GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Dennis Tomasak of Comstock Park had never been arrested, never accused of a crime and never seen the inside of a courtroom. But the word of a troubled teen who made decade-old allegations and a courtroom expert was enough to convince a prosecutor and jury that he was guilty of a crime.
For the Lansing defense attorneys who handled Tomasik’s appeal, Mary Chartier and renowned appellate attorney Martin Tieber, the case represented a breakdown of the criminal justice system at multiple levels, including the Kent County Sheriff’s Department, the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office and the original defense attorney.
“This is the most egregious case in terms of a prosecution I’ve ever seen,” Chartier told 24 Hour News 8.
In February 2006, a high school freshman was in trouble for stealing money from a cheerleader fund at his school when he told a counselor that he had been sexually abused multiple times by a neighbor from down the street whose name he did not know. The teen claimed the assaults occurred when he was between the ages of 6 and 8 — and he said they happened a lot.
“Anywhere between 70 to 80 times to over 600 times, depending on who he was talking to and when he was testifying,” Chartier said. “But based solely on the word of the complainant, then the charges were issued.”
She said the sheriff’s department failed to conduct a thorough investigation.
During an interview with police in 2006, Tomasik repeatedly denied the allegations. But in a common police interrogation technique, the detective told him that others had supported the teen’s story, which was not the case. A tape of that interrogation was played for the jury in Tomasik’s 2007 trial and helped lead to Tomasik’s conviction.
After years of court hearings at the appellate level, the Michigan Supreme Court overturned Tomasik’s conviction in December 2016, saying the recording should not have been played for the jury, and ordered a new trial.
“But even if that interview had been played for the second jury, I don’t think it would have made one bit of difference,” Chartier said. “Everybody knows he’s at work, so they couldn’t possibly physically be occurring.”
In the second trial, Tomasik’s new defense team called 22 new witnesses that were not heard in the first trial. It was revealed that Tomasik was at work when the alleged attacks occurred.
After the 10-day trial, the jury was out for less than 20 minutes. They took one vote and acquitted him.
“An 11-year nightmare finally came to an end for Mr. Tomasik,” Chartier said.
Now he’s a free man, listed on the National Registry of Exonerations. His case is cited by defense attorneys as precedent for excluding entire interviews in which inappropriate prosecution statements are made.
A LOVE STORY, NOT A COURT STORY
Everyone involved says it was the perseverance of Tomasik’s wife, Kim Tomasik, that made the difference in the case. During Tomasik’s time behind bars, his wife of more than a quarter century was left alone to raise their teenage children into adulthood. She never stopped fighting for the man she first met when they were neighbors more than 40 years ago.
“I would wake up and say, ‘I can’t do this today, God. Just get me through today and I’ll do better tomorrow,’” Kim Tomasik told 24 Hour News 8.
She had a large community of supporters. She said people would send anonymous cards with money, neighbors would clean the house and friends would take care of the kids.
“People I don’t even know offering to pay bills,” Kim Tomasik said, amazed.
She was up late every night poring through court files and looking for ways to help.
“It consumed me. I was consumed with proving that this didn’t happen,” she said.
In prison, her husband was working to keep his faith. Knowing what his wife was doing that made that possible.
“I couldn’t ask for a better wife,” Dennis Tomasik said. “She’s a great person. She spent every day fighting to get me out of there and I will never be able to pay her back for what she did for me.”
‘GOD WAS WITH ME’
Dennis Tomasik said that the arrest and conviction came as a shock as someone who had spent his whole life staying out of trouble. Before it, he worked long hours in a tool and die shop to allow his wife to be a stay-at-home mom.
“I thought the police department would do its job and investigate and find out no, this never took place,” Tomasik said.
He said he never had any real trouble in prison despite being a convicted child molester. He said he was always honest with his fellow inmates and believes they knew he was innocent.
“God was with me the whole time and it put an ease in me that I was being protected and I knew that,” he said. “I believed solely that the truth would come out and I knew that I had the greatest wife in the world and that she would not let this go.”
Despite the ordeal, the Tomasiks say they still believe in the justice system. They also have no animosity toward the accuser, saying they believe he is a troubled person and hope he gets the help he needs.
Tomasik drained his 401k and savings fighting for his freedom. Now, he plans to seek wrongful conviction restitution from the state, which tops out at $50,000 per year. He made more than that per year a decade ago and he says he will never be made whole financially.
“But you know what? Money’s money. I can go make more money, but I can’t ever get my freedom. There’s no money that can ever buy freedom,” he said.
His wife is just glad to have her husband home.
“I’m just going to go live my life. I’m going to do all these things I haven’t had the opportunity to do that I missed out on,” Kim Tomasik said.