He's Called A Predator
Once a scholar, a former Indiana college student is fighting for his future.
A mix of alcohol and bad behavior resulted in a crime and now a lifetime label that even his victim says doesn't fit.
13 Investigates uncovers the extremes of Indiana's predator law on two highly-charged cases.
In August 2007, Purdue University was in crisis mode. Two students were under arrest a day after Purdue Police put out an emergency campus-wide alert that three women have been sexually groped and attacked.
13 Investigates obtained the surveillance video of one of the recorded statements to police. A young woman came forward after her roommate saw the alerts.
"He was like this," said the young woman in the video, showing the police officer how the suspect wrapped his arms around her chest.
"Behind you?" questioned the Officer.
"Yeah. He starts groping like this. I was, like, 'No thank you'," she said politely.
The Purdue freshman says she was attacked. Police put out a composite sketch which led them to George Odongo.
"They jumped to the conclusion before they investigated it. People were panicking, 'There's a monster on the streets..there's a monster on the streets'," Odongo said, describing the feeling on campus.
Odongo, an incoming freshman from Indianapolis and a native Kenyan, was on full academic scholarship, according to his family. He had been on campus just six days.
"What were you doing?," asked 13 Investigates.
"It's college. People just go have fun," Odongo responded, talking about the Saturday night he and two new friends went out on campus.
Odongo's Path to Predator Status
"If I had known better, I wouldn't have been drinking that night," he admits.
Odongo's night of drinking shots and trolling for parties and girls turned into criminal allegations of fondling. He was charged with sex crimes.
"It's kind of like a nightmare," he said, sitting in an orange, jail-issued jumpsuit.
Two of the three cases against him were tossed out, but not the third.
Odongo was convicted of sexual battery and criminal deviate conduct. He's now in federal immigration custody in Kenosha, Wisconsin, off the shores of Lake Michigan. To this day, he insists the encounter with this woman was consensual. She told police a different story in a recorded statement captured by surveillance cameras.
Officer: Did he threaten you in any way?
Victim: "No, he was just telling me he was going to give it to me rough."
Officer: "Were you afraid of him?"
Victim: "Yeah..(laughs unintelligible) I didn't know who he was..Yeah."
Odongo served four years of an eight-year prison sentence. In May, he was handed over to federal authorities for deportation because of his felony convictions and his new status.
The State of Indiana now classified him as a predator.
Indiana's Definition of A Sexually Violent Predator
A Sexually Violent Predator is defined by Indiana law as someone who "suffers from a mental or personality disorder, making it likely they will repeat their crime." They are considered the worst of the worst. Lawmakers want predators living away from children and registering their every move with police.
Former Hamilton County Prosecutor Sonia Leerkamp was on the statewide attorney's council that first reviewed the state law.
"Most of these serious consequences where you have sexually violent predators and the sexual offender registry were really designed with the pedophile type of person in mind. Or the sexual predator in mind," explained Leerkamp.
Child predators and rapists, but what about George Odongo? We asked Purdue Police Chief John Cox.
"First of all, I wouldn't call him a predator," said Purdue Police Chief John Cox, who spoke with 13 Investigates about the case.
Cox was not in charge of the department during the Odongo investigation, but defends his department's handling of the case.
Yet state law says Odongo is a predator and not because of some disorder. In Indiana, anyone convicted of criminal deviate conduct is automatically labeled a sexually violent predator, whether the label fits or not.
"Are you a sexually violent predator?," 13 Investigates Odongo.
"Nope," said the now-25-year old, matter of factly.
Odongo's Victim Says the State Got it Wrong
Not even the woman Odongo is convicted of assaulting is convinced the state got it right. She spoke with 13 Investigates on her law school campus. We agreed not to show her face or share her real name.
"I'm kind of torn. I understand why they would consider him a predator, but I don't think, as a person, he is," said the young woman.
