EL DORADO — The Adam Herrman mystery entered a new chapter Wednesday when a prosecutor charged Herrman's adoptive parents with a crime related to his disappearance more than a decade ago.
In announcing that she was charging Doug and Valerie Herrman with felony theft over adoption subsidies they allegedly accepted for years after he disappeared, Butler County Attorney Jan Satterfield continued to call the Herrmans suspects in something more serious — the disappearance and presumed death of the boy.
Authorities didn't learn of the 11-year-old's disappearance from his Towanda home until December 2008 — more than nine years afterward. There still is no trace of him.
"The Adam Herrman homicide investigation continues," Satterfield said in a statement she read during a news conference at the county courthouse. "A prosecution for murder may be commenced at any time."
Speaking of the felony theft charge each of the parents face, she said, "This is not the beginning and end. This is just the beginning for the Herrmans."
The theft charges are related to the alleged fraudulent receipt of $52,800 in government assistance for Adam's care. The couple continued to submit subsidy forms saying the boy lived in their home and continued to claim him as a dependent on their income tax returns and in court documents for six years after his disappearance , the charges state.
Trevor Riddle, an attorney representing Doug Herrman, said in a brief statement that the theft accusation is a "technical financial charge" and that the Herrmans will plead not guilty and "vigorously seek dismissal" of the charges.
Riddle declined to respond to Satterfield's comments about the homicide investigation.
The Herrmans, in their 50s, each posted a $50,000 bond on the theft charges late Wednesday afternoon after voluntarily reporting to the Butler County Jail in response to warrants issued against them. As they left the jail, they walked, holding hands, to a car with an Oklahoma license tag and a bumper sticker reading "Real men pray."
They face a first appearance on the charges in Butler County District Court at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Authorities don't think the Herrmans are a flight risk, Satterfield said. She said they no longer live in Kansas but declined to say where they reside.
Authorities have been aware of the Herrmans' location and "have kept an eye on them," Satterfield said.
The charges were filed Wednesday to avoid questions of whether the five-year statute of limitations on the charges has expired. According to Satterfield, the Herrmans allegedly cashed the last state adoption subsidy check on July 8, 2005 — six years after Adam's disappearance.
There is no statute of limitations for homicide, Satterfield noted.
Regarding the homicide investigation, Satterfield said, "There has been a lot of things going on in the case behind the scenes. We are proceeding cautiously."
She announced that she has appointed Kevin O'Connor, a former Sedgwick County deputy district attorney, as a special prosecutor on the Adam Herrman case.
She and O'Connor stressed that the investigation has not been forgotten.
"We're talking about a little boy," O'Connor said.
Satterfield has previously said that a grand jury could be convened to review the case and decide whether to issue indictments. On Wednesday, she said a grand jury could take up the case anytime within the next several months.
There continues to be no credible information that Adam is alive, Satterfield said.
He would be 23.
Satterfield, who is running for a judgeship, said that she has no doubt that whoever ends up being the county attorney will continue to pursue the case.
As it stands, she said, "Our burden will be how he died" and who did it.
No trace of Adam has been found despite intensive searches of the Towanda mobile home park where the family lived and an area around the Whitewater River.
The couple adopted Adam when he was about 2.
In an interview with The Eagle early last year, Valerie Herrman said that in early May 1999, when Adam was 11, he ran away from their mobile home and didn't return after she spanked him with a belt. She said she didn't report him missing because she feared it would cause her and her husband to lose custody of Adam and their other children.
Relatives said that Valerie Herrman told them that Adam, who was being home-schooled, had been returned to state custody.
His disappearance came to light in late 2008 after an adoptive sister said she tried to find him to apologize for the way he had been treated growing up.
After she expressed concerns about him to authorities, Butler County investigators began digging in the mobile home park, searching for human remains. Using search dogs, they also probed in woods along the Whitewater River.