John W. Hess waits during a break for his trial on rape and gross sexual imposition charges resumes. Photo by Carrie Gloeckner.

Jury Returns Guilty Verdict on Gross Sexual Imposition Charges, Not Guilty of Rape in Hess Trial

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following includes testimony given in court that is of a graphic nature. Some readers may find the material disturbing and/or offensive. To protect the identity of the victim, the Meigs Independent Press is referring to her as “Rachel.” Regardless of the outcome of the trial, because Rachel is a minor, her real name would not be used either.)

POMEROY, Ohio – A Pomeroy man has been found guilty on three counts related to the sexual abuse of a child.

Following about seven hours of deliberating over the course of two days, the jury returned to the Meigs County Court of Common Pleas with the verdict. The jury found John W. Hess, Jr. guilty of two counts of Gross Sexual Imposition and one count of Disseminating Material Harmful to Juveniles. They further found that the material was both harmful and obscene. He was found not guilty of the three rape charges.

The incidents happened from November 8, 2013 to November 30, 2015. During that time period the victim was seven to nine years old. John W. Hess, Jr. was charged in two separate cases ranging in severity of charges from gross sexual imposition to rape. The cases were merged for purposes of trial. In case 18CR231, Hess was charged with three counts of Rape, all felonies of the first degree. He was indicted in the first case on October 10, 2018. In case 19CR052, Hess was charged with two counts of Gross Sexual Imposition, both felonies of the third degree along with one count of Rape, a felony of the first degree and Dissemenating Material Harmful to Juveniles, a felony of the fifth degree. He was indicted on those counts by the Meigs County Grand Jury on February 6, 2019. The charges have merged for one trial. Hess has been held on a $500,000 bond with no 10 percent down allowed. Hess appeared in court with his counsel, Britt Wiseman.

Following the three days of trial, the jury was given the case at 1:30 p.m. They came back into the courtroom at 10:42 a.m. with the verdict.

Hess was immediately remanded to the custody of the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office and is scheduled for sentencing on September 24, 2019 at 10 a.m. in the Meigs County Court of Common Pleas.

“We are glad we had convictions that we did,” Meigs County Prosecuting Attorney James Stanley said following the verdict. “The victim in this case was very brave,” he noted.

Stanley will be seeking the maximum sentence for Hess at sentencing of seven years. If Judge Warner finds Hess to be a sexually violent offender, Hess could face a minimum of two additional years on each offense. He could also be sentenced to a maximum of life in prison as well.

Day Two of Trail


On September 18, the day began with the victim taking the stand beginning at 8:30 a.m. and spending hours giving testimony and being questioned. Rachel was asked to point out the person that had committed the alleged crimes against her. She identified the defendant. Prosecutor Stanley started with asking Rachel about her seventh birthday party. She was managing until she had to tell who was there. When it came to talking about John W. Hess, she broke down in tears. Judge Warner called for a break and the child was taken out of the courtroom for a while. Once Rachel returned to the stand, she testified to remembering that she had just blown her candles out on her Scooby Doo birthday cake when Hess led her outside the house. According to Rachel’s testimony, Hess took her to the back of an old vehicle sitting in the yard that was her mother’s. Hess then picked her up and placed her on the back of the vehicle. Rachel, now 12, told of how Hess pulled her pants and underwear down when she had just turned 7 and performed oral sex on her. The incident did not last long according to Rachel, her father calling for her from the house door ended the assault. The child described through tears what it had felt like. She believed the assault lasted about five to 10 minutes.

Rachel told of another incident sometime after the birthday assault where she rode with Hess to church. Her parents and sister were following behind her in another vehicle. Rachel said Hess had her take her pants down. She did, but left her underwear on. That did not stop him from touching her vagina and inserting his finger, according to Rachel. She described that “it burned” when he did so until he reached a stop sign and stopped touching her.

Another incident described by Rachel was that of her looking for a Hello Kitty doll. She had been playing a game with it earlier in the day and believed that Hess took it. She went to his camper to look for it, the rest of the family was in the house. “He laid on top of me and pushed,” she said as Hess tried to insert his penis in her vagina. When asked by Stanley what she felt, Rachel said, “Pain because it hurt.” That encounter ended when another family member was calling for her.

Rachel told of another time when she went to Hess’ camper to give him a message from her father when Hess suggested he put on a cartoon for her to watch. According to her testimony, Hess put in a pornographic video. The 12-year-old told the court that it showed a man and woman having sex. (It was followed by details the Meigs Independent Press deems too graphic for print.) During the video Rachel said she tried to hide under a cover, but Hess was watching to see if she was continuing to watch it. After the video Hess told Rachel he wanted to do what was in the video with her when Rachel’s dad knocked on the camper door.

Throughout the testimony and video interviews, Rachel’s body language changed being easy going and open when talking about her family or pets, school or anything else until it came to talking about Hess and the incidents of sexual abuse. She became visibly upset and had to stop to compose herself throughout testimony. The court permitted as many breaks as she needed. Rachel testified to the brief encounters of sexual abuse, moments when her family was not around or out of sight.

At one point, Rachel went to visit an aunt in Florida for several weeks during the summer. It was then, while she was away from Hess’ reach she told what had happened to her.

On cross examination, Britt Wiseman asked why she had not told anyone including during a 2015 interview with the Child Prevention Center. Wiseman questioned her about taped interviews. A video played during that interview of a much younger Rachel being asked about someone touching her inappropriately from 2015. An initial inquiry at the time found nothing for a basis to move forward, that a crime had even happened involving her father. At the time, Rachel was interviewed and she denied repeatedly her father had done anything to her.

