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Rohrig looks back at career as prosecutor

By Staff | Dec 31, 2008

Who knew that a set of keys thrown in the face of a young defense attorney would culminate in 28 years of public service? But that is exactly how Dean Rohrig came to be Tyler County Prosecuting Attorney, a job he holds until Jan. 1 when Luke Furbee takes over.

Rohrig was born and raised in Charleston, W.Va. He earned his undergraduate degree from West Virginia University in 1974 and his Doctor of Jurisprudence Degree from the WVU College of Law in 1977. He and his wife, Mary, came to Tyler County in 1977, raising their two children, Brian 23, and Bethany, 21, in Middlebourne.

When Rohrig came to Tyler County, he opened up a private law practice and worked as a defense attorney, winning cases for those accused of crimes. He was content in this work until winning a case for a client accused of breaking into a Wetzel County drug store. His client was acquitted, but Rohrig knew his client wasn’t completely innocent. That’s when it hit him like a smack in the face: keys.

“The owner of the drug store, at the end of the trial, came up and I saw him throw something at me and it was this huge ring of keys and he said ‘just give him these and next time he won’t have to break in,'” remembered Rohrig.

“It just occurred to me, ‘what am I doing? I live here; this is the community I live in. I should be on the other side of this instead of trying to turn criminals loose,'” added Rohrig. “It was at the moment I sort of had the epiphany and said I need to do the right thing, and that was try to become prosecutor and I was successful.”

Rohrig was first elected county prosecutor in 1981 and has served in that office for six terms. During that time he tried hundreds of cases unbiased; his only concern making sure that justice was served.

“If I was prosecuting a case, I expected to win,” said Rohrig. “I never really got excited about winning, but I was always disappointed about losing and it made me work that much harder to make sure that didn’t happen again. It didn’t happen very often.”

During the last 28 years, the Drug War has exploded nationwide. Sistersville was recently in the spotlight due to a federal methamphetamine case that just wrapped up in Wheeling.

From 2003-2006 Sistersville was a distribution location for meth delivered from Arizona. Rohrig has aggressively gone after major dealers, while making sure to distinguish between major dealers and an addict trying to hock pills.

“We’ve dealt more harshly with those who were dealers,” remarked Rohrig. “What you have to keep in mind too, above all else, it’s real easy for a prosecutor to pander to public fears. I wanted to make sure that we not only prosecuted the right people, but that they were punished proportionately to their crimes. I think we were pretty consistent.”

Putting criminals behind bars is an important job for a prosecutor, but Rohrig adds that it’s equally important to try to rehabilitate criminals whenever possible.

“The thing I always tried to look at, and it didn’t take me very long to realize as a prosecutor, was you can send people to prison, but they get out and come back,” said Rohrig. “There are some people we need to put away as often as we can for as long as we can; they’re just not fit to be in the community. But there are others who are susceptible to seeing the light, getting some rehabilitation, coming back and not reoffending and becoming productive.”

While Rohrig has dealt with a variety of cases, those involving sexual assault and abuse have been the hardest to deal with.

“You can deal with it professionally, but it’s hard not to be affected by it emotionally by some of the victims,” commented Rohrig. “I think we had a pretty good record of success with those cases. When you’re able to win those cases for the victim, that’s what makes you feel good.”

Now that he can relax a little, Rohrig plans to remain active in the Tyler County community.

“I have no political plans whatsoever,” said Rohrig. “I enjoyed my time as prosecutor. I had hoped to serve one more term before retiring from that public service, so I don’t think the likelihood of me returning is very great. I’m definitely staying here; I’ve been here 31 years. My kids were born and raised here. It’s their home, it’s my home and I’m staying.”