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Getting Off Easy 

He drugged her and raped her. "This," the judge told them, "is why you don't go to bars." Then, ignoring the jury's advice, he gave the rapist probation.

The beat quickened, and the workout coach's bright white tennis shoes blurred into the spokes of the stationary bike. Breathless, Anne felt the wheels spinning beneath her, dissolving the tension of her upcoming divorce. She left the fitness club peacefully tired and ravenous, warmed up some Schnucks roaster chicken and vegetables at home, put on black pants and a boatneck sweater with fur-trimmed cuffs and left for Cardwell's at Plaza Frontenac. It was a Friday night, and she'd made plans to meet Jeannie, her best friend since seventh grade, and Karen, a newer friend and tennis partner.

Anne didn't order a second dinner, just ate the warm buttery bread and sipped red wine. She and her friends laughed a lot, sliding their worries between jokes, work stories and wry observations. About 8:30 p.m., Jeannie, tired from a long week at work, went home to her husband. But Karen wanted to see a new bar -- the Kitchen -- everybody was talking about, and Anne, who'd been there a few weeks earlier for a girlfriend's birthday party, agreed to go with her.

They drove separately, Anne figuring she'd leave early. It was a bleak night in early February, but the Kitchen was packed, its sushi chef rolling fast, the sofas by the fireplace all occupied. Already this Ladue bar, set back off Clayton Road just north of Highway 40, had joined the short roster of places where successful and beautiful adults could meet, talk -- probably not leave together that evening but "network" their personal lives. The place was fun, with leopardskin and camel leather barstools, a playful martini menu, club music thrumming in the background and retro cartoons competing with the stock-market ticker tape -- but nobody was going to throw up on your Prada slides.

Anne and Karen chatted with an investment broker and his friend, sipping a third glass of wine as they learned the vagaries of the portfolio world. Then Karen started talking with a Plaza Frontenac saleswoman she knew, and the woman's friends introduced themselves. Anne found herself standing at the edge of a group intensely discussing something she couldn't hear. Easing away, she headed toward the center bar, bubbly and alert, eager for another conversation. She'd always talked easily to just about anybody, from the old newspaper seller on the sidewalk to the kids at the neighborhood school, and she loved these glimpses into other people's lives.

A mustachioed man, 41, medium height and nothing striking, was standing by the bar, talking idly with a male friend. When he saw Anne coming, lithe and blonde, empty glass in hand, he immediately motioned to the bartender for a fresh merlot. Presenting the wine, he announced that he was divorced and sold plastics. She introduced herself and thanked him, and they made small talk for a while. Squinting through the crowd, she pointed out her friend Karen, across the room. Then she excused herself to go to the bathroom.

When she returned, they chatted a little longer, the guy seeming like the sort who enjoyed helping people solve their problems. Anne confided that she was getting divorced. They talked about his mom's diabetes, their jobs. He volunteered that he liked to hunt. Trying not to wince, Anne took a few sips of the merlot and changed the subject to fundraising, which they'd both done. She was surprised to hear how little his diabetes fundraiser had raised, but she responded politely. She was starting to feel a little odd, kind of wobbly, but she kept talking.

Then she felt her knees buckle.

Alarmed, Anne sat down on the nearest barstool, her stomach doing a slow roll, and tried to figure out what was wrong. She hadn't eaten anything unusual; she'd only had three glasses of wine all evening; she didn't know anybody with the flu. Her head felt light enough to fly off, then as heavy as a sack of sand. Soon, all she could think to do was rest it on the sleek bartop for a minute, just a minute....

She fell sound asleep. Alarmed, bartender Carrie Doe caught the eye of the Kitchen's owner, Kimberly Barnes, who'd been introduced to Anne earlier and had found her sober and charming. The Kitchen didn't have the sort of clientele who passed out at bars. Besides, Barnes had a stringent policy about overserving; if the liquor's effects showed, Doe wouldn't even pour.

