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Time not on side of sex abuse investigators


Tuesday, January 20, 1998

When police plunge into the morass of a child sex abuse investigation, they face roiling emotions, frantic parents and, at times, reluctant witnesses.

In some case, the law itself frustrates them.

While Illinois law allows prosecutors to bring case any time for such crimes as first-degree murder, reckless homicide or arson, the law puts the brakes on prosecutions for sex crimes against children.

Authorities generally can charge someone with such a crime no later than three years later the crime was committed or one year after the victim's 18th birthday.

The case of Richard Neustadt, a Schaumburg teacher accused of molesting a student, illustrates the challenges created by the state law.

After learning of allegations on Jan. 10 against the language arts teacher and cross country coach, Schaumburg police said they interviewed a former student, now in his 20s, who claims he was one of Neustadt's victims.

But prosecutors could not use the man's claims to charge Neustadt because, if true, the incident happened beyond the statute of limitations, Schaumburg police Sgt. Michael Marchese said.

The man, however, gave police the names of several other possible victims.

It took police seven days to amass enough evidence so prosecutors could charge Neustadt with two counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, police said.

Neustadt is accused of fondling a male student through clothing twice at Neustadt's house between 1994 and 1996.

Neustadt resigned from Jane Addams Junior High School late last week, is being held on $100,000 bond and is expected to appear in court today. Calls to his attorney went unanswered Monday.

Some experts who deal with child sex abuse victims argue the limitation should be extended, saying children or even young adults often fear coming forward or don't fully understand the severity of what happened to them.

Schaumburg Deputy Chief Richard Casler would support extending the statute of limitations for child sex crimes. But he sees a need for some time limit.

"I think a year is pretty limiting," Casler said, adding he would like to see a statute of limitations of a few years after the victim's 18th birthday.

But Casler added it would be unwise to have an open-ended time frame to prosecute such crimes. It would be unfair for a person to be accused of such a crime, for instance, that happened 15 years ago, and have little chance of clearing his name.

"There needs to be a point where it ends," Casler said. "It's a tough issue."

Joe Klest, an attorney who has handled about 60 child sex abuse cases in civil court, would like to see the criminal statute of limitations extended.

Klest said most of his clients didn't understand the impact of what happened to them well until their late 20s - at the earliest. Victims of sex abuse often have drug or alcohol abuse problems later in life, Klest said.

Klest would like to see prosecutors able to bring child sex abuse cases as late as when the victim is 30.

But Marc Kadish, a Chicago-Kent College of Law professor and defense attorney, sees no reason to extend the time limit.

"If that awesome a thing happened to them, they could come forward," Kadish argued.

Illinois Senate Judiciary Chairman Carl Hawkinson, a Republican from Galesburg, said state law already is liberal and wonders what else lawmakers can do.

"You have to set the limit somewhere," Hawkinson said.