a Sad Day When an Innocent Man Is Illegally Convicted
by Jay B. Van Story
January 5, 2003
Throughout the U.S. in the 1980s and early 1990s, allegations of child sexual abuse almost always resulted in convictions. The mantra was "believe the children." There was a rush to judgment.
|I have been falsely imprisoned on such a charge since 1987.
I have a life sentence. However, the alleged victim in my case, A.C., has
now voluntarily come forward to insist that she was coerced by investigators
and prosecutors into going along with their false suggestions that I had
sexually abused her. There is an abundance of solid proof of this.
Extensive scientific research has provided strong and convincing evidence that children's allegations of abuse can be molded by suggestions made by biased interviewers.1The Massachusetts Supreme Court found that such research into child suggestibility constitutes newly discovered evidence of innocence and displays serious flaws in the techniques used to interview children in many cases, including the Cheryl Amirault LaFave case.2Similar rulings have been made in many other cases.3,4,7
The lead investigator in the famous Wenatchee, Washington cases,4Robert Perez, was found to have used highly improper interviewing techniques. Roger Bowers, the lead investigator in my case, used equally improper techniques. Both Bowers and Perez told outrageous, inflammatory lies, made threats, and forced adults and children to go along with false theories. They refused to preserve their notes or make recordings of interviews.
During a March 1987 interrogation, A.C.'s brother W.C. so desperately wanted Bowers to stop trying to coerce him, W.C. threatened to kill him. On April 3, 1987, Bowers again interrogated W.C. against his will. W.C. turned his chair away from Bowers and refused to face him. He continued to adamantly deny Bowers' repeated false suggestions that I had abused him and A.C.
A.C. did not want to talk to Bowers, either. According to Bowers, when he interrogated her on April 3, 1987 and April 4, 1987, A.C. was not spontaneous, she did not just "talk and talk," he had to "ask questions to get answers," and he had to "help her out." He admitted he had "some concerns" about some of her answers "because of her attitude." It was in this coercive atmosphere that the allegations that I abused A.C. were created.
After A.C. later revealed at my trial that Bowers had made up the allegations, Bowers totally contradicted and perjured himself by testifying that A.C. had been very spontaneous, forthcoming, eager to talk to him, and consistent when he interrogated her. Bowers' coworker, Donna Longanecker, seriously contradicted this in her April 3, 1987 report. She wrote that Bowers had in fact told A.C. I should not be touching her and that something would have to be done to keep me away from her before she could go home. This gave A.C. the unmistakable message that she would have to go along with Bowers' false suggestions against me if she ever wanted to see her mother again. Curiously, Bowers 1eft this out of his report.
No one had called in a report or a suspicion that I had abused A.C. The allegations were the sole product of Bowers' improper interrogations. Bowers employed multiple suggestive techniques. When just one suggestive technique is used, false reports are likely to be generated. When there are several or more, as in this case, false reports are virtually guaranteed.5
Bowers and others had A.C. pretend with anatomically correct dolls that I had raped her and also penetrated her with fingers and a spoon. Studies have shown that children often play with these dolls in such a fashion even when they haven't been abused in such ways. Allegations produced this way have been found to be just as likely false as true!6
Indeed, these allegations were recanted by A.C. as soon as she could get away from Bowers, and a medical examination disproved them. Subsequently, a new allegation was invented to fit the complete lack of evidence, after even more pretending with dolls, and even more improper interrogations. It was thus even more likely to be false than the previous allegations that had already been proven untrue!5Yet, it was the allegation used to secure my conviction.
Change of Story
My case is similar in some respects to the famous case of Frank Fuster in Florida, who was also obviously falsely convicted.7Like Fuster, I had a prior conviction that made it easy for a corrupt investigator like Bowers to go after me. However, my prior conviction was not for sexual assault or molestation. It was for making a videotape of a nude child when I was very young and naive. I deeply regret it. It was wrong. I paid dearly for that immature mistake, and I learned from it.
Nothing gave Bowers a license to propagate his highly inflammatory, false statements that I had been convicted of sexually assaulting numerous children. Nothing gave him the right to coerce A.C. into falsely accusing me. I was living a law-abiding life when Bowers embarked on a campaign to have me falsely convicted. I had served the time in prison for the previous offense I committed, and I was trying to put the pieces of my life back together before Bowers forced A.C. to falsely accuse me. No one deserves to suffer for something they didnít do.