Doe urged Anne to get some fresh air, and the doorman, Dan Derecskey, tactfully escorted her to an outside bench. The plastics salesman soon followed, looking concerned, and sat down next to her. She shivered in the February night air, willing her head to clear, knowing she couldn't drive this way. Where was Karen -- had she gone home already? In a fog, she heard the guy saying she couldn't stay there because "the police are on their way and you will get in trouble." A minute later, she heard him say something, oddly intense, about saving her from all the "vultures at the bar" who wanted to take her home.

Derecskey came back outside to check on her. "I don't know what's wrong with me," she told him sleepily. "I was fine a minute ago; I haven't had that much to drink. I think I'm getting sick." The doorman helped her back inside, leaving her in the lobby while he called a cab for her. She frowned, gathering all her powers of concentration, trying to remember where she'd left her coat and purse. Then her new salesman friend reappeared, holding them, and said he'd drive her home.

He didn't drive Anne to her own home; he drove her to his, way out in Labadie, Mo. She remembers lights shining in her eyes as he half-carried her across the parking lot to his car, and the next thing she recalls is stumbling up the steps, feeling as if she was going to throw up, then falling back onto what she'd later discover was a waterbed under red satin sheets.

She slid into merciful oblivion -- only to be jolted dully, sickly awake in the middle of the night by a man's weight on top of her. She says she felt him insert his penis in her vagina and begin to move. She insisted he stop, saying the only thing her addled brain could summon: "I'm not that kind of girl." He did stop -- but only long enough to begin kissing his way down to her clitoris. Again, she insisted he stop. "C'mon, I'm only trying to please you," she remembers him saying. "You're not pleasing me," she snapped with as much energy as she could muster, "so stop." Her words bleared again, and she rolled away and sank back into a stupor.

She woke around 5 a.m. Her clothes were thrown in various corners, and she was still wearing her bra, partly unhooked. He was stark naked. She looked at his paunch, took in the red satin sheets. "I've got to get home," she said.

He put on gray underwear, she remembers, and began handing Anne her clothes but couldn't find her underwear. She put her pants on without them, not stopping even to use the bathroom. She remembers an early-American hooked rug at the foot of the waterbed and a girlie poster in the garage. But at the time, she wasn't even remembering the events in the middle of the night. "You were really out of it," he reminded her on the way back to the Kitchen, and she blurted, "I feel like I've been drugged."

"Oh no," she says he replied. "You'd be much groggier." He treated her kindly, saying he'd like to cook dinner for her sometime. They exchanged phone numbers, and she slid with relief into the driver's seat of her own car.

Anne managed to get herself home safely, but the adrenaline ebbed the minute she unlocked the door. She crawled into bed with her clothes on and woke up a few hours later too sick to make a 10:30 a.m. appointment with her divorce lawyer. She showered but left her hair a wet, tangled mess because she couldn't face the effort of lifting the blow-dryer. Karen called to make sure she'd made it home OK, explaining that she'd looked around for her around 11 p.m. and then gone on home. Anne just said she felt sick and hung up. Still nauseated, she kept gagging but couldn't throw up. Her whole body ached, and her eyes were like slits; she could barely keep them open.

About 11 that morning, Jeannie called, and Anne confided what she remembered of the evening to her old friend. "She sounded like shit," recalls Jeannie, who asked more questions and then, increasingly worried, drove over to Anne's house. "You woke up without underwear on?" she repeated. "What if he gave you one of those date-rape drugs?" The first Missouri case charging a man with drugging and rape had been all over the news a few months earlier, and Jeannie thought Anne's story sounded just as suspicious. They should call the authorities, she said.

"No-no-no-no-no," muttered Anne, terrified that police and ambulance would squeal up to her house and all the neighbors would pop out to see what was happening. It just didn't look right, especially in the middle of a divorce. But Jeannie insisted.

At the St. John's Mercy Medical Center emergency department, Dr. Daniel Emerson examined Anne and found "super pubic tenderness" and a small tear in the vulva. The results of a urine test were positive for "amphetamine/designer drug." "No wonder I felt the way I did," blurted Anne, now perfectly willing to undergo the rape-kit tests. No semen was found, and at 6:20 p.m., Anne underwent a blood test; the results came back negative. Twenty hours had elapsed, plenty of time for a drug in that class to leave the bloodstream.

