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Dennis Tomasik

Other Michigan Child Sex Abuse Exonerations
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In February 2006, 42-year-old Dennis Tomasik was accused of sexually assaulting a boy over a two-year period a decade earlier in Comstock Park, an unincorporated community just north of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The accusation came from a boy identified in court as T.J., who by then was a month away from his 16th birthday. He made the accusation after he was caught on videotape at his high school stealing money from a coach’s purse during a cheerleading practice.

The theft was the latest incident in several years of troubling behavior that included two purported suicide attempts, a 10-day school suspension, and sessions with multiple counselors. On February 4, 2006, facing criminal charges for the theft, T.J. told his then-counselor, Julie Schaefer-Space, about the alleged abuse. He said that when he was six years old, his best friend was Tomasik’s son, Ethan, and that they lived about seven houses apart. T.J. said that one day, Tomasik took him from the basement where he was playing Nintendo with Ethan and into Ethan’s room, where he put his penis in T.J.’s mouth.

Over the next several weeks, T.J. told various and shifting accounts of what happened in Tomasik’s house. On one occasion, he said he had been sexually assaulted more than 300 times before he stopped going to Tomasik’s house when he was eight years old.

On February 24, 2006, during an interview with Kent County Sheriff’s detective Heather Martin, T.J. said Tomasik had anally raped him on two occasions. Later in the interview, he said he was sexually assaulted “almost every time” he was at the Tomasik home and that he was at the home about three times a week for two years—translating to more than 300 sexual assaults. T.J. was unable to recall Tomasik’s name during the interview, however.

Tomasik was arrested on March 6. At a preliminary examination in a Kent County District Court on March 31, T.J. testified that the first time Tomasik took him into Ethan’s room, he was anally raped—a different account than his first version in which he claimed Tomasik forced him to perform oral sex.

T.J. testified that he particularly remembered one incident because he and his father were riding bikes together and stopped at Tomasik’s house where Tomasik was outside working on his truck. T.J. said his father and Tomasik chatted and then his father continued on while T.J. stayed to play with Ethan. T.J. said Tomasik took him inside to Ethan’s room and forced him to engage in oral sex.

During this testimony, T.J. increased the number of times he had been anally raped from two to 10 to 20 times. He said that Tomasik forced him to perform oral sex 50 to 60 times—a significant reduction in his original claim of being sexually assaulted more than 300 times.

Tomasik was charged with two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a child under age 13. He went to trial in Kent County Circuit Court in April 2007.

T.J., who was by then 17 years old, testified and again changed his story. He said he did not know the number of times he was anally raped, then said he was anally raped 50 to 60 times, and then that he was anally raped 10 to 20 times. He also reverted back to his original story that the first time involved oral rather than anal penetration. He also now gave a different account of the story about the day he and his father stopped during a bike ride. T.J. said that he had been anally raped that day, not forced to perform oral sex. He again gave a different number of times that he was at the Tomasik home, which changed the total number of alleged assaults to between 500 and 600.

T.J. testified that he finally revealed the abuse a decade later because after he had been charged with theft and suspended from high school, he “had enough of living my life the way I am and I don’t want to live in a jail cell for the rest of my life so the next time I had a meeting with Julie (Schaefer-Space, his counselor), I just told her.”

The prosecution played a 39-minute audio-recorded interview that Detective Martin had conducted with Tomasik. During the interview, Martin repeatedly said she had completed her investigation and had verified the truth of T.J.’s accusations, which was not true. Martin told Tomasik that “everything I know, with this family has provided me with, that can be backed up, everything that I know, I know happened. So my question to you today (is) not, hey did this happen or didn’t happen, because…I know, it happened, ok.”

Tomasik repeatedly said that he had no idea what Martin was talking about and finally told Martin she was wrongfully accusing him. When Martin replied, “What am I accusing you of?” Tomasik replied, “Child molestation or something.” Martin then said, “When did that come up? How did you think of that?” Throughout the interview, Tomasik steadfastly maintained his innocence.

The prosecution also called three expert witnesses, in addition to T.J.’s counselor. Dr. Randall Clark testified that he had treated T.J. for slight anal bleeding during the time of the alleged abuse. Clark testified that he found an inferior anal fissure that was consistent with constipation and saw no evidence of sexual abuse.

Dr. Debra Simms, a pediatrician, testified that the finding of an anal fissure did not rule out that T.J. had been sexually abused and that often there is no physical evidence of sexual abuse.

