Serial Creep

The fine line between sexual assault and kids being kids.

Carl Wolfe was indicted on 21 felony counts, including rape and harassment. - Walter Novak
Carl Wolfe was indicted on 21 felony counts, including rape and harassment.
If being a serial creep was a felony, 21-year-old Carl Wolfe would have been sentenced to life.

In August of 2005, Wolfe, a small-town boy from southern Ohio, arrived on the campus of tiny Notre Dame College in South Euclid. He had been recruited to play basketball, and seemed to think that small detail alone entitled him to everything from homework answers to the inner regions of coeds' pants.

That fall, Wolfe and Jessica Fiorelli, a shy freshman, began chatting on the phone and instant-messaging each other. One night she invited Wolfe over to her dorm to watch TV. They sat on the bed talking until she fell asleep, but she woke a short time later to find Wolfe "on top of me." She tried to push him off, but he wouldn't leave. His hand wandered underneath her bra and over her panties. She again told him he needed to leave, but "he wasn't going anywhere." When she tried to bolt, he pushed her back inside.

For the next several hours, Jessica lay on her bed quivering as Wolfe watched TV. "I didn't know what to do," she would later testify.

The next morning at 9 a.m., he finally left, warning her not to say anything.

A few days later, she received an unsigned letter blaming her and warning her not to tell anyone. "Whatever happened just happened . . . It was your own damn fault for inviting me in . . . You can't accuse me because you have no proof."

Unfortunately, Wolfe was right.

When his trial began two weeks ago on 19 felony counts, girl after girl took the stand, breaking down as they relayed their encounters with Carl Wolfe. One said that he stalked her. Another said he pressured her to perform sex acts, invoking God as coercion. "The Bible doesn't say anything about oral sex," he murmured. Yet another claimed he grabbed her arm and tried to force her into his bedroom. He'd never been with a black woman before, he told her. "You wanna be my first?" he cooed.

(In still another incident, a student claimed Wolfe pinned her down and raped her, but that case will be tried separately.)

All told, Wolfe was charged with rape, gross sexual imposition, intimidation, harassment, and kidnapping. If convicted of even one of these felonies, he faced a permanent "sex offender" label and years in prison. With his blond good looks, the "guy would be jailbait for sure," said one sheriff's deputy.

Yet throughout the trial, Wolfe seemed remarkably unconcerned. "Hope you brought your A-game today," he joked as he chummily hit his lawyer on the arm, then high-fived his dad. The burden of proof, after all, was not on him. It was the women who were on trial.

The acts occurred on a college campus, where sexual experimentation is considered commonplace. And Wolfe, defense attorney Robert Dixon said with a hearty chuckle, was "not a shy guy." He was good-looking, and he liked to "date a lot." Prosecutors were hunting an innocent kid.

As far as the defense was concerned, no crimes had occurred. Jessica Fiorelli, after all, had "invited" the boy over. In another incident, a girl had taken her shirt off, only to claim Wolfe kept groping her when she wanted to stop. It was all consensual, said defense lawyer David Doughten, and the girls were lying. "In every situation, the defendant stopped when [the victims] told him to stop."

More than a few jurors believed him.

Last Wednesday, Wolfe walked out of the court a free man -- at least temporarily. The jury found him not guilty of seven felony counts and was undecided on seven others, which included the more serious charges of sexual assault and menacing. (Five other counts were dropped.)

Though more than a few believed there was some guilt there -- especially in the Jessica Fiorelli case -- there were no fingerprints or DNA inextricably linking Wolfe to the crime scene, explained one juror, who didn't want his name used.

They also didn't perceive Wolfe as a predator. Some believed the women were ganging up on him, though the accusers didn't know each other before the trial. A few insisted they would never convict Wolfe, "even if they sat here till Christmas," the juror reported.

The verdict enraged the women and stunned prosecutors. "I'm in shock," said Kimberly Hutzel, who had accused Wolfe of groping her. "It feels like I went through all this shit for nothing." Her face tightened when she thought of Wolfe. "He had an invincibility complex before. It's going to be worse now."

Prosecutors admit they expected to get at least one conviction, but refused defeat. The seven undecided felonies will be retried, and a separate rape case remains. "Are we going to pursue these charges?" asked prosecutor Mark Mahoney. "Yes. [Carl] still has a lot of actions to account for."

But the decision fulfilled a prediction Wolfe made two years ago while being escorted off campus by police. "This must be a basketball thing," he told Notre Dame Police Lieutenant Robert Lambert. "If Kobe Bryant got away with it, so will I."