Statement of La Porte County Prosecuting Attorney John Lake in response to The News-Dispatch article with the online headline “Guilty plea rejected on rape charge, and convicted murderer set free by judge”:
I want to clarify the shared headline, as Mr. Rodney Wood was not “set free by judge.” Mr. Wood pled guilty to a Level 6 sexual battery charge with the maximum sentence allowed for that level of felony – 2.5 years in jail. Judge Friedman accepted Mr. Wood’s plea of guilty and sentenced him to the maximum 2.5 years in jail. At the time of his sentencing, Mr. Wood had been in the jail since his arrest in 2019, and had served his entire sentence when good time credit allowed by statute was added. (Good time credit is provided by statute and neither our office nor the Judge can change how credit time is calculated). He was released because he had served his entire sentence with his good time credit, and thus Judge Friedman did not “set him free.”
The La Porte County case that Mr. Wood pled guilty to had nothing to do with the horrific 1990 murder case in Porter County, for which Mr. Wood was sentenced to 60 years in prison. Mr. Wood served his sentence for that murder and was released from prison. Neither our office nor any La Porte County Judge had any control over the 1990 sentence or Mr. Wood’s release from prison for that murder.
Mr. Wood’s case here in La Porte County was originally filed in Superior 3 as a misdemeanor battery charge. Through continued investigation and contact with the survivor, our office filed the Level 3 attempted rape and Level 6 sexual battery charges in Superior 1 (the Superior 3 case was then dismissed to allow the Superior 1 case to be filed). Unfortunately, the highest charge could only be proven with the testimony of the survivor of the sexual assault (Mr. Wood’s 1990 murder conviction is not evidence that can be used to convict him in a court of law). As the time for trial in Superior 1 was approaching, our office was unable to communicate with the survivor. We delayed as long as we could in the hope that the survivor would communicate with us and allow us to proceed to trial. Unfortunately that did not happen, and we offered a plea to charges we felt we could prove without the survivor’s testimony.
We totally support the actions of the survivor in this case. Without her assistance and willingness to file a report at the beginning, this case would not have been originally filed or refiled as a major felony.
Sexual assault is taken seriously by our office. I have worked diligently to form and lead the La Porte-Starke Regional Sexual Assault Team (SART). We meet regularly and collaborate with many different law enforcement agencies, hospitals, nurses, sexual assault crisis centers, victim advocates, and other stakeholders to raise awareness of sexual assault. The stark reality is that 80 percent of sexual assault survivors choose not to prosecute their cases, but those survivors must be reached and supported. Our office works very hard to reach those survivors that do not want to go through the legal system, but need the counseling and support to overcome their assault.
If you know someone who has suffered an assault or who requires assistance, please have them reach out to the victim advocates in our office. We offer services regardless of whether a case is filed or prosecuted.
If someone has additional questions about this case, then they can contact me. Judges are limited in what they can say about active cases, and since this case could be appealed, it remains active.