EL DORADO — The case against Doug and Valerie Herrman is more than a theft case, a judge said in court Monday before he sent the couple to prison.
Butler County District Judge David Ricke gave Doug Herrman a nine-month sentence and Valerie Herrman a seven-month sentence — the maximum under the state sentencing grid. Ricke ordered that the couple be taken immediately into custody.
Their theft of $15,488 in state adoption subsidies for their adopted son was serious enough, Ricke said. But it isn’t just about the money, he said.
“This is about a boy named Adam Herrman, too,” Ricke said.
Adam is the 11-year-old adopted son who disappeared from the Herrmans’ Towanda home in 1999. The Herrmans never reported him missing, yet they continued to accept state money for his care, Ricke said.
If the Herrmans had told authorities that their son was missing, Ricke said, a missing-child alert could have been issued. There could have been search parties.
“His face should have been on milk cartons,” the judge said as the Herrmans and their attorneys listened.
“He deserved” to be reported missing, Ricke said.
But more than 12 years after Adam vanished, Ricke said, “this child is still missing.”
The judge described the couple’s inaction and action as “callous and emotionally detached” and as the “calculated abandonment of a child.”
It is a case, he said, of a child “whose interests were traded for money” by his parents.
As the judge continued, Valerie Herrman dabbed her eyes. Doug Herrman appeared to show no emotion.
The couple, now in their mid-50s, briefly held each other and kissed just before deputies led them from the courtroom on their way to the Butler County Jail, where they will begin the process of being sent to prison.
The Herrmans each pleaded guilty in June to one count of felony theft for taking $15,488 in adoption subsidies over about a two-year period.
They also will have to pay $15,488 in restitution and a fine of $2,500 each.
Outside the courtroom after the sentencing, Butler County Sheriff Kelly Herzet said, “I’m very happy with the judge’s verdict. I think they need to be held accountable for the theft of the money they stole.”
Herzet noted that he still considers Adam’s disappearance an open homicide case, adding, “With this being in the news again, I hope it generates some leads to find this boy’s remains.
“That little boy’s remains are out here somewhere,” he said.
More than two years ago, after learning of the boy’s disappearance, sheriff’s investigators searched for Adam’s remains in the Towanda mobile home park where he had lived and along the nearby Whitewater River.
Sheriff’s investigators continue to welcome tips about Adam’s disappearance, Herzet said.
Valerie Herrman has told The Eagle that Adam ran away from their Towanda mobile home in early May 1999 after she spanked him with a belt. She said the couple didn't report him missing because they feared it would lead to him and their other children being taken from their custody.
Relatives have said that Valerie Herrman told them over the years that Adam had gone back into state custody.
His disappearance became known in 2008 when his older, adoptive sister came forward to authorities, raising concerns about his whereabouts.
After the sentencing Monday, attorneys for the couple declined to comment, or couldn’t be reached for comment.
When Ricke asked the Herrmans whether they wanted to comment before he announced their sentences, each gave the same reply: “No, thank you, your honor.”
The defense attorneys had argued that partly because the couple had little criminal history, they should get probation.
Doug Herrman received two more months in prison than Valerie Herrman because he had a felony false-check case that made his so-called criminal history score higher. She had a misdemeanor harassment case.
Their attorneys are filing notices that they are appealing the judge’s decision.
Valerie Herrman’s attorney, Chris Pate, said in a motion filed last week that he would appeal if his client is sentenced to prison and will request that she be released during the appeal. He said it likely will take more than seven months for the Court of Appeals to hear the case, meaning she will have served her prison term before the appeals court rules.
Although their plea agreement called for probation, Ricke filed a notice that he was intending to impose prison sentences on the Herrmans because of aggravating factors that included abandonment and exploitation of their missing son.
At Monday’s hearing, Doug Herrman’s attorney, Michael Brown, argued that his client has never been charged with child endangerment.
When Ricke asked whether any victims of the theft wanted to speak, Carrol Christian, senior special investigator with the state’s Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, told the judge that the Herrmans deserved “the maximum penalty.”
They took money that could have gone to needy families and children, Christian said.