Photo: Ralph Lauer (AP Photo)

Oregon State pitcher Luke Heimlich sat down with the New York Times, just five weeks before the MLB Draft, to provide his first lengthy, candid interview on the matter of his pleading guilty to molesting a child when he was 15 years old.

Heimlich, a legit MLB prospect, is finally speaking out after last year’s reveal that he pleaded guilty to molesting his six-year-old niece as a teenager. Speaking to the Times, Heimlich publicly denied having ever sexually touched his niece, claiming his family filed the guilty plea on account of some bad legal advice.

“I don’t have anything to tell them,” he said. “They can have their opinions of me. Ultimately the people around me know who I am. That is what matters. Everybody else can say what they want.”

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“I always denied anything ever happened,” he said. “Even after I pled guilty, which was a decision me and my parents thought was the best option to move forward as a family. And after that, even when I was going through counseling and treatment, I maintained my innocence the whole time.”

There was no interaction with his niece that he could imagine would have been misinterpreted, he said, adding, “Nothing ever happened, so there is no incident to look back on.”

Last June, the Oregonian discovered and reported that Heimlich was registered as a sex offender after the state of Oregon mistakenly thought him to be a legal resident and issued a citation for not updating his registration on his 21st birthday.

Per the court filing, Heimlich, 15 years old at the time, pleaded guilty in 2012 to having sexually abused his niece, whose identity has been shielded since the initial revelation. Heimlich reportedly touched his niece “on both the inside and outside of the spot she uses to go to the bathroom,” per the Oregonian, for two years, starting when she was four years old.

Heimlich was initially charged with two counts of molestation, stemming from incidents of abuse that ranged from September 2009 to December 2011. As part of a plea deal to get the charges down to one count, Heimlich and his family agreed to have him enter a diversion program, write a letter admitting what he’d done (“I admit that I had sexual contact”), receive two years of sex offender treatment, and serve two years of probation. He was also supposed to spend 40 weeks in juvie, but that got tossed out when he left for Oregon State in 2014.

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When the Oregonian reported this in 2017, Heimlich stepped down from the team voluntarily but remained an enrolled student, with the school president and baseball head coach both issuing statements that left the door open for his return to the team for the 2018 season. Heimlich was supposed to be a high-round draft pick last year, before his criminal record was reported on. Instead, no MLB teams drafted him.

This season, Heimlich has once again been pretty great for the Beavers; now that he’s got a sparkling record and decent ERA, it seems he once again has the big leagues in his sights.

The Portland Tribune wrote a story in February detailing the incident, as told by Heimlich’s family. After laying the background—Heimlich is one of eight kids; his dad’s a construction manager and his mom’s a social worker; they’re really, really into church—the Tribune reported that Luke’s mom was in charge of babysitting. She denies that Luke ever touched his brother’s child. But after his brother, Josh, confronted Luke about it multiple times (Luke reportedly denied doing anything), Josh and his ex-wife decided to report what their six-year-old was telling them to the police.

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In the ensuing court case, Luke’s parents decided against pleading not guilty—if Luke would have been found guilty, he would have faced 40 weeks of juvenile detention. Instead, they took the guilty plea deal. According to Heimlich in the Times and his family in the Tribune, they took the deal because the lawyer told them things would go back to normal in five years, when his records would be sealed. Though his dad told the Tribune he would seek out a different lawyer if he could do things over, Luke told the Times he wasn’t sure he’d change the plea if he could go back, citing concerns about his niece being questioned as one his main hold-ups.

The Tribune was also provided access to the notes of Heimlich’s therapist—Luke had to attend private bi-weekly counseling as a part of his plea deal. The therapist notes included in the piece are largely repetitive, meant to establish that Luke did not admit to the crime in therapy and that the therapist thought he seemed to be a nice kid. The therapist also penned the following note, about Heimlich’s apology letter:

He noted that Luke “was court-ordered to write an apology letter (to his niece), which he was able to write from the position of someone guilty of the offense. His letter was written ‘as if’ he sexually abused his neice (sic).”

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The Tribune also reported that the following scene ensued at Heimlich’s final court appearance:

The judge addressed Luke: “I want to tell you how proud I am of you for completing the program so fast, and it’s very impressive that you’re ready to go to college. … it sounds like things are going well for you, and we expect great things. … congratulations. You deserve a big round of applause.”

In the courtroom, Luke got one.

The MLB Draft is set to take place June 4.