Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Teen cleared of rape charges

Comment: Regarding the following news story: Note to the clerk magistrate who will decide whether to charge the false accusers: you need to charge them. A young man was jailed for five days and his life was turned upside down for seven months. Why is this even a question?

Teen cleared of rape charges

OXFORD - Six months after he was accused of raping a pair of teenagers in Massachusetts, an Oxford man has been cleared of all charges.

Former carnival worker Jeffrey Witham, 19, learned Tuesday that charges that he raped two girls, ages 13 and 14, on Aug. 17, 2008, were dropped.

Witham has been free since he was released on bail shortly after his arrest. News that the case had been dismissed as bogus was welcome news to the Fore Street man and his family.

"We're glad it's over and we can get on with our lives," said Doris Witham, Jeffrey's grandmother.

For many, the resolution of the case was not a surprise. The accusations against Witham began to look flimsy almost as soon as the arrest was made. Days after Witham was taken into custody, prosecutors from the Plymouth District Attorney's Office said the girls had changed their stories. Some of the charges against Witham were dropped.

Originally held on $150,000 bail, Witham was released from jail on his own recognizance after five days. He had freedom, but the accusations hung over him for nearly seven months.

"He wanted to get a summer job," Doris Witham said. "But you can't get a job when you have those kinds of charges on your record." In August, Witham's situation looked even more dire. His accusers told police they met Witham at the Marshfield Fair the day the festival opened. The girls exchanged cell phone numbers with Witham and spoke with him over a three-day period, police said.

According to early reports, Witham sexually assaulted one of the girls in the living room of the home before taking the second girl into a bedroom where he had sex with her.

But the story soon fell apart. The older girl later changed her story to say that she had consensual sex with Witham and that the younger girl never had sex with him at all. When it came time for trial, the girls refused to testify on grounds that by doing so, they might incriminate themselves in a separate crime such as filing a false police report.

The case continued to unravel until Tuesday, when a judge said there was no probable cause to proceed with prosecution. The final counts against Witham - two counts of rape and one count of indecent assault and battery - were dropped. The chances that the charges will be refiled seemed scant, although the district attorney could go back to the grand jury with the case.

For Doris Witham, the relief this week was tempered by the damage that has been done to the grandson she has raised since he was 5 years old. Many will remember the case, she said, and some will continue to think of Jeffrey Witham as a so-called "carny" although his work with the fair was temporary. "All he was doing was helping out with the rides," she said. "It was a summer job. It was no big deal."

Not to mention the time spent going to court hearing after court hearing while the case went through the system.

"It was a long drive to Massachusetts every month," Doris Witham said. "We had to pay for hotels, and on top of that there was food and gas. It gets pretty expensive."

There are other irksome details, such as Jeffrey Witham's cell phone seized by police at the start of the investigation and never returned. His grandmother said they would like to have it back, but in their relief over the recent developments, they have not yet pursued it. She said there also did not appear to be a significant chance that the girls who accused Jeffrey Witham will be ordered to repay court costs and other damages. Against the bigger picture, those details seemed slight to the Witham family.

"We just want to put it behind us," Dorothy Witham said.

According to the Patriot Ledger of Quincy, Mass., a clerk magistrate will decide whether to issue charges against the girls at a hearing March 25 in Juvenile Court.