Another video from 2018 was very different as questions were related to John W. Hess and James Hess. Rachel said in the 2018 interview, “I don’t talk about my problems. If you talk about your problems, you always have that memory.” She went on to say that she didn’t like talking about her problems, she just wanted to forget.

At 3:06 p.m. on September 18, the state rested its case. The defense called Investiagor Michael Oliver back to the stand. He had testified the day before. Oliver was questioned about not interviewing everyone, having a search warrant to find the alleged pornorgraphic video and other points by Wiseman. Oliver stated too much time had passed to attempt to get a search warrant on a video that Rachel was not even sure that Hess kept the video then, let alone in 2018.

At 3:47 p.m., John W. Hess took the stand in his own defense. Hess kept answers very short, rarely saying more than yes, no or correct. Wiseman asked Hess questions concerning each count. He asked Hess about the birthday party incident and other questionable instances. Each time the defendant answered that he did not do anything. He denied the allegations. He was asked if he had ever been alone with Rachel, he responded, “no.”

On cross examination by Stanley, Hess continued to only answer with very short responses of “yes” or “no”. Hess continued to deny the that he had every done anything with Rachel. At 4:03 p.m. Stanley attempted to introduce information through questioning of Hess that had a prior conviction. The jury was taken from the courtroom while the defense and prosecution debated the admittance of this information in front of Judge Linda Warner.

According to case 2009CR0019 in the Morrow County Court of Common Pleas, Hess was convicted on two counts. The first was Gross Sexual Imposition, a felony of the first degree, and the second was Disseminating Matter Harmful to a Juvenile, a misdemeanor of the first degree, on November 20, 2009.

Both attorneys spent time arguing their points. Wiseman vehemently argued against permitting the jury to hear about the prior conviction. Stanley argued that it went to how truthful Hess would be.

“I’m going to spend a little time looking at this,” Judge Warner said and told the defense and prosecution to be in the courtroom at 8 a.m. for her ruling on the matter. The jury was dismissed for the day at 4:24 p.m. Judge Warner again admonished the jury not to discuss the case, read about it or research it in anyway.

Day Three of Trial


With the jury outside of the courtroom, Wiseman and Stanley were given the opportunity to briefly outline their positions on allowance of the prior conviction into the record for the jury. After listening to both sides, Judge Warner ruled that the prior conviction could be brought up to the jury, but there would be instructions to how that would be handled. “It is relevant as it goes to the defendant’s credibility,” she said, adding that Hess chose to excercise his right to testify on his own behalf.

The jury was called back into the courtroom about 8:30 a.m. Hess was on the stand and Stanley asked if Hess had a prior conviction. Hess answered, “yes.” He also answered that the whole family knew of the prior conviction.

Editor’s Note: Hess is a registered Tier 1 sex offender out of Morrow County, Ohio. He was convicted in 2009 on two counts, one count of Gross Sexual Imposition and one count of Disseminating Material Harmful to Juveniles. In that case he was convicted of having a young male relative watch a pornographic video and then touch Hess’ penis. He was sentenced to four years in prison, to which he served. He is a registered sex offender with the State of Ohio.

Closing arguments began at 8:43 a.m. with Stanley summing up the state’s case. He first explained the charges and what some of the technical terms meant in order for them to convict or aquit. “You can’t believe both,” Stanley said of Hess and Rachel. Stanley said the actions taken by Hess, the sexual abuse was for Hess’ sexual gratification. “That’s what he did. That’s what he was doing,” Stanley said.

“Talking about her problems generate more memories,” Stanley said of Rachel not wanting to talk about the sexual abuse. “You saw the impact it had on her,” Stanley said and he talked about Rachel’s breakdowns in the courtroom. Stanley said the defendant showed no emotion, not even indignation at the charges being brought against him. Stanley further added that the trauma Rachel suffered, telling strangers what happened. At 9:40 a.m., the state ended closing argument.

Wiseman followed and discussed with the jury that if they found one hole in the story, there was reasonable doubt and they could not convict Hess. Wiseman argued that they had nothing else but the story of a little girl. “You determine whether her story was consistent or not.”

Wiseman again referred to the prosecution as “the government” as he did on the first day of the trial. “The government wants to run away from her own words,” as Wiseman maintained Rachel’s story was not consistent. “I’m giving you a roadmap. You can follow me or not,” he stated.

“He has a felony conviction. What does that have to do with all this today,” Wiseman went on addressing Stanley’s comment about Hess’ lack of emotional response, “Is that what our evidence is now, how he talks.”

Wiseman wrapped up his closing argument at 10:49 a.m. and Stanley addressed the jury again for the rebuttal. Stanley said the testimony was evidence and it was enough. He questioned Wiseman questioning the thought process of a child at certain points. “Who are we to criticize a child rape victim,” Stanley said, adding that the thought processes of such a child would be different.

Stanley said it was obvious that Rachel did not want to be reliving the trauma that had happened to her at the hands of Hess. He ended rebuttal at 11:16 a.m.

The jury was taken out of the courtroom while the attorneys discussed the jury instructions with Judge Warner. Finally at 1:04 p.m. the jury returned and Judge Warner began explaining the instructions to the jury. At 1:26 p.m. the alternates were discharged and by 1:32 p.m. the jury was given the case to deliberate. The jury was brought back in, given further instructions on reaching a decision following the jury stating they were at an impass. The jury returned to deliberate further at 6:25 p.m. By 7:52 p.m. they back in the courtroom, still without a consensus on a verdict. Judge Warner dismissed them for the evening and told them to return at 9 a.m. on September 20 to continue deliberating. Around 10 a.m. the jury had reached a verdict.

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