The Oracle

Hamline graduate sentenced to nearly 13 years for sexual assault

Pierce Heston was sentenced to the maximum prison time for first-degree rape causing injury on Tuesday, April 2, 2019, for an assault that occurred on May 14, 2016.

Emilia Nolan, Senior Reporter

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Pierce Heston was sentenced to prison for 12.5 years on Tuesday April 2, 2019, for an assault that occurred on May 14, 2016.

Former Hamline student and football player, Pierce Heston, was sentenced to 12 and a half years in prison for the rape of a first-year student in 2016.

Heston, now 25, was charged with first-degree rape causing injury on April 2, 2019, according to Kare11 News. According to the victim, who has remained anonymous to media throughout the trial and sentencing, the sexual assault took place on Hamline’s campus in her dormitory when she was a first-year student at Hamline.

Heston’s previous criminal record consisted of a single DWI, something that his attorney, Adrianne McMahon, had hoped would lessen the severity of his sentencing, along with his “strong family support and his stable housing and employment situation,” according to Twin Cities Pioneer Press. Both Heston and his lawyer had been hoping for only probation and sex-offender registration, with no jail time.

After the sentence was given, Heston gave a statement.

“I realize no matter how you roll the dice, a woman I had a sexual experience with walked away feeling like she [was sexually assaulted],” Heston said. “My interpretation of that night was incorrect and hasty.”

Previously, Heston had been convicted by a jury of his peers of first- and third-degree criminal sexual assault, which the Oracle covered in a story in early December of 2018. Though he still was awaiting sentencing, the judge sent him home on his own recognizance to his family so that he could “enjoy the holidays,” a kind, but controversial, decision that lasted nearly four months, a time in which many offenders of this nature are confined to a correctional facility while they await official sentencing.

In November, President Miller sent out a statement via email to the Hamline community, reminding it of the actions that were taken at the time, and the values that Hamline represents.

“While this matter is now in the hands of the legal system, we want to assure you that the university worked closely with the students involved to ensure the appropriate process took place,” President Miller’s email stated.

The email failed to mention that Heston successfully graduated shortly after the incident was reported. Hamline has confirmed that he graduated from the institution in May of 2016 with a degree in Legal Studies and Management, despite accusations against him that surfaced shortly after May 14 of the same year.

According to an interview conducted with the Dean of Students, Patti Klein, there is a process that occurs when a sexual assault is being investigated.

“We always have to keep both parties’ rights in mind to make sure that we are not finding someone responsible prior to a decision,” Klein said. “We also have the ability to do interim suspensions, but there is a difference in being able to walk in commencement and getting a degree. If you’ve gotten a degree, you’ve gotten a degree. A process can never take that away. Basically, some students can graduate without ever having to get a degree or taking finals because everything is already in.”

Concerning police involvement, Klein explained the investigation process.

“We have within the Save Act and the legislation that we’re under right now that the university does not have to wait for the police to conduct its own investigation,” Klein said. “However, we should and do work with the police to insure that our investigation isn’t impeding their’s. What that usually means is we would wait up to ten days… but we would not slow down our process other than that ten day kind of period; we would go forward.”

When investigating within Hamline, both the complaining party and the responding party have the option to put together a packet that outlines the event that is being disputed. A committee reviews both parties’ arguments and makes a decision based upon these and their judgment, often asking further questions and collecting more data to make the best decision possible.

“We make sure that the information is actually there and accurate. Both parties have the ability to know every piece of information,” Klein said, “It is completely known to them.”

The victim’s sister, who also chose to remain anonymous to media sources, testified on Tuesday, April 2, that her sister had sustained significant trauma from the sexual assault, resulting in her dropping out of Hamline, losing relationships and job opportunities and suffering from anxiety and depression.

Klein stated that this is not a trauma-less crime.

“It’s a crime that has a lot of trauma around it,” Klein said. “Meeting with that person who has had that experience, we know there’s trauma and want to make sure that we’re supporting that person in the mix of that investigation. It’s traumatic to have been accused, and it’s traumatic to have been assaulted.”

Judge George Stephenson, who oversaw the sentencing, urged Heston to “take responsibility” for his actions and to describe, in detail, the crime that he had committed. Heston, according to Stephenson, still could not comprehend what he had done, even in the courtroom.

“I didn’t ask her specifically if she wanted to sleep with me… I pushed my personal agenda,” Heston said.

Previously during the initial trial, Heston testified that the victim was a “full participant” in the incident, one that involved both oral and penetrative sex.

Heston, who previously had aspirations of becoming a lawyer, according to the Star Tribune, will serve at least eight years of his term in prison with good behavior. According to Stephenson, he will be only 33 years old upon his earliest release.

“Still…a young man [with] a felony conviction that need not define his life,” Stephenson said.

The victim’s sister disagreed with the judge in her testimony.

“She [the victim] will never be the same.”

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Hamline graduate sentenced to nearly 13 years for sexual assault