YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – A man convicted and sentenced to 77 years in prison for sexually assaulting three girls, who were teenagers at the time, has won an appeal and the ability to obtain an expert witness he says would question DNA evidence.

Dustin Ruiter was sentenced in January 2022 on 73 charges including rape, attempted rape, sexual battery and gross sexual imposition for crimes that happened inside a Youngstown home.

Ruiter was indicted in November 2019, but much of his trial transpired during the COVID-19 pandemic. There were delays related to the pandemic and also delays in connection to Ruiter wanting to retain his own expert DNA witness.

Ruiter wanted the DNA expert to address the potential transferability of semen and bodily fluids through nonsexual means, the appeal stated. Ruiter has said that the victims made up the allegations of sexual abuse because they did not agree with his strict rules. He said they collected evidence before they made their sexual abuse allegations and that while he was included as a contributor to the DNA analyzed from the victims, sperm cells were not visualized and DNA was easily transferred, the appeal stated.

A family friend had initially said they would pay for an expert witness but then backed out. Ruiter’s attorney said it was difficult to find an expert during COVID-19 because some offices were closed or not taking new clients, according to court documents.

Finally, after nearly two years of attempting to retain an expert, Ruiter asked the court to pay $8,500 for his expert DNA witness, but the court declined, saying that the delays had gone on too long and that the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation conducts independent testing, and that sometimes the results are in favor of defendants. The court said that it was “not going to bend the time so that we can keep playing this game of he’s going to get an expert, he’s going to get an expert, and then no expert,” the appeal stated.

The court went on to say that hiring an expert witness was a “privilege, not a right” if a defendant could afford it and that Ruiter’s attorney could obtain the same result by cross-examining the State’s BCI witness.

Ruiter did not accept a plea deal in the case and it went to trial, ending with his conviction.

The Seventh District Court of Appeals agreed that Ruiter should have been permitted to obtain his expert DNA witness and that because of his financial indigency, the state would pay for it.

On Sept. 29, 2023, the appeals court reversed Ruiter’s rape, attempted rape and sexual battery conviction and sent the case back to Mahoning County Common Pleas Court where a DNA expert will be appointed for Ruiter and further proceedings will be conducted.