'Domestic situation gone bad'

Cary Ashby • Feb 17, 2013 at 7:02 PM

It's a complicated case involving a visitation dispute.

There's also an assault which caused permanent blindness in one eye to the victim, who later was involved in a near-fatal head-on car accident.

The victim's mother, Sherri Osterland, said the state didn't want to take the case to trial.

"He's told me that time and time again," she said about Huron County Prosecutor Russell Leffler.

"(My son) has had countless tests and exams regarding this eye," Osterland said about New London resident Eric Hovinetz. "Leffler did not share this information with (the judge). That was evident at the pretrial."

On the other hand, Leffler said there are a lot of "very murky" issues involving the visitation dispute, trespassing allegations and assault. The situation involves the victim, defendant Timothy R. Waters and his girlfriend, Mallory Hawley, who has a 3 1/2-year-old boy with the victim.

The New London Police Department investigated the Oct. 30, 2011 incident. Hawley brought Waters to the victim's apartment to retrieve their child.

Leffler said Hovinetz's injuries from the accident -- combined with some memory issues -- complicated the process of getting evidence and statements.

"He's been in comas and hospitals ever since. ... He's bedridden," said Leffler, who spoke to the victim in an Ashland nursing home soon after a psychological evaluation there. "It's all a terrible thing."

"He's got more problems (than this case). I wish him well," the prosecutor said.

Leffler had considered getting a video deposition from Hovinetz at the hospital. At one point, the state considered paying $5,000 to have an ambulance bring the victim to court; Leffler decided against it because of the expense.

"I continued the case several times because I hoped he would improve," the prosecutor said.

Osterland said she's "been very busy dealing" with her son's "medical treatment" since the head-on collision in May. He is recuperating an area rehabilitation facility.

Assault investigation

On Feb. 11, Waters, 24, of Amherst, pleaded guilty to one amended charge each of aggravated trespassing and assault, both first-degree misdemeanors. In mid-December 2011, a Huron County grand jury secretly indicted him on one felony charge each of aggravated burglary and felonious assault.

The assault sent Hovinetz -- the father of Hawley's child -- to Fisher-Titus Medical Center.

"My son is partially blind in his right eye. This is permanent. It's his optic nerve. He was beaten unconscious," said Osterland.

Officer Kevin VerBurg picked up the investigation after Officer Brian Rozek responded to the victim's apartment. Waters, his girlfriend and her son already had left.

"It all transpired before we arrived," VerBurg said. "He (Hovinetz) was pacing back and forth ... and he was holding the back of his head."

Rozek, the responding officer, reported seeing Hovinetz had abrasions on his face. His right eye was partially shut.

The victim accused Waters of forcing his way inside and assaulting him with his fists. He also told police he partially lost consciousness when Waters hit him in the back of the head.

Waters, in court recently, initially denied being the aggressor several times before entering his guilty plea. The defendant was convicted of entering the premises without permission with the intent to "cause harm or threatened to cause harm."

When asked what prompted the fight, VerBurg said police didn't know initially.

"Eventually we found out it was over the child," he said.

Hovinetz wasn't complaining about having any problems with his sight at the scene, but VerBurg said "it looked like he was going to pass out."

"That's why the officer called the squad ... and cut the interview short," the investigator said.

Police still don't know why Waters went to the victim's home.

"Ultimately he went there for some purpose -- whether it was to assault him (Hovinetz) or get the child -- we don't know. He could have called us if there was a problem," VerBurg said.

To get an aggravated burglary conviction, Leffler said he would need to prove Waters trespassed with the intent to commit a crime while he was in the victim's apartment.

"(Police) think it's a misdemeanor. It's a domestic situation gone bad," Leffler said.

Visitation dispute

Waters and his girlfriend went to Hovinetz's New London home. Authorities said they went in the front door, where an argument and altercation over visitation ensued.

"She went there to get her child out. ... She raced over there to save him," Leffler said. "She's going to say it was to protect the child."

Osterland talked about the visitation situation in a detailed email to the Reflector.

"My grandson Lucky exhibited some odd behaviors while visiting my son," she said.

"Upon questioning him, my son determined that Lucky was visibly afraid of Timothy Waters and attributed some of these questionable behaviors to Timothy," said Osterland, whose son reportedly tried to contact his son's mother.

"Mallory gave the phone to the defendant and an argument ensued. Mallory then drove the defendant to my son's apartment, where he entered and proceeded to beat my son unconscious. Mallory then entered and took a screaming Lucky out of the apartment. Because no one but Lucky was at my son's apartment, Leffler said that my son's story isn't credible because Mallory and Timothy had the same story," Osterland said.

Leffler said the child's mother, Hawley, could have been charged with trespassing because she had no authority to be at the victim's residence. He said the situation is "very murky" since the mother showed up at Hovinetz's residence to demand her child be returned to her.

"That's going to be something to deal with in court," the prosecutor added.

Hawley, according to the victim's mother, had alleged the father of her child "was causing some problems," Leffler said.

There were allegations of telephone harassment by Hovinetz.

"The victim had her on the phone ... allegedly during work hours," Leffler said.

Before becoming a prosecutor, Leffler did some divorce work. He said parents "want to spend time with the child" during their visitation times and shouldn't spend time arguing with each other.

"They had a visitation order that's reasonable," Leffler said about the situation with Hovinetz and Hawley.

After being assaulted, Hovinetz reported the suspect to Lorain County Children Services (LCCS).

"After their investigation in November 2011, they told Mallory that Timothy Waters should not be unsupervised with Lucky. Mallory was having him baby-sit while she worked," said Osterland, who was told Waters was "too rough, immature and unable to handle himself appropriately around" her grandson.

"Mallory later called LCCS and stated that she and Tim had 'broken up.' With that, LCCS closed the case and told my son that if Lucky showed up with bruises, to 'let them know,'" said Osterland, who accused Hawley of withholding her grandson from her family until the accident.

'We took it very seriously'

Hovinetz, 25, faces a drug abuse conviction if he violates his terms of seeking intervention, according to court records.

"Leffler has told me countless times that my son is not credible because he has a felony and mental health issues. I spoke with his probation officer on Monday and she was very clear when she said that my son does not have a felony on his record," Osterland said.

Leffler essentially agreed with Osterland's statement, but declined to talk about the victim's mental health issues.

"A felony record does create a problem with credibility," Leffler said.

"We'd been dealing with his probation officer," said Leffler, who also said the officer alleged the state wasn't taking the assault case seriously because of the felony.

"I think we took it very seriously. The mother doesn't see it that way," the prosecutor said.

"My son had to fight Huron County Prosecutor's Office to even take this to the grand jury," said Osterland, who accused Leffler of being inappropriate, disrespectful and unprofessional during their meetings and phone conversations.

"I never thought that Leffler would blow this off, but it does not surprise me given his attitude toward the case from the beginning," she said.

At Waters' plea hearing, Leffler told the court Osterland "is not in agreement" with the plea deal. However, he said the state believes this is an appropriate resolution of the case.

Waters could face up to one year behind bars when he is sentenced March 27.

Having posted 10 percent of a $20,000 bond, he is prohibited from being on the victim's premises while his case is pending.

Recommended for You

    Norwalk Reflector Videos