Monday, August 11, 2008

Twenty-five years behind bars for a rape he didn't commit

As the news story below illustrates, treating innocent men as collateral damage in the war on rape is morally grotesque. The purpose of this Web site is to help inject discussion of false and wrongful rape claims into the public discourse about rape so that the rights of the innocent and the presumed innocent are balanced with the goal of eradicating rape.

Sadly, the knee jerk reaction of some misguided ideologues is to assume that any discussion about the rights of innocent men wrongly accused of rape is prompted by misogyny -- a much over- and improperly-used word. It is wholly inapplicable in this case.

On the contrary, every wrongful claim not only hurts the men and boys whose lives are often destroyed by it but also the women and children who love and, in many cases, depend on them. False claims also hurt true rape victims because they feed into a long and preposterous urban myth of assuming women are predisposed to lie about rape.

Whether the man is behind bars due to mistake or a lie doesn't much matter. Innocent men who find themselves behind bars for a rape they didn't commit, of course, don't especially care if the claims that put them there were wrongful or false.

As the following story illustrates, when a rape does occur, the system needs to do more to insure that the right man is arrested. And as we've examined elsewhere on this Web site, when a rape hasn't really occurred but a woman or girl lies that it has, we need to do more to punish the liars. And just as we need to educate our young men about what "consent" really means, we need to educate our young women that lying about rape is always wrong, that is a crime, and that it can destroy innocent men and boys and their families (to see how men and boys are destroyed, young women could start by reading the real-life accounts on this Web site instead of assuming that we are misogynists). And they need to know they are hurting real rape victims with their lies, too. It seems unfathomable why radical feminists pretend false claims are a "myth" or a "bugaboo" when that only gives false claimants license to lie more -- they need to be taught to stop it.

The story below illustrates the laudable work of the Innocence Project in protecting the rights of the innocent wrongfully convicted of rape (by the way, that organization's board of directors includes such "women haters" as Janet Reno!).


Wrongfully convicted Dallas County inmate is exonerated


DALLAS — As an attorney cut through the band of Steven Phillips’ leg monitor, his family shouted "Hallelujah!"

His 25-year nightmare of being wrongfully convicted of rape had finally come to an end.

On Tuesday, Phillips, 50, became the most recent Dallas County inmate to be cleared by DNA evidence since 2001. He was convicted in 1982 and 1983 for sexual assault and burglary, but new tests linked the crimes to another convict.

"What a great day!" Phillips said from the stand in a Dallas courtroom as his mother and other relatives looked on and said "Amen" from the audience.

Phillips spent 25 years in prison but was released in December after additional DNA testing last fall revealed that he had been wrongfully convicted.

He was wearing a GPS leg monitor as a condition of his release.

His exoneration was postponed to allow the conviction integrity unit of the Dallas County district attorney’s office to investigate nine other charges Phillips pleaded guilty to so he could avoid a life sentence.

Dallas County state District Judge Lena Levario ruled that Phillips’ record should be cleared. It will now be up to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal court, to rule on Levario’s recommendation.

Barry Scheck, an attorney and co-director of the Innocence Project in New York, said Phillips’ case represents one of the "worst cases of tunnel vision" by authorities during a criminal investigation.

He said police seized on Phillips as a suspect and refused to acknowledge mounting evidence that Sidney Alvin Goodyear, a serial sex offender with a record of similar crimes in other states, had actually committed the crimes.

Goodyear died in prison in 1998.

Truth 'slipped away’

Phillips was convicted of rape and burglary in two trials in 1982 and 1983 for charges stemming from the same crime. He was eventually linked to nine similar crimes that took place in spring 1982 in the Dallas area, according to the Innocence Project.

The crimes were committed by someone wearing a hood who forced women — sometimes in large groups — to strip and perform sexual acts at gunpoint.

Although Phillips argued that the victims had misidentified him — and his former wife provided an alibi — the juries convicted him anyway, giving him two 30-year sentences. Afraid of getting a life sentence for the other crimes because he was getting "smashed in court," Phillips said he took a plea bargain in the other cases.

"Once they got it started, they could not turn off the machine," Phillips said. "The truth had already slipped away."

Phillips’ request to have the DNA retested was denied by the Dallas DA’s office in 2001. But current Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins agreed to re-examine the scientific material in 2007.

Subsequent investigations found that Dallas police ignored or even concealed evidence that may have indicated Phillips’ innocence. While Dallas police were investigating the rapes, Goodyear was a suspect in similar crimes in Kansas City, the Innocence Project said.

Going fishing

Members of Phillips’ family were ecstatic to see him finally freed, and they cheered the removal of the ankle monitor — which kept beeping during the short court proceedings.

"I’m ready for him to come home," said Jerry Lively, his 71-year-old mother.

His 25-year-old son, Army Spc. Zachary Phillips, who served two tours in Iraq, met his father for the first time Monday. Steven Phillips went to prison just before Zachary was born.

"I’m just glad he’s out," Zachary Phillips said.

Steven Phillips — who now works at a Christian publishing firm — said he plans to go fishing, go squirrel hunting with his stepfather and spend time with his girlfriend.

He credits his faith for helping him survive the last 25 years.

"I don’t feel any anger. I just don’t have time for that anymore," he said.

New integrity unit to meet Prompted by the growing number of exonerations, the 12-member Texas Criminal Justice Integrity Unit will hold its first meeting today in Austin to investigate and address weaknesses in the criminal justice system.

Why is it needed? Since 1994, more than 30 men have been exonerated in Texas after DNA testing. They have collectively served more than 400 years in prison, according to a watchdog group.

What will be examined? The unit will look at the quality of counsel for poor criminal defendants, ways to improve eyewitness identification, and changes in the standards for the collection, preservation and storage of evidence. The group will also look into the cases of current inmates who may have been wrongfully convicted.

Fixing a broken system Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, said leaders in the Texas criminal justice system need "to come up with some reforms that can not only prevent these kind of wrongful prosecutions but enhance the capabilities of law enforcement to find the real people" committing the crimes.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, a member of the integrity unit, said: "These compounding exonerations are clear and convincing evidence that our criminal justice system is broken and it’s time we took the necessary steps, find out why it’s broken, and what we need to do to fix it."

MAX B. BAKER, 817-390-7714