Thomas Cottrell, a YWCA counselor, testified that, although he had not interviewed T.J., he had reviewed his testimony. Cottrell said it was not unusual for sex abuse victims to delay revealing abuse for many years. He also said it was not unusual that T.J. continued to return to Ethan’s house because he didn’t want to give up his friend. Cottrell compared T.J.’s returning to the house despite the sexual abuse to a child who continues to go to a playground despite the presence of a bully because his friends are there.

Cottrell also testified that even though Tomasik (whom he also didn’t interview) was a middle-aged man with no prior convictions or instances of sexually deviant behavior, he still fit the profile of a sexual predator. Cottrell told the jury that typically sex offenders “very carefully select their victims” and “across-the-board offenders specifically select victims.” He also said he has seen cases where an offender only abused one child.

Schaefer-Space, the counselor to whom T.J. first spoke of being assaulted, testified that T.J. had “all of the marks of being a child who was sexually abused.” She said she did not examine T.J.’s past psychological records to reach that conclusion, but instead relied upon T.J.’s known bad behavior.

On April 24, 2007, the jury convicted Tomasik of both charges. He was sentenced to 12 to 50 years in prison.

For the next nine years, the case was the subject of an extensive legal battle in the Michigan Court of Appeals and Michigan Supreme Court waged by appellate attorneys Marty Tieber and Kris Tieber. The attorneys retained Dr. Jeffery Kieliszewski, a forensic clinical psychologist, to examine the entire record of the case.

Kieliszewski concluded that Schaefer-Space’s testimony, because it was based on extremely limited information, was “seriously flawed, highly prejudicial.” Her testimony was never challenged by Tomasik’s trial defense attorney, who had never consulted with any expert prior to trial and did not present any expert testimony at the trial. Kieliszewski said Schaefer-Space suffered from “clinician’s illusion,” which occurs when “someone spends a great deal or significant majority of their time working with a particular type of disorder or patient …(and) they tend to have notions about that particular illness or clinical problem that don’t necessarily readily meet with what the empirical research says.”

Kieliszewski also criticized Cottrell’s testimony, saying, “You don’t all of a sudden wake up at 40 years old and have an appetite towards sexually abusing prepubescent boys.”

The defense, based on Kieliszewski’s analysis, ultimately managed to persuade the Michigan Supreme Court to order that some of T.J.’s prior psychological records—which had not been sought by Tomasik’s trial lawyer—be disclosed. The records showed that T.J. had been seeing a counselor since before he claimed the assaults occurred, and had been diagnosed with learning disabilities, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, and Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

The records showed that a counselor and teacher reported that he lied so frequently to teachers and staff that no one knew what was truth. “He will lie and it becomes difficult to know truth from fiction,” one report said.

T.J., the report said, “has been lying to parents and teachers for so long he distorts reality. He is offended that we don’t trust him, but he has repeatedly broken our collective trust…He seems to really believe his untruthful statements.” The report also said that T.J.’s “sense of what is real does not match what the majority of us see as reality.”

Despite this newly discovered evidence, Tomasik’s trial judge refused to grant a new trial. However, in 2015, the Michigan Supreme Court reversed his convictions and ordered a new trial, ruling that the jury should not have heard the recorded interview between Tomasik and Detective Martin. The court held that it was improper to allow jurors to hear statements from the detective that vouched for a complainant’s credibility and ridiculed a suspect’s assertions of innocence. The recording of Martin’s interview was rife with such language.

Tomasik was released on bond on March 30, 2015. He went to trial a second time in Kent County Circuit Court in January 2017. A new defense team, headed by attorneys Mary Chartier and Takura Nyamfukudza, and assisted by paralegals Lizzy Cary and Kim Thelen, presented numerous witnesses, including 22 who were not called to testify at his first trial.

The witnesses included Tomasik’s co-workers and supervisors, who told the jury that he was at work when T.J. claimed the assaults happened. Tomasik’s work timesheets supported this testimony.

The defense also tracked down neighborhood children – including one who had moved to Alaska – who testified that they did not play with T.J. as he claimed. These witnesses also refuted T.J.’s claim that he was at Tomasik’s house playing with Ethan five times a week. In addition, the defense presented receipts and other exhibits that refuted T.J.’s claims about the events and the Tomasik house.

The defense also presented two prior counselors and a teacher, as well as some of T.J.’s prior psychological and school records, which portrayed him as a chronic liar who believed his own lies.

Tomasik also testified on his own behalf and as he had said for more than a decade, he never sexually abused T.J.

On February 7, 2017, the jury, after deliberating less than a half hour, acquitted Tomasik.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/24/2017
State:Michigan
County:Kent
Most Serious Crime:Child Sex Abuse
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1998
Convicted:2007
Exonerated:2017
Sentence:12 to 50 years
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:34
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No