Gordy Sussman, 53, founder of Rutabaga Paddlesports in Madison, Wis., and owner of the store until 2002, was found guilty by a Dane County Circuit Court jury on July 1, 2005 of two child sex assault charges and 16 counts of possessing child pornography.
According to a July 1 story by Ed Treleven in the Wisconsin State Journal, "The verdict, reached after more than nine hours of deliberation, was met with little reaction from Sussman, who stared straight ahead and occasionally looked toward the jury of 10 women and two men as they were polled by Circuit Judge James Martin."
Sussman was acquitted by the jury of two counts of exposing a child to harmful material.
After the jury decision, Sussman was led off in handcuffs. At his sentencing, which will occur within 60 days of the jury decision, Sussman could be sentenced to 100 years in prison for the sex assault charges and 80 years in prison for the child pornography charges.
Sussman's defense attorney has indicated the verdict will certainly be appealed.
SNEWS® View:In our 2003 story covering the media circus around Sussman's initial arrest, we stated, "Sussman has given his life to assisting youth, to protecting wild lands and waterways, and to promoting and growing the paddlesport industry." Could it be that someone who did so much for so many may have been tripped up by being too trusting, too naïve? While the jury did find Sussman guilty, we, like many others who knew Sussman long before the court case, find it hard to believe he is guilty of all that the now 16-year-old youth is alleging – the alleged assaults occurred during the time he was age 9 to 12. Media reports covering the court-room drama over the last year indicate that the youth allegedly kept contradicting himself, couldn't remember specific dates, had made similar accusations toward others in the past, and was found with a laptop that contained hundreds of images of child pornography that were similar to the ones found on Sussman's computer (the laptop was reportedly purchased by the youth long after he had stopped interacting with Sussman). Those accounts all call into question the accuser's credibility.
But the smoking gun for the jury was the collection of child porn on Sussman's computer. He had denied knowing it contained pornography, but the prosecution showed effectively that he had to have known of it because Sussman himself had deleted some of the files. And it is true you can't delete files you don't know about. Did Sussman find the pornography after the boy made his accusations and tried to delete it, but then was too ashamed to admit it? Or was the pornography on Sussman's computer because he downloaded it himself. Either way, it was the child pornography that was undeniably on Sussman's computer that provided the prosecution with the hammer it needed to nail down a conviction.
What is certainly as tragic as the courtroom drama is the way the public reacts to a case such as this. Darren Bush, co-owner of Rutabaga, who purchased the store from Sussman in 2002 before this case ever came to being, has told SNEWS® that the negative publicity has cost his store tens of thousands of dollars. Sussman and Rutabaga have nothing in common other than history. And yet history is affecting the present. We trust that the impact on sales will only be temporary.
Finally, we offer up this advice given by another man who has mentored many youth in the past, and will continue in the future. He tells us he's more cautious now after this verdict, as well as other recent stories of what have turned out to be false accusations by youth against adult mentors or teachers. He said: Never allow yourself to be alone with a youth you are mentoring. Never allow the youth to be alone in any part of your office or your home with unsupervised access to your computers, your documents and your life. And perhaps that is the greatest tragedy of all -- the impact this case, and others like it will have on the youth that genuinely need love, guidance and support, and on the adults that so willingly offer it up.