At the hospital that afternoon, Anne talked to Det. Sgt. Bill Baker of the Ladue Police Department, and on Sunday morning she went to the department to make a formal taped statement. By now she'd remembered that the guy's name was Matt -- but police already had the business card he'd given her, complete with beeper and home phone numbers and his full name, Matthew J. Wasiak, regional sales manager for P. Inc. As Anne's head cleared, so did the details: He hadn't continued to have sex with her after she told him to stop, she was sure; she would have felt it. But neither had he asked permission, and she'd been so groggy that each time she realized what was happening and articulated her refusal, he'd already managed to do pretty much what he'd set out to do. "It felt like when you're coming out of surgery," she explains now, "and you're having trouble even connecting what people are saying to you."

Baker and his partner, Det. John Wagner, drove out to Wasiak's house that Tuesday, flashed their badges and advised him of his constitutional rights. He insisted he didn't need an attorney and agreed to follow them to the Ladue police station. Before leaving, they asked about Anne's missing underwear. He walked to his Toyota 4x4, reached down to the floor by the front passenger seat and retrieved a brown paper bag. Inside were Anne's black panties and a large red, black and gold print scarf.

Anne hadn't worn a scarf that night, she told the detectives later, and she didn't own one like that. Either he'd picked it up by accident when he fetched her coat or somebody else he didn't know very well had lost it at his house. Baker and Wagner -- bland, clean-cut types as politely disapproving as Sgt. Joe Friday on Dragnet -- made careful notes.

The detectives are unable to comment on the case because it is being appealed, and Wasiak's attorney for the appeal, Art Margulis, has advised Wasiak not to comment, either. But according to the police report filed by the detectives -- and later obtained by the Riverfront Times -- Wasiak followed them to the police department and wrote out a statement. He described Anne's coming up and hugging him, telling him "she was loaded and came from Cardwell's drinking wine." After she got sick, he wrote, she still insisted on driving, but the doorman called her a cab, so he waited with her, and then she asked him to take her to his house. He did so "with the understanding that we are just friends and I have to get up early," he wrote, and when they arrived, she got sick again. "I offered her water or anything to help her. I did tell her that this is so much out of my character to help a complete stranger let alone someone that was married and how does this look." He said they had definitely not had intercourse; he'd slept in his underwear, and she'd been "snoring on her side."

The detectives left the room, waited a beat and came back. There were a few contradictions with other people's statements; could he give them more details? Obligingly, Wasiak wrote statement No. 2, describing how he and Anne had begun kissing and hugging each other in bed and that, while entangled in the covers, "our hands became freer. There was a time when both of us exchanged hands to each others' private areas. Her belt came off and pants mostly by her. Her top stayed on and we again traded hands with our underwear on. Her hands slipped inside my underwear and mine followed.... The alarm went off at 5ish and she got dressed and had to leave immediately." Wasiak admitted that he penetrated her vagina with his fingers and then tried to perform oral sex but stopped when she said no. He said they continued to "exchange hands."

The detectives left again. When they returned, Wasiak insisted he was telling the truth and offered to take a polygraph test to prove it. They asked whether he'd undergo computer voice-stress analysis, which serves the same purpose, and he said yes. At 8 p.m., they drove him to the Richmond Heights police station, where Det. Mark Tackes administered the exam, mixing such questions as "Is the wall beige?" and "Am I wearing a tie?" with "Did you put a foreign substance into [Anne's] drink at the Kitchen?"

Tackes found "deception in his answers to all of the relevant questions." He brought Wasiak into the interview room and asked how he thought he had done, and Wasiak said, "I can't wait to find out." Informed of the results, he demanded a second test, and they agreed to arrange one with a different tester. (The later test revealed the same pattern of deception.)

Meanwhile, back at the Ladue Police Department, the detectives noted that the only reason the test would show deception was if Wasiak lied. At this, according to their report, Wasiak "became quite upset and said he did lie about putting drugs in her drink, but it was an accident." They suggested he write down the truth.

