Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Woman pleads guilty to false rape report

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By Peyton Whitely
Seattle Times Eastside bureau

A 22-year-old former Woodinville woman pleaded guilty Tuesday to making a false rape accusation against a local college professor last June.

King County District Court Judge Peter Nault called the case one of the "saddest" he'd ever seen in court and one that is likely to have long-term impact on future investigations.

"That we hurry to castigate a person who turns out to be entirely innocent ... I don't know how it could be worse," said Nault, saying the incident will make it harder for real sexual victims to bring their cases forward.

Nault accepted a guilty plea from Katherine M. Clifton, accused of making false statements to a public servant.

Those statements led to the rape charge last summer against the professor who subsequently spent nine days in jail and was placed on leave from his job.

Clifton declined to comment at the hearing but filed a detailed statement saying that she had been sexually abused by her grandfather, who was convicted of rape of a child in 1994.

"In order to understand why, I have to explain what has happened to me in my past that has forever affected me," she wrote.

Clifton, who now lives in Ellensburg, was sentenced to serve 365 days in jail, with 357 days suspended, and to pay a $5,000 fine, with $4,750 suspended, plus other conditions that include probation and community service. Nault also ordered her to pay the professor's attorney fees.

The professor declined to discuss the charges, saying he wants to put the past behind him, and asked not to be identified.

The King County Prosecutor's Office concedes a mistake was made in the original prosecution but said it was acting on the best information available at the time.

"In hindsight, what was presented to us was an allegation of a violent rape," said Ian Goodhew, deputy chief of staff. "That doesn't mean the investigation stopped."

Clifton was "an extremely articulate and credible victim," said Sgt. John Urquhart, Sheriff's Office spokesman. "There was no reason to suspect she wasn't telling the truth."