Once Bowers succeeded in prompting A.C. to go along with his lies against me, suspicion of other alleged offenses was created against me, as is always the case when there is an allegation of child abuse. However, now that A.C.'s allegations have been convincingly shown to be false and fabricated, it is clear that such suspicion was unwarranted. Everyone should rejoice that A.C. was not, in fact, sexually abused by me! Whenever it can be proven that an alleged offense against a child is not true, it is truly good news!
Bowers' efforts to compel A.C.'s mother, D.C., to join his malicious scheme against me were especially brutal. During his frequent visits with D.C. at her home and by telephone throughout March and April 1-3, 1987, he repeatedly threatened to take away her children for her continued failure to adopt his lies against me. Finally, he made good on his threats on April 3, 1987 "to get her attention," as he put it. In other words, he stepped up the level of coercion when his earlier efforts did not bear fruit.
After Bowers took D.C.'s children, he began spoon feeding her every detail of the allegations, over and over again, telling her she wouldn't stand any chance of regaining the custody of her children if she didn't begin cooperating. This continued for 11 days. When this blatant coercion failed to get the desired results. Bowers resorted to showing D.C. an April 8, 1987 videotaped interrogation of A.C. in which she was prompted to pretend with dolls that I had violently raped her. Right after viewing that videotape on April 14, 1987, D.C. finally gave Bowers the manufactured corroboration he had repeatedly and so forcefully demanded. Bowers neglected to tell D.C. about the exonerating medical examination and recantations.
The court-appointed attorney at my January 1988 trial stated on the record he was not prepared for trial. I then requested my right to self-representation, since it was the only way I was going to stand any chance of being defended effectively. The judge unconstitutionally denied my request. Consequently, the Court of Appeals granted a new trial.
At my retrial, A.C. tearfully testified on August 22, 1989 that the allegations that I had sexually abused her were Bowers' and others' lies. She maintained this even under redirect examination by prosecutor Rebecca Atchley, listed in part below:
Q: "Did you understand all of Jay's questions?"
When A.C. finally got the chance to recant at my retrial, she expressed genuine relief. She sobbed openly. She testified she had been waiting a long time to tell the truth. She expressed deep sadness and regret about having been coerced into falsely accusing me of sexually abusing her.
The next day in court, A.C. went back to alleging that I had laid nude on top of her. This is not surprising, considering that she was allowed to go back into the hands of the persons whom she had just identified as the ones who had coerced her into falsely accusing me in the first place.
Now the bombshell. She is very adamantly insisting as an adult that the prosecutors FORCED her, against her will, to go BACK to falsely alleging that I had sexually abused her! She is insisting that she wanted to maintain the truth that I have never abused her in any way, but they would not let her!
Research shows that children give inaccurate testimony far more often than previously imagined, especially when they have been coached or coerced by investigators and prosecutors.8
A.C. has finally broken free from the corrupt control Bowers and the prosecutors so successfully held over her when she was a defenseless little girl. Now, she is a grown woman, and she can speak the truth, free from any fear that they will harm her.
A.C. wrote to me in April 2001, in part: "I am really sorry about what happened and I send my deepest apology about all of this. I know that I cannot make up for the time you have lost of your life, but I can try to make up by getting you free. I hope all goes well."
She feels terrible about what happened, even though it is certainly not in any way her fault. Not only will Bowers and the prosecutors have to answer for what they did to me, they will also have to answer for what they did to her.
When A.C. went back to falsely testifying that I had abused her, her second day on the stand, she made it obvious she had been coached into doing so by prosecutors and perhaps others. For one thing, she tried too hard to lie. She claimed she had never told a lie about anything her entire life. She claimed she had never talked to anyone at any time about the alleged abuse. She claimed she had not talked to the prosecutors after she left the courtroom the previous day. (Prosecutor Rebecca Atchley and A.C.'s mother made it clear that A.C. HAD talked to the prosecutors.)
A.C. spoke in a monotone voice and sat ramrod straight in her chair. She answered, "I don't know," or "I don't remember," to most questions, one of the surest signs that a witness is lying. Furthermore, her mannerisms and her body language betrayed her. She was too young to know how to fake those things along with her testimony.