In his third statement, Wasiak no longer mentioned Anne's coming up and hugging him but merely cited "instant eye contact.... She was very nice to me and laying on a small napkin was something whitesh [sic] in color it looked like aspirin and at that time I had no idea what it was. Being stupid, one small pinch ended up in a glass of wine. My idea was to get rid of it but it accidentally ended up in her drink."

How did Wasiak get this Alice in Wonderland substance that, stupid all on its own, flew into drinks? "The guy who had it said have "fun with this' and slipped it underneath [my hand] secretly," he wrote. In this third version, especially, the drug worked like a charm: Once back at his house, he wrote, "She and I embraced with both of us getting hot and steamy. We both traded hands and held each other in the private region.... She rubbed pretty vigorously on me while I entered her with my fingers. I then began to kiss down her belly and into her private area."

The detectives scanned the statement, remarking that he'd almost told all of the truth but that he kept making himself look like a hero. Why not be a man and own up to exactly what he'd done and why? Wasiak wrote a fourth statement, this one far more terse. He'd "bought a glass of wine for her and put some drugs in it while she was not looking.... Before I had oral sex I did finger fuck her.... I took advantage of her sexually because she was in this condition. I am sorry for being stupid and I want to be her friend." His statement was videotaped, and he was booked and released.

The next morning, the detectives received a message from him telling them to call attorney Anthony Cipriano. They couldn't reach Cipriano, and a short while later Wasiak called, saying "he'd had time to think about it and feels really bad because he now realizes he confessed to a crime he did not commit," reported Wagner, who taped the conversation. "He said the only reason he confessed was out of respect for us and the hard work we put in on this case. He asked if we could get together for lunch and discuss how we could resolve this problem."

Wagner and Baker declined the invite.

Meanwhile, another interviewee had passed the voice-stress analysis: Wasiak's friend Jeffrey Seufzer, who'd been standing with Wasiak when Anne approached. He wrote that he remembered her soon seeming "sleepy. Not able to make a decision or drive" and that Wasiak announced he was taking her home. Seufzer told police that the next afternoon, Wasiak called, exultant, saying he'd had oral sex with her, saying she had "long legs, rock hard legs ... [and] trimmed her pussy real good and it was awesome to do that. He then said he had used a rubber in her pussy and commented how tight she was."

A new Missouri statute raises any sexual charge to "forcible" if the victim has been drugged, so the prosecutor in Franklin County, where Wasiak lives, charged him with forcible rape, forcible sodomy (which, in Missouri law, includes oral sex) and deviate sexual assault. He was tried in the 20th Missouri Circuit Court, in Union, in October.

Anne testified about her experiences, then sat outside in the lobby for the rest of the trial. Derecskey, the doorman at the Kitchen, testified about what he'd told the police: that when he helped Anne outside, Wasiak followed, seeming annoyed, and "tried twice to lead [Anne] away from me during our walk from the bar to the bench." When Derecskey asked Anne whether she was with this guy, Anne dizzily shook her head no, but Wasiak kept returning. Finally, Derecskey told him to go on back to the bar and let him do his job. Anne, meanwhile, was falling asleep between each question and answer, he said, and her head kept hitting her chest and then jerking back up. The minute he left her standing in the lobby, she sank to the ground. By the time he returned, Wasiak was at Anne's side with his arm around her, ready to drive her home.

Wasiak's four statements were read in court (his lawyers had tried unsuccessfully to have them suppressed), but the results of a voice-stress analysis are inadmissible, so the jury never knew he'd failed his. Then Wasiak took the stand and made what amounted to a fifth statement: He said he had not drugged Anne, he said virtually everyone who'd testified was lying and he accused the Ladue police of coercing his confession by threatening to throw him out a window. (The Ladue Police Department is a long, low two-story building; from its highest window, you'd drop a few feet, not enough for a boo-boo -- maybe a grass stain.)

