On Friday, a nine-man, three-woman jury found a former local pastor guilty of nine counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct following a trial in Tuscola County Circuit Court.
Brad Joseph Gniewek, 37, faces a minimum sentence of 25 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life. His sentencing date has not been announced and Gniewek will likely appeal the guilty verdict.
Gniewek told the court he lives in Minnesota, but spent most of 2002 through 2017 living in the Thumb area. He was charged with nine counts of first-degree CSC , accused of perpetrating the assaults against his wife prior to the couple’s divorce in August 2015. Gniewek was arraigned on the charges in January 2018. He had been free on bond since shortly after his arraignment, but bond was revoked and Gniewek was taken to the Tuscola County Jail following his conviction.
By definition, first-degree criminal sexual conduct involves penetration.
From about 2008-09 to about 2011, Gniewek worked as a pastor at Novesta Church of Christ, 2896 Cemetery Road in Novesta Township, according to a church official.
“We parted ways,” the official said.
Gniewek also spent time as a pastor at Mooretown Brethren in Christ Church in Sandusky. An official with Mooretown told The Advertiser that Gniewek was a pastor with the church from 2014 until being “removed” from the position in 2017.
The trial originally was scheduled for December, but a mistrial was declared on Thursday, Dec. 20, by Circuit Court Judge Amy Grace Gierhart – two days into the trial – after a witness made a statement while testifying that was not admissible in the trial.
The victim in the case said, during her approximately eight hours of testimony, that sexual assault and physical abuse was commonplace during the couple’s marriage.
“It was complete and utter torture,” said Tuscola County assistant prosecutor Erica Walle, who handled the case for the prosecution. “I can’t imagine living through what she went through, the strength she has today to move forward and just be the amazing mother that she is… She is truly an exceptional and incredible human being and she deserves this win more than anyone.”
Gniewek’s attorney, Howell-based Bill McCririe, contended that the victim fabricated the sexual assault charges. McCririe did not respond to an interview request from The Advertiser.
Despite McCririe recommending that Gniewek not testify in his own defense, the defendant decided to take the stand. While testifying, inaccuracies between what Gniewek told investigating officers previously and what he said on the witness stand were discovered.
“I anticipated he would (testify),” Walle said. “I didn’t anticipate that he would contradict what he had told officers. I figured he would own up to those (statements) because they were on video. So when he didn’t, it definitely became my plan to focus on all the inaccuracies he had testified to during direct examination (with Michigan State Police detectives).”
While on the witness stand, Gniewek admitted to the court that he had once had a pornography addiction, and that he had twice pleaded guilty to domestic violence misdemeanor offenses – once in 2001 in Bay County, and once in 2002 in Tuscola County.
Gniewek also made statements on the stand that contradicted previous statements to law enforcement, which were recorded.
“He denied certain forms of penetration, however he had previously admitted to them,” Walle said. “Those were significant inaccuracies.”
During her closing argument, Walle pointed out several differences in Gniewek’s testimony, and what was previously known. Such as Gniewek testifying that he had only harmed his ex-wife once, yet pleaded guilty twice to domestic violence against her.
During his closing argument, McCririe pointed out the lack of evidence of sexual assaults. He argued that no police reports were recorded in the time period in which the victim claimed she was assaulted. McCririe also cast doubt on the victim’s assault claims by observing that charges were not filed in the case until Dec. 7, 2017.
McCririe asked the jury to use common sense, and ask themselves if the charges made sense.
“From the time they were married, from 2001 to 2016, no police reports were made,” McCririe said to the jury. “Does that make sense? Does it make sense that (Gniewek) would move to within walking distance of (the victim’s) family?”
Much of the victim’s family lives in Tuscola County.
“It was discussed with the jury during jury selection that there wouldn’t be DNA here, there wouldn’t be fingerprints, there wouldn’t be any kind of scientific experts testifying,” Walle said. “This is a case where the evidence is the victim’s testimony, and that was explained to them.”
The jury deliberated for about two hours Friday evening before delivering a verdict.
“I think the jury followed the law and they did their job and we thank them for listening to this case because it was traumatic,” Walle said. “And I don’t think they anticipated it would be so devastating on a human level.”
John Schneider is editor of The Advertiser and can be reached at email@example.com.