Butler County assistant prosecutor leaving job after 14 years talks about cases that stayed with her

Assistant Prosecutor Kelly Heile delivers her final argument in the trial of former Fairfield teacher Tyler Conrad charged with a sex crime involving a student. GREG LYNCH / STAFF
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Assistant Prosecutor Kelly Heile delivers her final argument in the trial of former Fairfield teacher Tyler Conrad charged with a sex crime involving a student. GREG LYNCH / STAFF

Chief of child assault division resigns from role to become bar counsel with Ohio State Bar Association.

A 14-year veteran of the Butler County Prosecutors Office who was at the helm of the most gut-wrenching, high-profile cases involving crimes against children will leave the office this week.

Kelly Heile, chief of the prosecutor’s office child assault division since 2013, has resigned her position as assistant prosecutor effective Friday to become bar counsel with the Ohio State Bar Association.

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“The past fourteen years in this office have provided me with opportunities that I could not have imagined possible when I began with the office as a first year lawyer in 2007. When you named me chief of the Child Assault Division 2013, I endeavored to make the division my own and to do outstanding work. With your support and direction, I was able to do both,” Heile said in her letter of resignation to Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser.

The Hamilton resident said she wasn’t looking for a new career move when it found her.

“I was not actively seeking to leave this office when this new opportunity arose. Through my membership on the Ohio State Bar Association Certified Grievance Committee, I gained experience investigating and prosecuting grievances before the Board of Professional Conduct and the Ohio Supreme Court,” Heile said. Through work with the grievance committee, she was encouraged to apply.

Butler County Assistant Prosecutor Kelly Heile (right) served on the special panel the governor convened to look into how the state Medical Boasrd handled allegations Dr. Richard Strauss sexually abused more than 177 Ohio State students. STAFF
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Butler County Assistant Prosecutor Kelly Heile (right) served on the special panel the governor convened to look into how the state Medical Boasrd handled allegations Dr. Richard Strauss sexually abused more than 177 Ohio State students. STAFF

Heile, the mother sons ages 11 and 7, also said in recent years large cases requiring the number of hours necessary to give them “the attention they need” has significantly increased, even during the lockdown portion of the pandemic.

“Truly this opportunity just opened up in front of me. In the past few years, the one thing that’s been most sacrificed in my life is family time and having this opportunity it seemed right for me right now,” Heile said. Her husband, John, works in Hamilton County.

Heile has prosecuted numerous murder and assault cases where children were victims. It’s never easy, but some are unforgettable. One of the most difficult is that of Middletown mother Brittany Gosney, who killed her 6-year-old son, abused the two older siblings and along with boyfriend, James Hamilton, threw the body in the Ohio River in Lawrenceburg, Indiana.

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But Heile also recalled the case of Theresa Hawkins-Stephens, of Licking County, who was sentenced to 18 years to life in prison in September 2016 for killing her 5-year-old son, Alexander Stephens, and the beating of his 6-year-old brother, Damyan.

The Stephens boys were sleeping in a tent near the Great Miami River with their mother and her two friends, who told police they came to the area looking for work. According to court documents, the two boys were tied up with blankets for “stealing food” and beaten.

“I can’t say one of those is worse than the other because they were both pretty awful. And they were both cases involving mother and child. And oddly enough at both times I had a child that age,” Heile said.

Heile made it clear the emotional cases are not why she is leaving her career as a prosecutor but admitted they do take a toll.

“I think there is such a thing as vicarious trauma and it requires a lot of self-awareness of it. It is always difficult realizing how terrible the ending was, but then you are also dealing with cases of homicide or sexual assault, you are working very closely with people who are traumatized directly by what happened. And you take that on for them because are there to support. But sometimes it can be too much,” Heile said.

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Through the years she learned her limit, “but some cases just hit too close to home and it’s not possible.”

“I had to drive over that 275 bridge (where James Hamilton’s body was thrown from) a week or two after I had gotten the case and I had been going through it all. And it was hard. It hit me and I didn’t expect that,” she said.

Heile said she will miss the staff at the prosecutor’s office, police departments, victim advocates, doctors and even defense attorneys, but she knows the division is in good hands.

Heile said she does have aspirations in the future to continue in the Butler County legal community.

“I plan to run for judge someday,” she said, noting her new position will give her a new perspective to the civil end of the law. “I’ve done prosecution for quite a long time. This does give me a eye into the civil world, because the practice is more civil.”

Gmoser said Heile will be missed but he understands she has a “wonderful opportunity for advancement.”

“She has been an outstanding asset to the office and the citizens of Butler County,” Gmoser said. “I have a record of supporting advancement in my office with three common pleas judges (who are former assistant prosecutors) and so I would never stand in the way of advancement, but at the same time I hate to lose her in the office.”

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