Ignoring Wasiak's claims of coercion, lies and innocent mistakes, the jury found him guilty on every count, recommending 10 years for each of the first two counts and seven years for the third. All that remained for Presiding Judge Jeff Schaeperkoetter to decide was whether those years would be served concurrently or consecutively.

On an Arctic-cold Tuesday morning, Dec. 19, Schaeperkoetter picked up his gavel. Prosecutors had originally offered to plea-bargain a concurrent sentence, but now assistant prosecutor Jack Meyer was asking for not necessarily the full 27 years but "some type of consecutive sentence," lest the court send "a message that if we're going to rape someone, we might as well sodomize them, too." Defense attorneys Brad Kessler and Dan Diemer emphasized the puzzling nature of the case and the absence of any prior convictions. "Mr. Wasiak has shown himself for 41 years to be somebody who has been a good member of our society," said Kessler.

Schaeperkoetter began to reason aloud. First he startled everyone by bringing up the case of Michael Georgeoff, a schoolteacher convicted of statutory sodomy and child molestation and sentenced to 26 years plus seven. Schaeperkoetter said that case showed "how sentencing decisions can run amok" because the prosecutors' plea-bargaining negotiations for Georgeoff and Wasiak had begun at the same point. "Matthew Wasiak, to coin a phrase from an old presidential campaign, is no Michael Georgeoff," he said, "and any attempt to compare him to Michael Georgeoff is, would be, demagoguery of the worst sort."

Schaeperkoetter was the only one making that comparison, though. Anne's friend Jeannie -- who also thought 27 years far too long and felt sick because shed been the one who put the case in motion by calling the ambulance -- says she talked to one of the jurors afterward, and the juror said they'd figured he'd end up serving maybe three or four years.

But suddenly Schaeperkoetter was talking about probation. "Mr. Wasiak has no prior criminal record," he mused. "There was a lady in here earlier who had no prior criminal felony record. She had DWIs on her record, which Mr. Wasiak doesn't even have, and I gave her a suspended imposition of sentence on a couple of fairly minor drug cases."

Baffled looks crisscrossed the courtroom. "The severity of this, of these felony offenses, is certainly sobering," Schaeperkoetter continued, and all eyes returned to him, waiting expectantly.

He suspended execution of all three sentences.

Instead, he assigned Matthew John Wasiak to 120 days of shock incarceration at the local detention center, followed by five years' probation. He was to "enter into no establishment where alcohol is the primary item for sale: go to no saloons, Hooters, places of a similar nature," Schaeperkoetter admonished. He would have to register as a sex offender, and he should pay the victim $5,000, an amount the judge admits "eyeballing" from her worries about the emotional trauma and the work she'd missed.

To enraged onlookers, it sounded more like a fee for the evening's services. Anne burst into tears and ran out of the courtroom.

Franklin County's stately gray courthouse has been buzzing with this case for a month. What was Schaeperkoetter thinking? How would the prosecutors convince any woman to come forward on a rape case now? Meyer, who handled the case, declines to comment on the sentence, but his boss, chief prosecutor Bob Parks, says it's the first time he can remember when a judge in Franklin County has so disregarded the obvious intent of the jury.

"Normally I do impose the sentence the jury recommends," concedes Schaeperkoetter. "I spent a lot of time thinking about this one, because of the circumstances of the case. I take a lot of pride in the job that I do, and when I make decisions like this and get roundly criticized --" He breaks off, irritated by the snarling public response from people who didn't even hear the trial. "I still believe, believe it or not, that this was a good disposition of this case. I just really didn't think incarceration at this time was appropriate."

He said so, outright, at the sentencing: "I have never been convinced, until reading the Presentence Investigation, that this particular defendant deserved to spend any time in the Missouri Department of Corrections." If the presentence investigation gave Schaeperkoetter pause, it wasn't for long. The report recommended against probation, emphasizing Wasiak's lack of remorse and the possibility of repeat offenses, but the judge discounted it, saying the probation office made it a policy not to recommend probation if a jury had already reached a stronger verdict. Besides, how could the court expect remorse from a man who was still maintaining his innocence?

