Accuser recants in case that sent four women to prison

by Walter Olson on September 17, 2012

Four Texas women have been serving long prison terms since a 7-year-old and 9-year-old girl, nieces of one of them, accused them in a lurid tale of assault. Now, the younger accuser has grown up and recanted [Michelle Mondo, My San Antonio]:

“I want my aunt and her friends out of prison,” Stephanie, 25, said by phone last week. “Whatever it takes to get them out I’m going to do. I can’t live my life knowing that four women are sleeping in a cage because of me.”…

On and off the witness stand, the sisters changed their accounts of the timing, the use of weapons, the perpetrators and other basic details of the assault every time they told it to authorities, records show.

P.S. And another Texas recantation, of charges lodged during a bitter custody fight, the defendant has served more than 12 years of a 20-year sentence.

{ 21 comments }

1 Reuven 09.17.12 at 1:50 am

Impossible! We all know that kids never lie! Perhaps they need a psychiatrist to recover their memories.

2 William Nuesslein 09.17.12 at 3:38 am

Efe story of clever horse used to be a staple of psychology 101. Hans was a horse who could do arithmetic when his owner was in the barn, but lost his ability when its owner was not in the barn. But nobody could see how the horse was cued. The effect was very subtle.

My theory is that juries try to meet community expectations as they understand them. Once a judge signals that certain testimony is valid evidence, then the duty of the jury is to put the assailants away. This effect applies to prosecutors as well. The ‘does this make sense’ test is not used. For example, in the Freidman case, a young man said that all sexual perversions were done in Friedman’s office. Then he said that the serial anal sodomy was done in the classroom. The office was too small. The two statements were inconsistent but that did not matter to the trained lawyers involved in the prosecution of the case.

The Central Park jogger case involved a wrongful conviction of black youth who were wilding. The prosecutor did recognize that her evidence had all kinds of flaws and had some remorse about her roll in the injustice.

The jury in the Penn State matter with Jerry Sandusky accepted the accusers stories as evidence even though the prosecutor, Mr. McGettigan blatantly used repressed memory theory in his opening argument. How can that man and the depraved judge sleep at night?

Then there was dawn Williams in the Little Rascals case who had her baby taken from her by insane officials.

I think of the song “I’m proud to be an American where …” Really?

3 asdfasdf 09.17.12 at 9:53 am

The article doesn’t explain why the prior allegedly false allegation by the victims/complainants was not introduced. Sometimes such prior false allegations (at least in states following the FRE) are held inadmissible under FRE 403, and sometimes under FRE 412.

The article does not really state whether the evidence of prior allegations was held inadmissible in limine or whether defense failed to introduce it. In the former case, perhaps there is a 412(b)(1)(C) claim; in the latter, perhaps an ineffectiveness of counsel; however, most probably the deadlines for these have expired.

4 Ron Miller 09.17.12 at 10:44 am

Reuven, what on earth is your point? Is this a tragic case? Absolutely. But every study that has ever looked at this shows the bigger problem is the opposite: no one believes the kids when they are telling the truth.

Why you would use this opportunity to pile on children generically is bewildering to me.

5 L. C. Burgundy 09.17.12 at 11:43 am

Ron,

Considering the prosecutorial success regarding most of the satanic ritual abuse panic prosecutions of the 1980′s and early 1990′s (even in light of children telling absolutely fantastical stories that seem absurd on their face, looking back) I’d be interested in the studies that show that “no one believes the kids when they are telling the truth.” The collective experience of those prosecutions seemed to be that there were few on juries that wanted to disbelieve the children.

6 Ron Miller 09.17.12 at 1:05 pm

I have not read the studies; I’m dutifully parroting back what I have heard from reputable sources (like we all do).

Still, I think you are looking at the isolated media cases and drawing conclusions from that. The kid who know one believes who keeps getting abused and lives in shame? 99.9% of those cases never see the light of day.

Beating a dead horse, look at this Penn State mess. My gosh, there were a zillion opportunities to save so much suffering. But not only do people not listen to kids, they don’t believe their own eyes and the evidence right in front of them.

7 Hugo S. Cunningham 09.17.12 at 1:55 pm

@Reuven–
You are mistaken. Kids do lie (or at least their memory is at fault) when they *deny* that the accused did anything wrong. That is why we need qualified therapists– to help kids “recover” memories provided by the kind prosecution. (Cf. the Bernard Baran case.)

8 Hugo S. Cunningham 09.17.12 at 2:46 pm

@Ron–

The cases that should raise a red flag are multi-victim, multi-perpetrator (Do a Google search against “Satanic cult”.) Authenticated molesters do their deeds in private. A book-length treatment on the phenomenon, that has well stood the test of time, is
Debbie Nathan,
Satan’s Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt (2001)

The Texas Four were particularly vulnerable to popular suspicion in small-town Texas because they were lesbians.
http://ncrj.org/ncrjs-four-lives-lost-case-accepted-by-texas-innocence-project/

By the way, Wendy Murphy should not be relied on as a “reputable source.” (Do a Google search against “Wendy Murphy” with “Duke LaCrosse”.)

