PORTLAND, Ore. — In a lengthy new article published by Sports Illustrated, Oregon State University star baseball pitcher Luke Heimlich denied allegations he molested his niece when she was 6 years old, despite pleading guilty to the crime in 2012.
Last June, The Oregonian reported that Heimlich, arguably the best pitcher in college baseball, had pleaded guilty to molesting his niece when he was 15 years old. The victim had reported the abuse to her mother and the father, Heimlich's brother, alerted authorities.
A February 2018 article in The Portland Tribune first reported Heimlich's claims of innocence. Therapist reports and court records Heimlich's family gave to the Tribune indicated that Heimlich has consistently denied the allegations both before and after his guilty plea in 2012.
According to the report in the Tribune, Heimlich said he pleaded guilty in order to avoid a trial and a potential guilty verdict. If he was found guilty, he could have been sentenced to as many as 60 months in a juvenile detention facility, meaning he would miss a year of school and a season of baseball.
He told Sports Illustrated he pleaded guilty because he and his parents decided it would be best for the family. "We didn't really think I stood a fair chance," he said.
Heimlich pleaded guilty and was sentenced to counseling and required to register as a sex offender.
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Heimlich confirmed to Sports Illustrated what was reported in the Tribune.
"I pled guilty to it. But ever since that day and even before that, in court records and everything, I've denied ever committing the offense. I stand by that," he said.
When he was asked by the SI reporter if he ever touched his niece inappropriately or sexually, Heimlich answered, "No." Then asked if he's claiming his niece consistently told a false story, he said, "Yes."
The mother of Heimlich's niece told Sports Illustrated she's aware that Heimlich has denied the accusations since pleading guilty.
"Even back then, he said he didn't do it," she said. "I understand. I get it. But I heard it come out of her mouth. And I know the way she was raised, and what she was allowed to see. There's just no doubt in my mind that he did what she said he did."
After The Oregonian published its report last summer, Heimlich withdrew from the team and didn't pitch in the College World Series. He wasn't selected in last summer's MLB draft but was allowed to return to Oregon State for his senior season.
Oregon State is one of the best teams in college baseball again, ranked No. 2 in the country with a record of 38-8-1 this season. Heimlich leads the nation in wins with 12 and is tied for seventh in the country with 115 strikeouts.
Fans and alumni have been as supportive as ever this season, according to the Sports Illustrated article.
Athletic director Scott Barnes says alumni have been "overwhelmingly positive" about Heimlich's return and that the program is at a "record-high, all-time, historic high in number of season tickets for baseball." Sports Illustrated also reported that the OSU Foundation is on track to surpass last year's donation total of $132 million.
The response from opposing fans has been subdued. According to Sports Illustrated, there have been no protests at road games and little heckling.
One Division I head coach told Sports Illustrated he's unsure what will happen this summer, after Heimlich's senior season ends. The MLB draft starts June 4.
“I have a lot of professional baseball friends who swear they’re not going to touch him... . I mean, he can’t go to Japan. No independent team is going to sign him. No pro team is going to draft him. What’s he supposed to do?" the coach said.
But Heimlich told Sports Illustrated he's "confident" he'll have the chance to play professional baseball after this season and that he's been interviewed by "many scouts" this year.
His coach, Pat Casey, is even more confident. He told Sports Illustrated he believes Heimlich will be selected in the first or second round of this year's draft.
A general manager of an MLB team isn't so sure. Speaking anonymously to Sports Illustrated, he said he instructed his scouting director to avoid him.
"Do not waste your time, because we're not going to take a chance on this situation," the general manager said.