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'Quit wasting everyone's time'

Heartland Case | In 18 minutes, Missouri jury dismisses child-abuse charges against teacher at school for troubled youth

Issue: "The Marriage Amendment," June 8, 2002

Remember Manuregate ("When push comes to shovel," Aug. 11, 2001)?

The scandal in brief: Teachers at Heartland Christian Academy, a rural Christian school for troubled youth, send 11 students to shovel manure as punishment for various offenses. "Child abuse!" cry Lewis County officials in northern Missouri, filing 68 criminal charges against the teachers.

Last week, a jury of local citizens told the county that its case stunk. It took the jury just 18 minutes to return a verdict of not guilty on Robert Charles Patchin, grandson of Heartland founder Charlie Sharpe, an insurance millionaire from Kansas City. The 34-year-old Mr. Patchin could have faced up to 21 years in prison if convicted on three felony charges of "cruel and inhuman punishment."

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As the one who initially conceived of the manure-shoveling sentence, Mr. Patchin was the first of five Heartland staffers to be tried. But in light of the jury's swift verdict, Lewis County Prosecutor Jules DeCoster said he would review the state's case against the four remaining defendants.

Jurors in the Patchin trial seemed to think that would be a good idea. "It's time for [the state] to quit wasting everyone's time," Juror No. 5 said after the trial was over. Juror No. 2 said she didn't think there was "any evidence whatsoever of abuse," and then added: "I plan to write [Heartland] a letter encouraging them to keep up the good work."

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