9 Reuven 09.17.12 at 5:51 pm

@William: I’m glad you pointed that out. I nearly did a spit-take when I read about “recovered memory” in the Sandusky case. And McQueery changed his story from “seeing sexual abuse” to “hearing” it, as if he knows what anal rape sounds like. I wouldn’t have convicted if I were on the jury.

10 ras 09.17.12 at 6:24 pm

Kids don’t lie? Not in the Salem witch trials at least. How, I would ask, do the studies determine the children’s’ accuracy after the fact? By conviction rate?

P.S. her roll in the injustice … If this typo was not deliberate it should have been. A fine turn of phrase!

11 Ron Miller 09.17.12 at 9:22 pm

You people are stone nuts. The blame the kids mentality is more than a little sick. I wanna say these are comments from the 1950s but I think that is disrespectful to the evolution of man at that time.

Reuven, you would not have acquited Sandusky. Okay, let’s get or record here: who is with him? Just how much evidence would you need to convict a child molester. How many victims are required to stand up?

My gosh. How many repressed memory cases have lead to convictions in this country? I would be stunned if there were 5 convictions in America last year… and those cases probably had a lot more evidence. Someone prove me wrong.

I come here because I think it is fun to spar with people who I generally disagree with and because Walter provides a nice forum for it that encourages respectful argument.

This isn’t fun.

12 Richard Nieporent 09.17.12 at 11:43 pm

I come here because I think it is fun to spar with people who I generally disagree with and because Walter provides a nice forum for it that encourages respectful argument.

You people are stone nuts.

13 William Nuesslein 09.18.12 at 4:17 am

@Ron Miller
Almost all the evidence against Sandusky was from the testimony of young men who said nothing at the time of their molestations and who were influenced by politically opportunistic prosecutors. Mr. McGettigan stated explicitly that the boys were quit over the years because of shame. That is repressed memory theory and repressed memory theory has been debunked.

The other evidence was hearsay from a janitor who is now incompetent, McQueary’s statement, and a picture of a hotel where a molestation was alleged.

An interesting aspect to the child accusation cases is the general absurdity of testimony. The fellow who provided videos to the Little Rascals day care center had a salt pond in his back yard that held sharks. the man would take the sharks to the bay in the evening and Mr. Bob would feed baby parts to the sharks from a boat. All the accusers in the Little Rascals case were counseled by Ms. Judy.

Obviously no one can say how much testimony in child abuse cases is true. There are many cases where it isn’t. One case I know of concerned a mother who smoked. Her child claimed that she extinguished her cigarettes on his body. I heard that claim in my youth when smoking was more acceptable. Sometimes children will brush against a lit cigarette when they do their crawling around on a parent. The mother has to pay a chaperon when she visits her son. A divorce was involved and getting her declared unfit helped the father stay in the United States.

We do have real data about false identifications in rape charges. The percentages are startling.

When a person’s liberty is at stake, we should avoid Oprah-Show psychobabble.

14 Ron Miller 09.18.12 at 9:12 am

I want to be clear: you people are stone nuts. All of you, do me a favor: post these comments on the refrigerator at your office. Email this link to all your friends and family. Tell me how that works out for you.

All of these children come forward…. man takes 17 seconds to answer the question of whether he is sexually attracted to children… and you want the standard to be that if a child does not come immediately forward and say he is molested… There is a certain crack pot element on here. But this is so over the top.

Is there anyone else – particularly you regular commenters – who want to chime in? Let’s get everyone’s crazy aunts and uncles out of their respective attics and basements, and figure out who is who.

15 Melvin H. 09.18.12 at 10:26 am

Ron Miller, have you forgotten the case involving the Syracuse assistant basketball coach…which, curiously, seems to have disappeared from the headlines after the first few days? Original case investigated in 2001, nothing found, investigation ended. Years later, in the middle of the revelations(?) at Penn State, same person goes to the press with same charges. Person’s cousin comes out with similar story (not revealed back then). Third person comes out with accusations–found to be lying. Cousin’s story then refuted. ESPN Outside The Lines runs what seems, IIRC, to be a doctored(?) recording of a phone call involving the coach’s wife. Case seems to be either on hold, or (very quietly) dropped…..

And how many high profile cases of child abuse have been tossed out years later due to various reasons? McMartin Preschool, Wenatchee WA, Miami-Dade County (where the then-DA was one Janet Reno), Boston (where one such case popped up as the Democratic candidate for US Senate was an ADA who inherited a mass-abuse case which had been discredited)…and many more?

