Zach Anderson, the young man from Elkhart, Indiana, whose harsh punishment for consensual sex with an underage teenager he wrongly believed was 17 made headlines around the country in 2015, has been arrested for violating his probation.
What, exactly, did he do? He stopped by for dinner at his parents’ home. His younger brother was present, and incidentally, so was the brother’s friend. The brother thought this friend was 19 years old, but he turned out to be just 17. Anderson, unfortunately, is not allowed to have contact with anybody under the age of 18, except his own siblings.
There was one other thing. Anderson works on the tech team at his local church. Recently, a 17-year-old girl joined the church staff as an intern. While Anderson has never met or spoken with her, the fact that they volunteer on separate teams at the church is a violation of his probation, according to officials who issued a warrant for his arrest last week.
For these charges, Anderson, now 22 years old, is heading back to court in Michigan next week. (Anderson lives in Indiana, but the “crime” was over the border, in Michigan.) Possible outcomes range from dismissing the charges to extending probation, putting Anderson on the sex offender registry, sending him to prison, or any combination thereof.
There is no credible reason to believe Anderson is a danger to anyone, let alone a young woman he has never even met or interacted with—which is why the 17-year-old submitted a letter affirming that Anderson has never approach her, and that she doesn’t even know what he looks like. The church director offered a letter of support as well, noting that Anderson has constantly gone out of his way to avoid violating the terms of his probation, even though the terms are arbitrary are pointless. Anderson is so faithful to them, in fact, that he willingly confessed to the pizza incident during a mandatory polygraph examination.
It’s worth recalling the absurdity of the original crime that landed Anderson in this situation. More than two years ago, when Anderson was 19 years old, he was sentenced to 25 years on the sex offender registry for hooking up with a girl he met online. The girl said she was 17 but turned out to be only 14.
You may recall that both the girl and her mother begged the judge to throw the case out, since there was no way Anderson could have known the girl’s real age. Unmoved, Berrien County District Court Judge Dennis Wiley told Anderson: “You went online, to use a fisherman’s expression, trolling for women to meet and have sex with. That seems to be part of our culture now: meet, hook up, have sex, sayonara. Totally inappropriate behavior. There is no excuse for this whatsoever.”
The case made it to the front page of The New York Times and Anderson was granted new sentencing. At that point he was deemed eligible for a youth leniency program and given a sentence of two years’ probation, which was finally coming to an end next week.