It's not that Schaeperkoetter doubts Wasiak's guilt; indeed, he sounds amused by the man's attempt to recant. The confession of drugging the victim just doesn't weigh very heavily with him. "As I recall the evidence, they did a drug screen which showed the presence of methamphetamine in the lady's body," he says. "Although I'm not an expert, I think methamphetamine is generally considered to be an upper, and the reaction this lady had was to the contrary."

In point of fact, the urine test showed "amphetamine/designer drug," a class of drugs that share the same basic molecular structure but can be modified to have a variety of effects -- including sedation. Reminded of the category, Schaeperkoetter says he "never heard the words "designer drug' in evidence at all; maybe they came up in cross-examination." He also recalls "no medical evidence as to whether or not that substance, in combination with fatigue or alcohol, would have the effect that it had," although the emergency physician at St. John's did testify that an amphetamine-type drug could make someone crash the way Anne did. "Nobody called a toxicologist," Schaeperkoetter notes, pinpointing a weakness the prosecutor's office is now regretting. "He'd already confessed that he put the drug in her drink," exclaims Parks, "so we weren't worried about exactly which drug it was."

Schaeperkoetter also notes that the blood test, using blood drawn 20 hours after the first symptoms, was negative -- but many drugs leave the system far faster. The most popular date-rape drug, for example, gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), vanishes without a trace in about eight hours -- and costs as little as $5 per ounce, less than Anne's $6 glass of merlot at the Kitchen. Available as a white powder, it can cause dizziness, nausea, vomiting, weakness, loss of consciousness and loss of memory; too much can cause seizures, coma or death. But nobody tested Anne for GHB -- it's not standard labwork -- and nobody mentioned GHB at the trial.

In the end, Schaeperkoetter seemed to think the prosecutors had overcharged Wasiak. Why pile three different charges onto one sexual act? he asked at sentencing, clearly doubting that this crime qualified as forcible rape or forcible sodomy, with their historical connotation of physical violence, when the only agent removing Anne's will and consciousness was a chemical one. "I guess there is no statutory distinction, whether it's the kind we would normally consider or something like this," he admits. "But there are all kinds of indications in the evidence that it was consensual."

Because she was wearing black thong panties that the defense waved before the jury as "stripper underwear"? Because Wasiak stopped when she woke up? Because she went to a bar that evening? "Sometimes people, without any specific reference to this case, sometimes people put themselves into positions from which harm can ensue," says Schaeperkoetter, "and it did in this case." At the sentencing, he'd made the link even stronger: "If anybody is listening," he announced, "this is why you don't go to bars."

The first American to be charged under the 1996 federal Drug-Induced Rape Prevention and Punishment Act used Ambien sleeping pills to commit rape and was sentenced last February to nine years in a Minneapolis prison. The same month, a Canadian was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison after lacing his ex-wife's drink with Rohypnol while they watched a movie together. She testified that she didn't remember anything until waking up the next morning, disoriented and partially naked. In Albany, a college sophomore awoke under a highway overpass, clothed but missing her underwear and socks, and found her rapist's name and phone number on a napkin in her jeans pocket. He was sentenced in November to a maximum of 50 years.

Matt Wasiak got 120 days, sentenced by a man who, when he first ran for circuit judge in 1992, reminded Franklin Countians that during his 12 years as a state legislator, he'd sponsored victims'-rights laws and tougher anti-crime bills, not to mention a bill outlawing marital rape. A conservative Democrat popular with Republicans, Schaeperkoetter became known as a "righteous" judge, once fining a Bank of America subsidiary $9 million for driving a little mobile-home company out of business. He railed against the bank for showing no remorse, announcing, "This type of outrageous behavior will not be tolerated in the state of Missouri."

And though Schaeperkoetter often gives probation to first offenders, he's better known for tough sentences. He recently sentenced one repeat offender to six years' incarceration for merely possessing a controlled substance.

Matt Wasiak got 120 days for drugging a woman in order to gratify himself sexually.

