Man acquitted after spending 20 years in prison

When I write about false rape allegations, I mention that one of the trickiest aspects is that we do not know how many false allegations make it to trial and result in conviction. If a story and accuser sounds believable, there is a good chance that innocent people will end up in prison. Since many abuse cases involve only witness testimony–typically only the accuser’s testimony–there is little an innocent person can do to prove their innocence.

The naysayers balk at this, but it can happen:

An Edmonton man who has already served “every minute” of an eight-year sentence for sexually assaulting his young stepson has now been acquitted.

In a decision released Monday, the Court of Appeal of Alberta acquitted the 47-year-old man because the boy later recanted and said his biological father forced him to lie during a 1994 custody dispute.

In a special commission hearing held last year, the boy, who was nine at the time and is now an adult, testified that allegations of sexual abuse and rape against his stepfather were completely false.

“It is not the truth,” he said. “The truth is he did not do any of that.”

According to the young man, his father threatened to cut his throat if he did not claim that his stepfather abused him. Apparently the father was upset that his son called his stepfather “daddy.” The allegations were made 1993, but were not reported in court until a 1994 custody hearing. The stepfather was tried and convicted based on the boy’s testimony in 1995 to eight years in prison. Because the man maintained his innocence and refused any sex offender treatment, he was denied parole and served out the full sentence. This happened despite his stepson telling the parole board in 2000 that he lied about the abuse. The man was released in 2003, and moved back in with the boy and his mother.

This is precisely the kind of case that worries me the most. Take this bit:

At the special commission, University of British Columbia psychology professor John Yuille said he watched the Saskatoon police interview videotape and was not impressed. The officer conducted the interview “extremely poorly,” Yuille said, because he always seemed convinced the child told the truth. The accusation was full of vague answers and absent detail, Yuille said.

There is nothing wrong with believing a child when they say they were abused. However, there is something wrong with ignoring when their accusation does not add up. That is something that often happens in false allegation cases. People do not ask the questions they should. Likewise, this allegation came out during a divorce and custody dispute. Again, there is nothing wrong with believing the child, however, one must admit it looks rather convenient for the allegation to occur in middle of the dispute.

Then there are things like this:

The court allowed the man’s appeal of his 1995 convictions and, because Crown prosecutors would stay the charges in any new trial, an acquittal was ordered.

“It is obviously not the fault of the appellant that he was convicted based on unreliable evidence,” the appeal court decision reads. “Nor is it any criticism of the Crown prosecutor, defence counsel, or the trial judge; it is merely a reflection of the fact that while the Canadian legal system is very good, it is not perfect.”

It took twenty years for this case to be resolved, twelve of them after the man was released from prison. So one can argue that the boy’s testimony was convincing enough to several judges and officials. Yet they were nonetheless conned and it appears that happened because of none of the people working for the state actually dug into the matter. When a person is convicted based on unreliable evidence, those presenting that evidence are responsible for that conviction. Yet we see the Canadian legal system trying to wash its hands of the matter.

The naysayers will claim that this is an outlier and rarely happens, yet how many rape cases go before a court with only one witness’ testimony as evidence of the crime? If a conviction happens, how do you know that a rape actually occurred. How do you know they are not lying?

Of course every case is not a lie, yet look at how easily a lie can slip through. This man served the full sentence. The case was only overturned because he doggedly pursued it. How he had the means to do so is not mentioned in the article, but I promise you it is not cheap. Every innocent person cannot do that.

This is also the type of case that organizations like The Innocence Project reject because there is no physical evidence to help prove the convict’s innocence. There may be dozens to thousands of cases like this that never get resolved because the accuser does not recant or because the convicted stops fighting.

We cannot honestly say how often this does or does not happen, and that should make people nervous because it only takes one believable accusation to ruin a person’s life.

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One thought on “Man acquitted after spending 20 years in prison

  1. This is why the founding fathers wrote the founding documents as they did. The idea that it was better for the guilty to go free than the innocent be punished. Only tyranny comes from punishing the innocent. The Biblical standard was a good one. It required at least three witnesses to corroborate an accusation before a man could be convicted. It is hard enough for two hardened criminals to stick to the same made up story, I can only imagine that most of the time if three witnesses told them same story it would be more likely true.

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