USING SLEDGEHAMMERS TO SWAT FLIES

THE COUNTY ATTORNEY'S OFFICE VIGOROUSLY PROSECUTES FELONY CHILD ABUSE CHARGES. EVEN WHEN NO CHILDREN HAVE BEEN ABUSED.

Cole says he did not attempt to exert any undue influence on Pedigo's case, but did want to see Pedigo prosecuted.

The case went before a grand jury, which indicted Pedigo for child abuse. That struck Rivkind and Thomas Phalen, a second attorney representing Pedigo, as just plain bizarre.

Rivkind says he could find no other case where an adult was charged with child abuse when he or she "did not have care, custody or control" of the child involved.

Rivkind and Phalen spent a year firing off motions and appeals, trying to get the case against Pedigo dismissed, or at least reduced to a misdemeanor.

Pedigo concedes that, by grabbing a juvenile, he was guilty of a minor assault charge and would have pleaded guilty to one. But not a felony.

Even Kenneth Cole, the boy's father, says he believes Pedigo was overcharged. Though he adamantly believes Pedigo should have paid some price for his actions, Cole says he did not understand why the case was charged as felony child abuse.

As the case dragged on, Pedigo and Shawnie got married. They had to cut short their honeymoon to Disneyland because he was due back in town for a court hearing.

Prosecutor Dave Palmer offered Pedigo the same type of plea bargain Cheryl Johnson received in her case--a Class 6 felony that could be reduced to a misdemeanor later. Pedigo turned it down.

(Palmer did not respond to a request for comment on the case.)

"There were times I wanted to take the plea bargain just to get out of it," Pedigo says. But then, he says, he would have happened on a whole new round of trouble if the boy's parents filed a civil suit against him.

Awaiting trial, Pedigo and his wife tried to get on with their lives. But they found out that accused felons can't get mortgages, and, unable to buy a home, spent much of their early married life sleeping on a futon at his parents' house.

They argued about the case, as she worried and he tried to keep it out of mind.
"I guess it was the terror of not knowing if Jason was going to be there after all of this," says Shawnie Pedigo, a "nail technician." "I would say it probably about broke our marriage up three or four times."
As an accused felon, Pedigo could not leave the state without permission--which he obtained for his honeymoon. He could not go dove hunting, because he was not allowed to have a gun.

All of the money they had saved for a house went to the attorneys, they say. Even then, they had to borrow thousands from his parents and still couldn't pay Rivkind for all the work he did. Phalen did not charge for his time on the case, because he considered it so outrageous.

Last month, Pedigo, his wife and their families sat through his three-day trial. The jury was given the choice of convicting him of child abuse, aggravated assault or nothing.

They opted for nothing.
Acquitting on the child abuse charge took only minutes, one member of the jury said. The aggravated assault charge was discussed for about an hour before the jurors acquitted on it, too.

"We more or less couldn't understand how it did come to be a felony charge," the juror in Pedigo's case said. "We didn't see that Jason Pedigo intended to hurt the boy. He only intended to stop the boy and take him to his parents.

"I probably would have reacted very similar to what he did, which is what most normal people would have done."
Pedigo walked out of the courthouse with a feeling of relief, a sense that he has his life back--a feeling that Cheryl Johnson is still dreaming of.

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