Despite confession, nurse still pleads innocent

TOLEDO – A startling confession by a night shift nurse who told police he had abused dozens of nursing home patients seemed to give investigators all they needed for a conviction.

The trouble was that nearly all of those people were either unable to communicate or dead. During the investigation that followed, two patients denied they had been violated and only one backed up the confession.

And that man could only communicate by giving a thumbs up or thumbs down to questions posed by investigators.

“It really presented a problem,” Erie County Prosecutor Kevin Baxter said yesterday. “I’m not so sure we could’ve tried the case without his confession.”

That’s why prosecutors were willing to accept a plea deal last week that allowed John Riems, of Sandusky, to enter pleas to sexual battery and sexual imposition without admitting guilt but acknowledging there is enough evidence for a conviction.

A judge then sentenced Riems to 12 1/2 years in prison.

Riems, 49, maintained his innocence while entering the plea tomorrow.

He had been charged with rape, patient abuse, gross sexual imposition and sexual penetration last January after telling police that he abused almost 100 patients since the 1980s at nursing homes mainly near Sandusky, which sits along Lake Erie midway between Toledo and Cleveland.

Riems later said that his confession was coerced by investigators and would have made the same argument if his trial had moved forward.

“He did not want to run the risk of trying to convince the jury of that,” said his attorney, Troy Wisehart, who unsuccessfully argued that the confession shouldn’t be shown at the trial, which was scheduled to begin this week.

A forensic psychologist had planned to testify that Riems suffered from a disorder that made him susceptible to coercion.

“I felt he had a very good case,” said Wisehart, who said he thought it should have gone to trial. He also noted that two of the victims Riems listed in his confession said they weren’t abused.

One, a woman who died after giving a deposition, said that she was a former nurse and that she was sure Riems did not do anything inappropriate during her exams.

Despite the doubts raised, Baxter said he remains convinced that a partially paralyzed blind man was telling the truth when he made claims of abuse against Riems.

Investigators also found that Riems had been disciplined at another nursing home in 1994 after a patient complained about him, Baxter said. Investigators were unable to locate that patient, he said.

“I think he picked victims who weren’t able to tell what happened,” Baxter said.

Baxter doubts any more complaints will be made against Riems, but said his office would look into any new leads. “I think they would have come forward by now,” Baxter said.