|April 21, 2011|
|Shift of Wittels Case Indicates 'Seriousness'|
|By Jack O'Dwyer|
|Bahamian prosecutor Basil Cumberbatch, skipping a preliminary hearing, has shifted charges of rape against three Florida Int'l University students -- stemming from an incident at the Atlantis resort -- to the country's Supreme Court.|
The three are FIU baseball star Garrett Wittels, whose 56-game hitting streak brought national attention to the school, and two other FIU students, John Oberti and Robert Rothschild. Two 17-year-old women are alleging the rapes.
Garrett Wittels, center, at a news conference in February.
The preliminary hearing on charges that date back to Dec. 20, 2010, had been set for April 18 but was cancelled after a bill of voluntary indictment was sent to Magistrate Derence Rolle-Davis. The bill contains sworn statements from witnesses. Neither woman has been identified although Dr. Michael Wittels, father of Garrett, has said they are from the University of Arkansas.
The case will go directly to the Supreme Court with the initial hearing set for May 9 before Senior Justice Jon Isaacs in Nassau.
Court sources told the Miami Herald that a trial will not begin on that date. They said a shift to the Superior Court, is something that is done "in the more serious cases" and that rape charges can result in sentences ranging from seven years to life in prison.
The women said they were raped after meeting the three men in a bar at the Atlantis in the early morning hours.
Wittels was 20 at the time and Oberti and Rothschild were 21. The five went to one of the rooms of the men and the men admit to having sex with the women but claim it was consensual. The women had been drinking, according to a videotape at the bar. If they were indeed 17 this would be a violation of the law since the legal drinking age in the Bahamas is 18.
FIU allowed Wittels to play with the baseball team although his streak was broken in the first game.
Miami Herald columnist Linda Robertson, the school newspaper, and ESPN all said FIU made a big PR mistake by allowed Wittels to play before he had been cleared of the rape charges.
Robertson said the women were "tourists from Texas."
A PR teacher at FIU is Rosanna Fiske, chair of PR Society of America, the world's largest association of PR people with 21,000 members.
Wittels and Oberti are charged with one count of rape each and Rothschild with raping both women. The men have been free on $10,000 bonds each.
Wayne Munroe, Nassau-based lawyer who represents Wittels, did not return an e-mail. The Herald said he did not return its phone calls.
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