Most conspicuous1y of all, however, was A.C.'s tendency to look nervously at the prosecutors before and after answering questions, obviously seeking cues and approval of her answers. When asked why she was looking at them, she appeared afraid to answer. Perhaps most telling of all, the only time Lubbock County D.A. Travis Ware was in the courtroom during the proceedings was when A.C. went back to falsely testifying against me, and it was him who A.C. looked at the most! Now we know why.
Exculpatory evidence abounds in this case. When A.C.'s oldest brother, R.B., testified on August 24, 1989, he fully recanted. He admitted that he had fabricated his entire June 15, 1987 sworn statement to try and increase his mother's chances of regaining custody of A.C.
He admitted that his original, spontaneous statements that I had not abused A.C. were true. A.C.'s step-grandmother, A.C.'s two youngest brothers, and A.C.'s sister have maintained their original, spontaneous statements that I did not abuse A.C. They further insisted that I could not have abused her because I was never alone with her in her home, where the sexual assault was alleged to have occurred. They said there was never any indication that I had abused A.C.
There are a huge number of major, fatal contradictions in the allegations that I abused A.C. that prove they are the product of design and deliberation, and not any real event.
The Most Corrupt Prosecutors
Travis Ware and his first assistant, Rebecca Atchley, were quite likely the most corrupt prosecutors in U.S. history. A federal injunction was issued against them in 1993 under the RICO Act. They were found to have conspired to maliciously prosecute numerous individuals and to have procured perjury in numerous cases.9 The RICO Act was enacted in 1970 to prosecute mob bosses for their organized criminal activity. This was the first time it had been used against state prosecutors. Ware and Atchley spent more time committing crimes than prosecuting them.
In October 1992, forensic pathologist Jody Nielsen and investigator Carrie McClain resigned from Ware's office. McClain publicly cited an "erosion of ethics" and "a lack of integrity and honesty" in his office.10
On March 13, 2002, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals unanimously reversed the capital murder conviction of Damon Richardson due to Ware's prosecutorial misconduct.11This is a very conservative court that rarely reversed any convictions, especially unanimously. But Ware's prosecutorial misconduct was very brazen and shocking. The court found that Ware had deliberately hid evidence that six police officers believed his star witness was committing perjury.
A second witness in the Richardson case was found to have provided false testimony at Ware's urging. Ware was found to have deliberately lied to the court himself.12Furthermore, it was discovered that Ware and Atchley solicited false testimony and false evidence from forensic pathologist Dr. Ralph Erdmann, not only in the Richardson case, but in many others.10-13Erdmann was convicted of numerous felonies surrounding such fraud.
Monroe Freedman, a nationally recognized ethics scholar, said about Ware's misconduct in the Richardson case: "It is outrageous when any lawyer does something like this. It is even worse when it's a public official abusing the rights of another citizen, ... This kind of corruption is so infuriating, ... Iím deeply concerned."12
Ware frequently touted the Richardson conviction as his crowning achievement. It was tried in October 1988, only 10 months before my retrial. Part of the reason Ware and Atchley were willing to do anything to have me falsely convicted was because if the truth had prevailed at my retrial in 1989, the lid would have been blown off of their huge conspiracy.
A March 7, 1993 Lubbock newspaper editorial stated, in part: "[Ware] should resign so that shadows of skepticism about the criminal justice system begin to recede. For some time we have had reservations about Mr. Ware's apparent willingness to target people who would differ with him. Probably few of those who would have objected most strenuously to the way Mr. Ware was handling himself could have predicted with confidence that he would be slapped down so emphatically by a federal judge."14
Ware refused to resign. However, he was soundly defeated in the next election in 1994. Ware and Atchley knew they had a fraudulent case against me before my retrial. They offered me "Time Served". Furthermore, they failed to call the alleged eyewitness (R.B.) and the alleged "outcry" witness (D.C.) at the retrial. They had called them at the original trial.
Before the trial, they knew that R.B.'s and D.C.'s testimony was just as false as A.C.'s. The system failed me, and it failed A.C., at every turn. There were no checks and balances.
There are a number of reforms that need to be instituted, three in particular. Most importantly, ALL interviews with alleged victims, witnesses and suspects must be videotaped, in their entirety, especially when the alleged victim is a child.15That way, investigators and prosecutors will be much less likely to engage in misconduct in the first place. When they do, it can be detected before a person is falsely convicted.
