Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Man convicted of rape released because he wasn't allowed to question accuser about her prior false rape claim

The following news story posits a just result. No one wants to see a rapist get off on a "technicality," but this man cannot be called a "rapist." Ours is a nation of laws, and he was not afforded a fair trial. For those who say that this alleged victim surely wouldn't lie about being raped -- she did it before.

NH won't appeal convict's release

Defense attorney pushes for charges against alleged rape victim

By Shawn

The New Hampshire attorney general's office will not challenge the federal ruling that freed accused rapist Roland "Chris" Chretien of Haverhill from jail in July after he had served nearly four years of a six- to 12-year sentence.

But whether the former Plaistow, N.H., businessman will be put back on trial or if charges will be brought against the alleged victim whose courtroom lies led to Chretien's premature release from prison remains to be seen.

Chretien, 50, was convicted in 2004 for sexually assaulting a 46-year-old female customer inside Blazin' Saddles, the Plaistow motorcycle shop he co-owned with Methuen police Officer Joseph Aiello.

The conviction was vacated and Chretien was released from a New Hampshire state prison after a rare habeas corpus proceeding on July 8 where the alleged victim admitted that she falsely accused another man of sexually assaulting her just a few months before the Superior Court trial at which Chretien was found guilty.

The 30-day deadline for Attorney General Kelly Ayotte's office to appeal the federal ruling expired Thursday. Assistant Attorney General Brian Graf, who is in charge of the case, said the office decided not to appeal, but he declined to discuss the reasons behind the decision.

"My client is delighted to know he won't have to go through the one- to two-year process of fighting an appeal," said Chretien's attorney, Scott Gleason of Haverhill. "He's one step closer to redemption and closure."

Now it is up to Rockingham County Attorney James Reams' office to decide whether he will retry Chretien or drop the charges against him, Gleason said.

Jerome Blanchard, the prosecutor in Reams' office handling the Chretien case, did not return phone calls seeking comment for this story. Graf indicated that the state is unlikely to charge the woman with lying in court, however.

"Our focus was on the appeal," Graf said. "Let's leave it at that."

Gleason said it will be up to a judge to decide how long prosecutors have to act on the open sexual assault indictment against Chretien, but he said the maximum length of time they can take to make a decision is one year.

"There's absolutely no reason that they haven't made up their minds what they're going to do by now, so I'll certainly ask for a prompt decision," he said.

Gleason said he intends to press for perjury charges against the alleged victim and her husband, whom Gleason said also lied at the criminal trial.

"They have an obligation to look into the multiple lies that sent my client to prison," Gleason said of the New Hampshire authorities. "The evidence of that is repulsive and obvious."

At the 2004 trial, Judge Kenneth McHugh refused to allow Chretien's lawyer to ask the woman about the alleged false rape accusation or hold a pretrial hearing to probe the matter further.

McHugh simply asked the victim whether the allegation was true, and took her word that it was not, said Gleason, who did not represent Chretien at the 2004 trial.

But the victim admitted to the prior false rape accusation at the July 8 federal hearing, at which her son and his roommate were prepared to testify about their knowledge of the matter, according to a ruling released last month by U.S. Judge Joseph LaPlante.

"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 in his ruling.

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

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

McHugh also allowed Chretien's sister to testify she had been raped for years by her brother, a claim refuted by another brother and sister.

The sister who testified that Chretien raped her when she was a young girl died in 2005. Her husband, Ed Gawrys Jr. of Londonderry, N.H., said he has contacted the attorney general and county attorney to ask them to fight Chretien's release.

"It is important for you to know that (Chretien) is not some innocent person that had his life ruined by a wrongful allegation," Gawrys wrote in an e-mail to The Eagle-Tribune. "Hopefully he will be locked back up to finish his sentence."

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; she accused the man of choking her during the assault; and it happened in an out-of-the-way area of a commercial establishment — the parking lot of the Longhorn Steakhouse on the Haverhill-Plaistow line.
At the July 8 hearing, the victim acknowledged that the parking lot encounter was consensual, and that she made up the story about forced sex because she did not want her son to think poorly of her, according to LaPlante's ruling.

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 the roommate that she had been sexually assaulted outside the steakhouse, the two men called the man whom the woman said assaulted her to accuse him of the attack and threaten him with retaliation.

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