Special Reports

Case may take months to build

It could be several months before Butler County's chief prosecutor decides whether to bring charges in the decade-old disappearance of a Butler County boy.

The law enforcement investigation of Adam Herrman's disappearance is "solid," Butler County Attorney Jan Satterfield said Tuesday.

Still, with such a complex case, involving such a long time period, Satterfield said she has "several months' worth of work to do" before deciding whether to bring charges or take the case to a grand jury.

"I want to assure the public that this case is a top priority," Satterfield said. "It's actively being worked, every week."

About a month has passed since Butler County Sheriff Craig Murphy announced that his investigators turned their findings over to Satterfield. Adam's adoptive parents, Valerie and Doug Herrman, have been the focus of the investigation since it began late last year.

Warner Eisenbise, an attorney representing Valerie Herrman, and Dan Monnat, an attorney representing Doug Herrman, said Tuesday that their clients continue to maintain that they are innocent.

Earlier this year, Satterfield said the case could result in murder charges.

Now, Satterfield said, she has to make sure that the case would be ready for trial, that any evidence would be admissible in court.

She described her work as "walking through the case with the officers."

Satterfield said she plans to bring some people in for questioning but wouldn't discuss details.

As the chief prosecutor, she can decide whether to file charges or take the rare step of asking Butler County District Court judges to convene a grand jury, which would decide whether to issue indictments. Satterfield said although she's considering the grand-jury option, she hasn't made her decision.

An advantage of having a grand jury consider a case is that it gives the prosecutor a "pretty good pulse" of how the public views a case, she said. That can help a prosecutor prepare for a trial.

Grand juries, which meet in secret, can convene for months, and they can obtain testimony and use subpoenas to gather documents, she said.

Valerie Herrman has told The Eagle that in early May 1999, when Adam was 11, he ran away from their Towanda mobile home and didn't return after she spanked him with a belt. She has 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.

Adam was being home-schooled.

Authorities learned of his disappearance late last year when his older, adoptive sister came forward and expressed concerns about him.

Beginning early this year, Butler County investigators conducted several searches for Adam's remains but didn't find anything, Murphy has said. Murphy noted that, despite a nationwide alert, authorities have not heard from Adam, who would be 21 now.