How do we know that such cases like the Roman Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, and even the Sandusky case will not be revisited under similar circumstances years later and found wanting?

At the very least, when a case like these comes up, one should be somewhat skeptical. (Now, to Ron Miller: Do I deny that child abuse happens? NO..)

16 Hugo S. Cunningham 09.18.12 at 2:19 pm

Yes, Ron, let’s smoke out the kooks:
Do you think NC was correct to disbar Michael Nifong, the Duke Lacrosse prosecutor?

PS: I am agnostic/uninformed about the Sandusky case. I thought McQueary’s accusation sounded credible, but have not followed the details of the case since then.

17 Ron Miller 09.18.12 at 3:34 pm

I’m not familiar with the facts. It sounds like that prosecutor was nuts and the case sounded suspicious to me from the very start. But I don’t pretend to know what happened there.

I don’t think the case was ever about McQueary. And someone correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t they give a not guilty finding on his evidence? This case was about lots of kids coming forward and saying this man did awful things to me. Lots of them. Now his adopted son, too. And this dispute in these comments is about whether children should be disbelieved because they didn’t pipe up right away? This dispute is about whether we should be mocking the reliance on child witness and comparing using children as witnesses to the Salem witch trials. It is about fundamental decency.

To be falsely accused of child molestation… I mean, can you imagine? It would be awful, right? Still, the much, much great crime is a child being abused. How many children have been abused in this country for everyone who has been successfully framed? I’d bet my paycheck it is far greater than 10,000 to 1. We have a country of 311 million people. There are thousand of people in jail right now of crimes they did not commit of all types. It is awful. But singling about abuse victims and saying there are uniquely lacking in credibility because they did not come forward right away (and claiming that is repressed memory) and because they are children is criminally irresponsible and absolutely makes me sick.

Hugo, just do me a favor and do what I asked: show this stuff to your friends and family.

18 Melvin H. 09.19.12 at 2:52 am

The set of problems begins with this: Accusations of child molestation are one of a set of charges that, once accused, stick with you virtually for life…even if the supposed victim recants years later (problem #2). Your available defenses can be limited by law (#3), your life and background is fully exposed while the “victim” ‘s background is hidden behind the mama’s skirts of the legal system (#4), even to the point of the name being hidden from the public. In most if not all states, statutes of limitation were changed to start the clock from the discovery of the supposed act(s) instead of the actual dates themselves (#5)–or even outright eliminated. [By the way, could not this be used on appeal--having a law changed "ex post facto" as these laws were, would throw out almost all such criminal AND civil cases, or so it seems?]. Even legit questions of the victim are considered “blaming the victim” (#6). The attitude that “children/victims do not lie about these things”, much like “it’s ‘for the children’ “, does not help matters either (#7). Do I need to keep going?

19 Melvin H. 09.19.12 at 3:02 am

I forgot–too many cases of this type have supposed “victims” crawling out of the woodwork, saying that so-and-so did this to me too . . . years and decades afterward, with little or no evidence to back up the allegations (#8). To me, when that happens the first thing that comes to mind is suspicion–”yeah, suuuuurrrree”, followed by “where’s the lawyer promi$ing big payday$ from the company/school/district/church/organization(s) where this happened?” (#9). And even if you’re found not guilty or innocent, to quote Ray Donovan: “Where do I go to get my reputation back?”–while the accusers are let off without penalty (#10 and #11).

20 William Nuesslein 09.19.12 at 7:06 am

@Ron Miller

The literature is clear and beyond all doubt. Repressed memory theory is junk science. The belief that every third child or so is molested doesn’t make sense.

One other aspect to these cases is the variability of the crime. In New York, one priest was accused of “hugging me too hard”.

I am pleased to see others speak up about what I term “community madness” cases. The history of the cases are well understood, and the accusations against Jerry Sandusky are by fellows expecting a house for his mother and a jeep foe himself and by fellows who said their fancy-pants lawyers were to help with the media. What really upset me is when the authorities took Dawn Williams’ baby from her in the Little rascals case. That harm was real whereas the belief in rampant child molestation is just imaginings.

21 Walter Olson 09.19.12 at 8:02 am

While I try to give regular commenters their say here, I think it is worth pointing out that the case against Sandusky was by no means based merely on repressed or remote memories, and was overwhelming enough as to raise no objection from many legal commentators who otherwise are known for reviewing prosecutors’ allegations with a fine-toothed comb.

I am among those who agree that false accusation happens with some regularity and that a just legal system must scrutinize accusations closely and avoid sloganeering about “believing the victim.” But if we jam cases implausibly into a false-accusation mold, we not only do a serious disservice to genuine victims, but also cause listeners to tune out our voices when we call attention to the next McMartin or Fells Acres outrage.

I think both sides have had their say at this point and are unlikely to convince each other, so I am going to close the thread and let us move on to other topics.

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