Former criminal defense attorney, Michael Edward Harssema, 45, was convicted of sexually assaulting woman
The disbarred former Dallas based attorney is accused of preying on the victim’s family’s vulnerability, responding to the mother’s “Completely out of Control” pitch for help on the LegalLine website
The girl at 16 was at Terrell State Hospital with a history of bulimia, drug use and claims that she had been a victim of other sexual assaults
He allegedly abused their trust in allowing him to take the teen her to dinner alone
The attorney is also accused of grooming the ‘client’ with drugs, alcohol and by telling her she was pretty, then took advantage by sexually assaulting her after a meeting at a restaurant on June 21, 2013
Harssema pled down the initial charge of aggravated sexual assault of a child, to one count sexual assault of a child, and two counts indecency with a child by contact
In the course of investigating this case, authorities learned of a different incident where 14-year-old girl had reported she was raped by Harssema in February 2014
The now 21-year-old accuser, first made allegations against Harssema while meeting with a counselor when she was in juvenile detention in Jan 2014 – She was was a runaway from child sex trafficking and her rapist was the lawyer who was supposed to be helping her case
Sentencing for Michael Harssema is scheduled May 11
Michael Harssema pled guity to raping his 16-year-old client
A Collin County jury on Wednesday convicted former attorney Michael Harssema of raping a teenager whose family sought his assistance.
Sentencing for Harssema, 45, on a single count of sexual assault of a child and two counts of indecency with a child by contact is expected Friday. The jury spent over five hours in deliberation after six-plus days of testimony.
The initial charge of aggravated sexual assault of a child was downgraded to sexual assault as the prosecution dropped the contention that a gun had been used in commission of the crime. A third count of indecency with a child by contact was dropped because the accuser couldn’t recall the details on the stand last week.
Michael Harssema told police he had car problems during the four hours between leaving a restaurant with the girl on June 21, 2013, and the time they returned to McKinney.
He also didn’t call the 16-year-old’s parents during that time.
“No lawyer puts themselves in a position where they’re alone with a child in the middle of the night,” prosecutor Shannon Miller said.
Harssema’s visits to the house over the ensuing months were also telling, Miller said. “No lawyer goes to a client’s home two or three times a week. To do what? Hang out? Smoke a cigarette? That’s what he did.”
Much of the closing arguments focused on the now 21-year-old accuser, who first made allegations against Harssema while meeting with a counselor when she was in juvenile detention in January 2014.
By then, the girl had a history of bulimia, drug use and claims that she had been a victim of other sexual assaults.
Prosecutor Shannon Miller told the jury that Harssema preyed on the family’s vulnerability in responding to the mother’s “Completely out of Control” pitch for help on the LegalLine website when the girl, then 16, was at Terrell State Hospital.
He then built on their trust in order to get them to allow him to take her to dinner alone, groomed her with drugs and alcohol and by telling her she was pretty, then took advantage by sexually assaulting her in an Allen neighborhood, Miller said.
“He never thought that you would find your voice,” Miller said to the victim, who was sitting with her family during the closing argument. “He thought that you were lost. That you were weak. But you were not.”
The woman who anonymous, helped Collin County officials convict her assailant in unrelated cases, but she’d never been asked to testify until last week.
Defense attorney Thomas Pappas focused on changes in the woman’s story over the years, including the use of the gun and the claim that Harssema had held her down. He called her a liar and said, through her own testimony that she called herself a liar.
“Maybe she was sexually assaulted by the six or seven she’s previously accused of it. I just know [Harssema] didn’t do it,” Pappas said in closing arguments. “This isn’t her first rodeo.”
Pappas alluded to her Friday collapse on the witness stand as “one of the shows she put on.”
The woman had a couple similar episodes over the course of the trial. One was outside the courthouse, within view of Judge Barnett Walker while the trial was in recess. And about 8:50 a.m. Wednesday, her mother was tending to her on the floor in the front foyer inside the courthouse.
The prosecution said that according to the family, the episodes are seizures related to ongoing health issues, but that they don’t require emergency medical attention.
Miller told jurors Wednesday that the woman had stood up and admitted to everything she had done and that, regardless of her history, she needed and deserved to be heard.
While in deliberation, jurors sent a note asking for the content of an outburst the woman made on the stand Friday, specifically asking the judge whether she said “I’m not the only girl.” She had made the statement, an apparent reference to an upcoming separate trial against Harssema in Dallas County.
“I think the note reflects the harm,” to Harssema’s right to a fair trial, Pappas told the judge.
In an unrelated case, a lawsuit filed alleges the disbarred attorney sexually assaulted the teen at Dallas hotel. Authorities learned of the alleged earlier assault of the 14-year-old after Allen police charged Harssema with sexual assault of a different child in February 2014.
During the investigation of that case, investigators learned from records that the 14-year-old trafficking victim had told a counselor that Harssema raped her.
The teenage girl who once was sold as a sex slave says a lawyer who was supposed to take her to a shelter for abused girls instead raped her at a posh Dallas hotel, according to the lawsuit filed by the girl’s mother.
The lawsuit alleges that Michael Harssema was then “a licensed Texas attorney, employed and/or volunteering for Traffick 911,” an anti-trafficking organization when he was hired to represent the 14-year-old girl who had been sold into prostitution in Texas and five other states, records show.
Court records show that the teen, now 20, was in the care of Traffick 911 in 2012 after Allen police rescued her from a couple who had sold her into prostitution to an estimated 30 men. The teen met the couple after she ran away from home. The couple was later sentenced to prison on human trafficking and other charges.
Harssema, 44, was charged by Dallas police in November 2013 with sexual assault of a child in connection with the 2012 rape of the girl, police records show.
Harssema records show, was disbarred in 2014 for unrelated complaints.
Traffick 911 officials denied any connection with Harssema. They said that Harssema had falsely represented himself, claiming to be working with the organization.