At our story pitch meeting two weeks ago, I told O'Reilly about a man who pled guilty to molesting two boys but was given no prison time. Ohio Common Pleas Judge John A. Connor had sentenced Andrew Selva, 46, to probation after he confessed to orally raping two boys, ages 5 and 12 over a three-year period.
It was just weeks ago that The O'Reilly Factor was reporting a similar miscarriage of justice in Vermont. This time, I was assigned to go to Ohio to try and interview the judge. "Be respectful," I was told. "But be firm."
Facts of the case...
Andrew Selva was a friend of the victims' parents and had helped bring the boys, and their families, to America from Sri Lanka. The molestation began almost immediately, starting at a "Welcome to America" party Selva threw for the families when they arrived.
Before making our announced visit with the judge, I was able to reach Connor by phone. He insisted he couldn't talk about a pending case because "the judicial code prevented [that]". But the judge sent me a letter explaining his decision about Selva. In it he wrote that "incarceration would be counterproductive to the defendant's prognosis."
Meanwhile, The Factor discovered reports that Judge Connor himself had been arrested at least six times for drunk driving. We were able to confirm he'd been convicted at least twice.
Trip to Ohio... I flew from New York to Columbus, Ohio on Saturday morning, rented a car at the airport and drove downtown to the Hyatt Hotel. I checked into my room at 10:45AM.
At noon the crew, a cameraman and an audio technician, met me downstairs in a van and we drove to where I believed Judge Connor lived.
Saturday: The wait... It was pouring rain when we left to speak to the judge. Finding an opportunity to speak to an unsuspecting judge on a weekend in a residential neighborhood is difficult, to say the least. It takes a combination of fortunate timing, good logistics and journalistic instinct. Luck plays a big part. Because of the rain it seemed likely that the judge would be holed up for a while.
After we circled the block in the van, I circled it again on foot, and came up with a plan. We parked in the lot across the street from Connor's house and angled the van towards his back door and driveway. Next, the cameraman called the house and talked with a woman who said he'd be home "this evening." Now I knew I'd see him when he came in, instead of on his way out. We discovered Connor drove a 2002 Cadillac Deville. Knowing this, whenever he came home, I could buy myself a few seconds when I saw his car turn down the block.
Whether or not Connor had gotten wind of our presence, he hadn't shown up by 10:00 that night. By then, ten hours in the van was enough, so I retired to the Hyatt for some sleep, hoping for better luck on Sunday.
Sunday: The chase... Still raining. I was back at the Connor home at 6:45AM. Two hours later I spotted the judge exit his back door and head into the garage. "There he goes!" I yelled, and the cameraman threw the van into drive, circled out of the parking lot and positioned us at an adjacent intersection with the view of the driveway. Sure enough, the Cadillac Deville pulled out. We followed without any idea where he was going. I knew we had to play it by ear.
Connor moved quickly down the road and onto the highway. I lost sight of him for a second because the van was struggling to keep up and the rain fogged the windshield. Connor's car suddenly took an exit, and our van was barely able to make the turn. We followed him into the parking lot of a strip mall. Way ahead of me, I saw him stop and hustle into one of the stores.
The crew fired up our camera and we walked to where the judge had entered. It was a senior center. I smiled because I could see he'd have to leave through the door he entered, and his car was a good 75 yards away, leaving me with plenty of opportunity to try to talk to him.
The encounter... Forty-five minutes later, he walked outside. "Judge Connor, Jesse Watters from the O'Reilly Factor at Fox News," I said while walking over to shake his hand. "I wanted to talk to you about the Selva sentence."
"Good morning Jesse. The Supreme Court says I can't talk about it," he replied.
"But can't you just tell me what the facts were before you at the hearing?"
"I can't talk about it," he reiterated.
"But the code says you can speak to us as long as your comments don't give one side a tactical advantage," I countered.
"Sorry Jesse. I can't talk." He was just going to stonewall.
"Why did you give the guy only probation"?
"I sent you the letter Jesse... hey, didn't you get some sleep last night?" he chuckled.
"I did, but the code says... "
Then I could see his whole mood change. He turned around and began stuttering and pointing at the camera.
"You're misquoting the code!" Connor exclaimed. "Just like you've been doing this whole time... you've misreported everything! So I'm not going to talk with you because you don't report the truth." Connor was right next to his car at this point.
I continued to question him. "Well, why don't you tell us the truth, so..."
"I've told you the truth!" He fired back.
"You gave him probation for molesting two kids, but you could have given him ten years."
Connor looked angry. He sped off in his car.
Despite Connor's refusal to comment, I still felt the long wait had paid off. I'd gotten the judge on camera and on the record.
On the air.... On Monday night's show, Bill ran the video of the encounter with the judge and discussed ways of removing him from the bench. The next night, The Factor featured mothers from Ohio whose children had been run over by a drunk driver--a drunk driver who Connor had released early from prison and then refused to jail again for violating parole. These women almost broke down while describing how the judge had affected their families.
On Wednesday afternoon, I received press releases from Ohio Governor Bob Taft (R) urging the state legislature to begin impeachment proceedings against Connor. Thirty minutes later, another press release came in from the Ohio Speaker of the House John Husted (R), which decried Connor's judgment and announced the beginnings of the impeachment process. Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro (R) joined Bill that evening and echoed these calls.
Two weeks later, it appears as if the effort to impeach Judge Connor has been stymied in the legislature. But a petition drive to remove him is gaining steam. Recently, O'Reilly interviewed the older victim of Andrew Selva. The boy appeared in shadow to hide his identity and described being forced to perform oral sex when he was twelve. "David" told O'Reilly he had this to say to the judge who wouldn't send his molester to prison: "I would just say that your decision was really, really disappointing to me, but not only to me, but to everyone else that this could happen to."
The fight to remove Judge Connor from the bench is by no means over and much of the controversy over the decision has shifted to the pages of local newspapers that have thrown their support to the judge. The Factor will continue its reporting.
Jesse Watters has been a producer for The OReilly Factor since 2003. Before joining Fox News, Watters worked on political campaigns and in finance. He received a B.A. in History from Trinity College (Hartford, CT) in 2001. Watters was born and raised in Philadelphia and moved to New York in 1995.