Plea results in time-served sentence for Lawrence man convicted of sexual battery; questions could lead to appeal

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Post updated at 11:11 a.m. Friday, March 29:

A Lawrence man who agreed to plead no contest to charges of aggravated battery and sexual battery was sentenced to time served Thursday after spending more than 4 1/2 years in jail awaiting trial, but the case may not yet be over.

In accordance with a Feb. 13 agreement made with prosecutors, Perry Oatis, 59, was sentenced to 16 months for aggravated battery, a level-7 (low-severity) felony, and 12 months for misdemeanor sexual battery in a separate case. An additional domestic battery case from April 2019 was dropped as part of the agreement.

Oatis was originally charged with rape of a physically powerless victim in connection with a May 2019 incident, which is a level-1, or high-severity, felony.

Because Oatis had already spent approximately 56 months in custody, Kansas Senior Judge Michael Ward said he would release Oatis without additional probation or post-release supervision.

Before sentencing was finalized, however, Oatis asked Ward to address several motions that he had submitted Jan. 4 in handwritten documents from the jail, including one challenging the veracity of Douglas County Chief District Judge James McCabria’s signature on the original search warrant from May 2019.

“I entered a motion and thought there would be a ruling,” Oatis said. “When I brought it to the attention of my attorney she said, ‘Do you want to get out of jail?’”

Defense attorney Angela Keck denied the statement and said she had explained to Oatis that she believed the plea agreement was in his best interest. She told Ward that she and Oatis were having difficulty communicating and asked to withdraw as his defense attorney.

“The signature on the warrant looks weird, but I pulled (past McCabria) iPad signatures,” she said. “I think it matches, and I told Mr. Oatis that I’m not handling that issue.”

Oatis indicated in court Thursday that he was still considering withdrawing his plea and moving forward pro se, or without the assistance of an attorney. He also said that despite an earlier motion denied by Ward, Oatis continues to believe that police did not have probable cause to enter the apartment where the incident took place.

Oatis’ case was filed on May 28, 2019. Two days later, Oatis was charged with sexual battery in connection with a similar allegation with another woman that took place in August 2018 and was reported April 22, 2019. In both cases, the women were acquainted with Oatis and named him in their reports. He was held in jail on a $100,000 bond until he signed the plea agreement Feb. 13.

Ward told Oatis that rejecting the plea agreement would mean the state could proceed with prosecuting the original complaint.

“Do you want to go to trial on the rape charge?” Ward asked. “That’s what will happen if you withdraw your plea.”

The long-running case had been set for a roughly two-week trial in February, but Oatis had agreed to the plea before it started.

Ward asked Oatis why he had waited until the sentencing hearing to bring up the forgery motion, but Oatis pointed out that he had originally brought up the signature in question on Jan. 4. Although other motions had been addressed, the forgery issue remained unresolved.

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The case has been slowly moving through the system since 2019, facing challenges and delays exacerbated by COVID-19, turnover in the district attorney’s office, retirement of the original judge overseeing the case, and multiple changes to Oatis’ court-appointed representation.

Ward was appointed to preside over the case in 2022, following Judge Kay Huff’s retirement. In Kansas, retired district court judges may be appointed as senior judges on an as-needed basis in district and appellate courts statewide.

Ward told Oatis that he had been notified of a letter Oatis sent to McCabria on Tuesday outlining his concern about the signature and his plan to take the issue to news outlets if he couldn’t get a response. Ward said he had been assured by McCabria that the signatures were legitimate.

“I’ve never before heard this issue raised,” Ward said during the hearing. “Never any suggestion that a judge’s signature was a forgery.”

After detailing the agreement again, Ward accepted Oatis’ decision to take the plea. Deputy District Attorney Joshua Seiden declined to make any statement during the hearing and asked the court to follow the sentencing agreement.

As part of his plea agreement, Oatis is required to register as a sex offender for 15 years. He is not to contact the women associated with either case. He can request to have his record expunged after three years.

Though a plea agreement does limit options for appealing, Oatis may still seek to have his judgment set aside if he can prove it will “correct manifest injustice,” which is a judgment determined to be obviously unfair, unreasonably harsh or shocks the conscience.

After court Thursday, Oatis said he was still hoping to pursue an appeal, but he was satisfied on at least one count.

“I just wanted to get everything on record,” he said.

Keck declined to comment further on the case. McCabria didn’t respond prior to publication.

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Andrea Albright (she/her), reporter, can be reached at aalbright (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

Resources for survivors

If you have experienced sexual violence or trauma, please seek the help that’s right for you. There are many options available, and you don’t have to file a police report if you don’t want to.

Get 24/7 help in Lawrence: The Sexual Trauma & Abuse Care Center
  • Call 785-843-8985 to reach an advocate, 24/7. (Consider saving that number in your phone in case you or someone you know ever needs it.)
  • After an assault: What are my options? Check this page for detailed information about
    • talking to an advocate,
    • going to the hospital,
    • making a police report,
    • and/or talking to a counselor or therapist.
  • On campus? Check this page for specific resources for the University of Kansas, Haskell Indian Nations University, Baker University, Ottawa University and more.
Resources on KU’s campus:
  • Contact the CARE (Campus Assistance, Resource, and Education) Coordinator: Students can make an appointment by email, care@ku.edu, or by calling 785-864-9255. It’s free, confidential and voluntary to talk with the CARE Coordinator. All genders welcome. Read more here.
  • Find more KU campus resources at this link. Specific information about sexual assault exams can be found here.
  • Direct message KU CARE Sisters on Instagram. You don’t need to be affiliated with Greek Life to reach out and/or receive assistance. (Note: CARE Sisters provide peer support and education, but this is not a 24/7 service like others listed here.)
Domestic violence situations: The Willow Domestic Violence Center
  • Reach the Willow for help 24/7 at 785-843-3333.
  • Find more resources on the Willow’s website at this link.
More resources
  • StrongHearts Native Helpline: Call 1-844-7NATIVE (762-8483) for 24/7 safe, confidential and anonymous domestic and sexual violence support for Native Americans and Alaska Natives that is culturally appropriate.
  • National hotline: Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), text “START” to 88788, and/or visit thehotline.org to chat and learn more, 24/7.

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