Secondly, prosecutors must be held fully liable for any misconduct. As it is, they know they can do just about anything they want to get a conviction, with impunity.
Thirdly, more must be done to ensure that defendants receive truly effective representation. Contrary to popular belief, you must prove your innocence. You can't do it without a vigorous defense.
Bowers, Ware and Atchley exploited and abused A.C. for career and political gain. They filled her impressionable mind with horrible 1mages. They put her through the worst kind of emotional and psychological torture and trauma a child could be put through. They robbed her of her childhood. They effectively kidnapped her and held her for ransom. The ransom was her and her mother's cooperation in the malicious scheme to falsely convict me.
They accused me of abusing A. C., but in fact, it is they who abused her. They should be the ones serving life in prison. I would be satisfied if they served only 1 year here. Then they could get a good idea of what it feels like. They will probably never know how horrible it feels to be falsely convicted of committing such a despicable offense as sexually assaulting a child. I wouldn't wish this experience on anyone, not even them.
When I was asked by the judge at the retrial if I had anything to say after being convicted, I stated simply: "It's a sad day when an innocent man is illegally convicted."
I hope that the progress made in my case will encourage others who are falsely imprisoned to keep fighting for justice in their cases. I hope alleged victims in other cases across the U.S. who were coached into falsely testifying will be inspired by A.C.'s courage and determination to come forward.
There are people who care and will provide the opportunity to set the record straight. A.C. voluntarily provided the Innocence Network at the University of Houston with a detailed, convincing affidavit in November 2001. They are currently seeking my pardon.
I would be glad to hear from anyone who would like to write to me. I would like to make new friends and acquaintances, and I would like to network with others who are interested in truth and justice. Please write. Thank you.
Jay B. Van Story
1. "Jeopardy in the Courtroom: A Scientific Analysis of Children's Testimony," American Psychological Association, Washington D.C. (1995), Dr. Stephen J. Ceci & Dr. Maggie Bruck.
2. Commonwealth v. Cheryl Amirault LaFave, Mass. Superior Court, June 12, 1998, action nos. 85-63, et. al.; affidavit by Dr. Maggie Bruck in the Cheryl Amirault case, October 14, 1997; 48 Hours segment on the Amirault case, CBS network, August 8, 2002.
3. Calif. v. Scott Kniffen and Brenda Kniffen, Cal. Ct.
of App. 5th Dist. HFO04429 (1995);
4. State of Washington V. Carol M. Doggett Cons With v. State of Washington V. Mark A. Doggett, Docket #15014-3-III, Ct. of App. Div. III, State of Wash., Opinion Info. Sheet, 12/09/97; "Witch Hunt: A True Story of Social Hysteria & Abused Justice," K. Lyon, Avon Books, 1998.
5. Bruck, M., Ceci, S.J. & Hambrooke, H. (In press),
Children's Reports of Pleasant and Unpleasant events, in D. Read and S.
Lindsay (eds.), Recollections of Trauma: Scientific Research and Clinical
Practice, New York, Plenum Press.
7. "Did Daddy Do It?", PBS Frontline segment on the Frank Fuster case, April 25, 2002 (pbs.org).
8. "Why Children Lie in Court," Jerome Cramer, Time magazine,
March 4, 1991, p.76.
10. "Attorney Mulls Petition to Have Ware Removed," Grady
Simmons and Joe Gulick, LAJ, Oct. 28, 1992.
12. "Lubbock D.A.'s Deal to Cut Term For Felon Questioned," Lee Hancock, Dallas Morning News, Nov. 29, 1992; "Man Says He Was Told to Testify Falsely," Dallas Morning News, Jan. 8, 1993; "Buss Gives Account of Actions in 1988," Grady Simmons, LAJ, Jan. 9, 1993.
13. 60 Minutes segment on Ware Erdmann controversy, CBS network, Dec. 13, 1992.
14. "For Good of Lubbock, Mr. Ware, Step Down," Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (LAJ), Mar. 7, 1993.
15. "Why Judges Must Insist on Electronically-Preserved Recordings of Child Interviews," Stephen J. Ceci and Maggie Bruck, Court Review, Sprint 2000, pp. 8-10.
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