PILOT EDITORIAL - Wendelsdorf is scott free

Thursday, March 22, 2001

For someone who has spent the past year entangled with the court system, Jesse Wendelsdorf in the end proved to be pure Teflon.

Last summer, he walked out of a Buena Vista County courtroom a free man, not testifying as his attorneys convinced a jury that he was not guilty of either the sexual abuse or murder of toddler Shelby Duis. By that time, a child endangerment charge had already been turned away by the court, which decided that as the mother's live-in lover, he was not responsible for the child's welfare.

Wendelsdorf did speak eventually, of course. In December, he appeared at the trial of his former lover, Heidi Watkins, and promptly concocted a lie for the court about, of all things, how he had arrived at the courthouse that day.

He admitted the lie under cross-examination, also stating that he understood that he had been under oath and that he knew what perjury meant.

His statements were not limited to the courtroom. In a secretly tape-recorded conversation with a businesswoman acquaintance from Storm Lake, Wendelsdorf didn't challenge her repeated statements that he had caused the battered child's death.

In a sick twist, Wendelsdorf claimed that he was not confessing, but just allowing the woman to believe he had done the murder to give her a gruesome thrill.

The Buena Vista County jury foreman recognizes that had the tape existed at the time of his trial, the outcome might very well have been different. But Wendelsdorf could not be tried again on the same charge, so the Kossuth County Attorney had to settle for a felony perjury charge, even though the foolish lie in question had little to do with the case.

On Monday, Judge Patrick Carr dismissed that charge as well, saying that Wendelsdorf had admitted his lie, and noting that the law allows a witness to recant false testimony, even if unwillingly.

The law is a good one - without it, witnesses would never have cause to correct false testimony.

The end result of months of court action is that Wendelsdorf has been found guilty of nothing - not even his obvious lying - while the child's mother faces up to 50 years in prison for child endangerment. And still no one has been found guilty of the repeated brutal beatings, sexual abuse and finally the killing of little Shelby Duis.

The system has done what the system had to do based on the law. It can be frustrating - maddening - but it is the best system we have.

Yet no one can think that justice has been served. No one, that is, except perhaps Jesse Wendelsdorf.