with prosecutors and speaking with sex assault victims – noted she has previously worked with a prosecutor who, after losing a child sex case, began pleading sentences down tremendously. That was something she greatly wanted to avoid.

With the courts closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic at the time, Walls recalled how her case was put on hold with the possibility of a trial in the near future.

Hitzemann was then appointed as a judge, with Lucas Liefer stepping in as state’s attorney.

Walls said Hitzemann greatly eased the transition, and Liefer seemed to be similarly receptive to her wishes in the beginning.

She recalled however that over time, Liefer seemed to be leaning more toward the probation sentence. As Walls recalled, he suggested that such an old case wouldn’t amount to much – though she argued that the apparent evidence from her shorts would serve to keep the case alive.

Walls suggested that following a not guilty verdict in the murder trial involving Kyle Roider in Monroe County in 2021, Liefer was hesitant to bring another case to trial with the potential of losing.

“It was like pulling teeth,” Walls said. “I had come to the conclusion that he didn’t want to lose again. He had just lost that murder case, and it came off that he wasn’t willing to do that, to suffer a loss again. That meeting is still just appalling to me… I had never seen a prosecutor talk to a victim the way that Lucas talked to me.”

Eventually, Liefer was also appointed as a judge, bringing in Mudge to prosecute this case. Walls said Mudge originally agreed with Liefer but seemed to turn a corner as she looked into the case more herself.

Walls expressed a further issue with Liefer as she said he failed to communicate with her for a long span of time.

Walls pointed out how, after he had not gotten in touch with her for some time, she reached out to the Republic-Times in 2022 after having seen the previously mentioned 2020 reporting.

The Republic-Times then reached out to Liefer for more information on the case, at which point he responded both to the paper and Walls.

Walls, given her experience working with prosecutors, commented on how difficult prosecutions for cases like this can be, though she added that given the evidence and consistent statements over the years, her case was far more promising than many others.

“Every child sex case is hard to prosecute,” Walls said. “It comes with the territory. Yes, they are some of the hardest to prove, but they’re also some of the most important. Outside of a forcible rape on camera, you don’t get more than what you do in mine.”

Walls expressed strong disappointment with the probation sentencing for Schott. Reiterating a point she made in the victim impact statement, Walls expressed that she wanted more to come from her dredging up her abuse.

While she said there is some solace in Schott having to register as a sex offender and people being able to know about his conviction, she is upset about the system’s apparent failure and the difficulty she faced with her own attorneys here in Monroe County.

“Part of me fears that this report is going to somehow sway victims not to pursue charges because he only got probation, and I can’t imagine any victim coming forward just for probation,” Walls said. “At least from this, I hope that the new state’s attorney learns from this and doesn’t do this, and I hope that the community doesn’t allow it.”

The Republic-Times also contacted Mudge, who declined to comment. Liefer and Brown did not respond to attempts for comment.

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Andrew Unverferth

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