At Odongo's sentencing for criminal deviate conduct and status as a sexually violent predator, Judge Donald Daniel told him, "My heart breaks for you and all of your family."
"We would have preferred not to have certain convictions bound so tightly to certain consequences," added Leerkamp, who says it severely limits prosecutors who want to be both just and fair.
Often they're left with choices that are too harsh or too lenient.
Carmel Bus Assault Case Cited as an Example
13 Investigates broke the case of the criminal investigation in February 2010 of four Carmel High School basketball players on a team bus.
"It was more than hazing," said Leerkamp as she announced the grand jury's decision to file misdemeanor charges.
Communities were equally outraged at the misdemeanor battery sentences received by the four 19-year olds who were accused of holding down and assaulting younger teens on a bus and in the locker room. (As part of a plea deal, the four admitted to the locker room incidents)
Leerkamp, the prosecutor at the time, says she instructed the grand jury on the Carmel case to think about the potential consequences, if they charged the teens with criminal deviate conduct.
"If certain types of offenses didn't carry with it the requirement of sex offender registry and the label of sexually violent predator, certainly there may have been additional options that would have been more seriously considered," revealed Leerkamp.
It is the first time she candidly talks about the specific concerns she had with handing down charges in the Carmel assault case.
Odongo's Victim Wants Him Set Free
"It's hard for me to think of him as a violent predator," admitted the woman Odongo was convicted of attacking.
She now wants him freed from both federal custody and the stigma as a predator.
"There needs to be a lot of education and flexibility in the laws, so that you can make them fit the offender and the situation," said Leerkamp. She says it's not the first time she's heard of victim's wanting fair outcomes for their assailants.
It was the Tippecanoe County Prosecutor's Office that handled Odongo's case. With a series of outtakes from the victim's interview, we went to see Tippecanoe County Prosecutor Pat Harrington.
"I don't agree with the label personally," the victim said as part of the recording.
We wanted to ask the prosecutor about the predator law. But after we played the victim's interview for prosecutor, Harrington refused to do an interview, citing ethics rules and a pending court hearing to challenge Odongo's conviction.
Leerkamp says no doubt under the current law, there will be another George Odongo; an offender convicted of a lower level crime yet facing the same punishment as a violent rapist.
Lawmakers Could Allow for More Prosecutorial Discretion
"About the only thing that could happen would be for the law to be changed so that the prosecutor could decide when those kinds of labels needed to be attached to a conviction," summed up Leerkamp, who said she believes prosecutors statewide would embrace such a change.
Talk of changing the law is too late for Odongo. He could be forced to leave his family in the U.S. and deported to Kenya any day.
"If there is some way that he would be able to stay, you know I would support that," the victim said without hesitation.
She says she's gotten justice and forgiven Odongo, but can't turn her back on fairness. At the same time, she dismissed naysayers who might question her stance.
"I didn't think it was criminal behavior. I mean, I still kind of look at it as, he was a freshman, too. He went out, he went crazy and unfortunately his drunken mistakes were a little more severe," said the woman.
A hearing for post conviction relief for George Odongo is pending.
Tippecanoe County Statistics for Criminal Deviate Conduct Charges
To give you an idea of how the predator status may be impacting charging decisions, consider the following statistics:
During the period in question, Purdue referred six cases of alleged criminal deviate conduct for prosecution. Only one case, George Odongo's, was fully prosecuted. One case resulted in a plea to a lesser crime, the others were never charged.
James Bumanglag, who was with Odongo the night of the incidents, pled guilty to a confinement charge for holding a dorm elevator open in one of the cases the court tossed out against Odongo. Bumanglag was later successful in getting that charge reduced down to a misdemeanor.
Between 2011 and 2012, not one criminal deviate conduct case has been referred for prosecution. The Tippecanoe County Prosecutor's Office declined to discuss what went into any of the charging decisions.
So what do Indiana lawmakers think? We'll bring you their reaction in coming days.