Monday, September 29, 2008

Man convicted of rape released after it is revealed his accuser falsely accused another man under similar circumstances

Hmm. If a man is on trial for rape, would a jury be swayed by evidence that the man's accuser made a false rape allegation against another man under quite similar circumstances?

And if the evidence of that other false accusation is kept from the jury in the present case and the man on trial in the present case is convicted of rape, did that man receive a fair trial?

The question scarcely survives its statement.

The man needs to be freed (after FOUR years in prison) and the woman needs to be charged with making a false report of rape. Any other conclusion is a gross and manifest injustice.


Victim's lie led to convict's release: Judge says woman admitted falsely accusing another man of sex assault

By Shawn

A Haverhill, Mass., man who spent nearly four years in prison on a rape charge was set free earlier this year because the woman who claimed he had assaulted her admitted in court that she had falsely accused another man of a similar crime.

Roland "Chris" Chretien, 50, was convicted in 2004 of sexually assaulting a 46-year-old female customer inside Blazin' Saddles, the Plaistow motorcycle shop he co-owned with Methuen, Mass., police Officer Joseph Aiello. He was sentenced to six-to-12 years in state prison.

U.S. District Court Judge Joseph LaPlante vacated that sentence in July, but the reason for Chretien's release was not made public at that time.

Last week, LaPlante broke his silence, explaining in a 16-page ruling that he threw out the conviction based on admissions made by the victim at a July 8 habeas corpus proceeding.

The woman's prior false accusation involved similar circumstances to those in the Chretien case, according to LaPlante's ruling. It involved the same specific sexual activity, it involved a man previously unknown to the victim whom she met that night at a bar, and she accused the man of choking her during the assault. It also happened in an out-of-the-way area of a commercial establishment — the parking lot of the Longhorn Steakhouse on the Haverhill-Plaistow line.

The steakhouse encounter occurred after Chretien's encounter with the woman in 2003, but before Chretien went on trial.

At the July 8 hearing, LaPlante said, the woman acknowledged the parking lot encounter was consensual, and that she made up the story about forced sex so her son wouldn't think poorly of her.

The ruling also said the woman was having a sexual affair with her son's roommate, and the sexual encounter with the man in the parking lot occurred the same night the roommate refused to meet her and tried to end their affair.

After the woman falsely reported to her son and his roommate that she had been sexually assaulted outside the steakhouse, the two men called the man she said had assaulted her to threaten him with retaliation.

In a subsequent telephone conversation, however, the roommate told the man that the woman had changed her story and criminal charges would not be pressed with police, according to LaPlante's ruling.

At Chretien's trial, Superior Court Judge Kenneth McHugh refused to allow the defendant's lawyer to ask the woman about the alleged false accusation or hold a pretrial hearing to investigate the matter. McHugh simply asked the victim whether the allegation was true, and took her word for it, according to Chretien's attorney, Scott Gleason of Haverhill.

However, the woman admitted to the false rape accusation at the July 8 hearing, at which her son and his roommate were prepared to testify about their knowledge of the matter, according to LaPlante's ruling.

"It was impossible to determine whether the superior court's refusal to allow Chretien to cross-examine the victim regarding an allegedly false accusation of sexual assault against another man had a substantial, injurious effect on the verdict," LaPlante wrote.

The federal judge had offered not to issue a written decision to avoid causing "unnecessary embarrassment and trauma" to the woman, who is not named in his ruling. He said that he would only make his findings public if the state intended to appeal his decision or retry Chretien.

Several weeks after LaPlante threw out the guilty verdict and ordered Chretien set free, lawyers from the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office contacted the judge to say that they
required a written ruling because they are considering an appeal on legal grounds.

The Eagle-Tribune contacted the attorney general's office seeking comment on LaPlante's ruling. But representatives of the office said only Senior Assistant Attorney General Brian Graf could comment on the Chretien case, and Graf did not return messages left with his secretary and on his voice mail.

In an interview last month, Graf said his office was waiting for LaPlante's written ruling before deciding on a course of action.

At the criminal trial in 2005, the victim testified she had gone to the motorcycle store to buy a belt. She told the judge she had lived in a constant state of fear since the assault and she was struggling through therapy and taking medications as a result of it.

"I get sick to my stomach and want to run whenever a stranger approaches me," the woman told the judge at Chretien's sentencing hearing. "I've always been a religious woman and trusted people. Now I don't trust people anymore, and I get nervous when strangers walk near my home or too close to me in a parking lot."

When Chretien was sentenced, more than 40 family members came to speak out against the verdict, saying there was no way Chretien had committed the assault. McHugh, the judge who convicted Chretien, criticized him for testifying during his trial that the woman was the aggressor.

"That's ludicrous in light of what's out there," McHugh said at the time.

Prior to Chretien's petition for a writ of habeas corpus proceeding, he lost appeals at the state Supreme Court and made several requests to reconsider evidence in Superior Court. The case took more than a year before LaPlante reached his decision.

A writ of habeas corpus is a judicial mandate to a prison official that an inmate be brought to the court so it can be determined whether the person is imprisoned lawfully and whether he should be released from custody.

As few as one of every hundred such requests are granted, Gleason estimated.

In an interview last week, Gleason said Chretien is living in Haverhill with his wife and children.

"He's trying to put his life back together," Gleason said, adding that Chretien is working but declining to say where.

"The admitted facts of the case speak for themselves, along with the federal judge's decision," he said. "We'll reserve full comment until a final decision on how they are going to proceed is made by the government."

The attorney general could appeal LaPlante's ruling to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals or the county attorney could put Chretien back on trial in Superior Court. If prosecutors do neither, they must dismiss the open indictment against Chretien, Gleason said.