Local attorneys, many of whom would rather run the gauntlet than try a case before Schaeperkoetter, say the decision was outrageous. They won't comment further -- it's against lawyerly ethics, not to mention common sense, to badmouth a judge -- but several suggest counting the requests to transfer out of Schaeperkoetter's division. Of 384 current domestic and criminal cases begun last year in Franklin County Circuit Court, at least 72 of the share assigned to Schaeperkoetter began with a request to disqualify him. Requests for transfer are common in legal games, but the number's far higher for Schaeperkoetter than for any of his peers in Franklin County, and there are attorneys who'll move to disqualify him for a case as simple as a name change. Oddest of all, there's no pattern. "The lawyers requesting that transfer are Republican and Democrat, liberal and conservative -- the whole spectrum," notes one man. In criminal cases, you'd expect defense attorneys to transfer to a judge perceived as softer -- but observers note just as much tension between Schaeperkoetter and the prosecutor's office. His problems, say lawyers, have more to do with his manner than with his rulings.

One level up, in the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals, the file cabinets hold copies of all the writs (requests that the higher court order a judge to act or refrain from acting) filed from Franklin County. The circuit judge who just retired, John Brackman, has only two writs filed against him. Schaeperkoetter has 25, many complaining that he continued giving orders after an attorney had moved to disqualify him from the case. Supporters say he's just moving the docket along, and maybe he gets a bit paternal, wants to make sure those folks take that parenting class.... Others say he's power-tripping.

A bit of a conundrum, Schaeperkoetter smiles a lot in court, eyes crinkling his round face into an approximation of the St. Louis University Billiken, yet he comes across to many attorneys as argumentative and personally insulting. He plants his feet squarely on the country side of the urban-rural divide, talking about "strangers" vs. "folks out here" -- yet he's garnered a reputation for being nicer to the city lawyers and harder on the locals. He has been called Napoleonic, yet, for all his ambition, he's quick to gracefully step aside -- as he did in 1992, when his Senate district was carved up in a way that removed him from state office, and again just two weeks ago, when he handed over his presiding judgeship to the brand-new circuit judge, Gael Wood.

Insiders say Wood was the other judges' instantaneous, unanimous preference -- and some even wondered whether Schaeperkoetter's "sweetheart sentence" for Wasiak was actually a slap at the assistant prosecutor, a longtime friend of Wood's. Still cranking, the rumor mill next churned out the possible influence of Wasiak's brother-in-law Bart Calhoun, a St. Louis County prosecutor who came to the trial insisting that Matt was the last person to do such a thing. Calhoun wasn't alone, though; people who've known Wasiak for years say he's a nice guy -- maybe a little too earnest and self-congratulating, but decent. He grew up around here, stayed close to his family, majored in biology in college, became a salesman, went to Mass, played in a men's baseball league. His marriage fell apart, but not because of anything like this; he's had problems with employment but never seemed unstable.

Maybe the judge has a theory? "I'm not going to try to get into Matt Wasiak's brain," Schaeperkoetter says testily. "I don't know what's going on with him." Rumors aside, the most likely explanation of the sentence is that Schaeperkoetter, known for his pro-life, family-values morality and independent, even contrarian decisions, found the case muddled enough to leave room for that old possibility "she was asking for it." His remark that "this is why you don't go to bars" was "kind of an off-the-cuff statement about society," he says, because "a lot of the criminal activity we see happens in and around bars. Both of them were there voluntarily."

Anne's not prepared to accept being drugged as a logical consequence of entering a bar. She's still wondering what else Wasiak might have done to her that night, whether a larger dose could have killed her, and how a judge can take all this so lightly.

"I take a lot of pride in the job that I do," Schaeperkoetter says firmly, adding that "criticism sometimes is a little hard to swallow. Sometimes people think we made mistakes. I'll even concede to the possibility that a mistake was made in this case. But I still don't think I did make a mistake. In a lot of ways, Matt Wasiak seemed to me to be a little bit naïve and a little bit gullible but a person that cares a lot about other people.

"Although this was a departure from that."

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