District Attorney defends handling of teen rape cases in Niagara County

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LOCKPORT, N.Y. (WIVB) – Two separate rape cases involving teenagers in Niagara County have the community demanding answers from the district attorney, who is defending her office’s handling of the cases.

On Wednesday two teens, whose cases are not related, were both given interim probation by Judge Sara Sheldon. They both previously had pleaded guilty to the sex crimes.

One defendant, Elias Dowdy, 19, is a former Niagara Wheatfield High School student who admitted to raping a classmate in a 2018 incident. Sheldon gave him one year of interim probation.

The other, a Lewiston teen whose name News 4 had not independently confirmed, admitted to committing several sex crimes. He was given two years of interim probation.

Both defendants were given a list of strict conditions they must adhere to during their probation. Upon the completion of their interim probation, they will be given a final sentence.

Many members of the community responded with outrage that the suspects were not sent to prison on Wednesday. On a News 4 Facebook post regarding the Dowdy sentencing, hundreds commented, mostly in disappointment.

“There’s no way that rapist should be getting off this easy,” said one comment.

“Justice system failed again,” said another.

Niagara County District Attorney Caroline Wojtaszek endorsed the interim probation arrangement, and added that it was endorsed in full consultation with the victims and their families. She’s defending her office’s handling of the cases.

“This situation, I think, is best cleared up by emphasizing the fact that neither one of these defendants have been sentenced yet,” Wojtaszek said. “This is not a one and two-year probation sentence. This is interim probation, which holds off the sentence for, in the Wheatfield case, one year, in the Lewiston case, two years.

Wojtaszek noted that judges institute interim probation so that they can get more information as to what the appropriate sentence will be. Both defendants could still spend time in state prison. Both could also be sentenced as minors.

Steve Cohen, an attorney with HoganWillig who represents one of the victims in the Lewiston case called the interim probation status for that defendant “outrageous”. He is criticizing Sheldon for issuing it, and Wojtaszek for endorsing it.

“When Caroline Wojtaszek comes along and says, ‘This is a severe punishment appropriate to this crime,’ What is that going to say?” Cohen asked. “What is this telling other girls who are victimized in the future?”

“It is a priority of this office to spend as much time (with every victim as they need) in a sexual assault,” Wojtaszek responded.

The district attorney also noted that Cohen never reached out to prosecutors to ask about the strength of the sexual assault case against the defendant or the conversations they had with the families.

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