Thursday, May 28, 2009

Man serving life for sexual assault as a teen is freed -- no one bothered to tell him the 'victim' recanted before trial

The tragedy, the injustice, the incalculable sadness over the destruction of an innocent life -- all of it speaks for itself, and no comment can further underscore this frightening miscarriage of justice. I will note one thing: the prosecutor who is charged with withholding the information still says the man is a rapist. Even now, this poor man is forced to carry the taint of this injustice with him.

Court backs retrial over evidence dispute in sex assault case

By JENNIFER EMILY / The Dallas Morning News

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled Wednesday that a man sentenced to life in prison for sexual assault as a teen should get a new trial because evidence was withheld in his case.

Court records show the victim told a prosecutor in 1995 that Antrone Lynelle Johnson did not sexually assault her inside a school restroom, but Johnson was convicted and not told about the information until last year.

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins said Wednesday that his office would not retry Johnson because prosecutors don't believe a crime occurred. Johnson, now 32, was released from prison in November pending the outcome of the appellate court's decision.

"Obviously, he didn't commit the crime," Watkins said. "Prosecutorial misconduct was done in this case, and it was blatant."

But Patricia Hogue, the original prosecutor in the case, adamantly denies that she withheld information and says that current prosecutors "misled" the court. The information, she said, would have been given orally to Johnson's attorney. There would be no written record.

Hogue, who was fired when Watkins took office in January 2007, questioned why the DA's office would take the word of Johnson's attorney, V. Ray Davis, who was convicted in 1998 of trying to bribe a prosecutor.

"If the DA's office wants to do that and let rapists out of jail, that's OK. I'm not part of it anymore," Hogue said. "It's still absolutely false that I withheld evidence."

She said she is also angry that current prosecutors haven't allowed her to examine the case file.
Withholding such evidence from the defense is called a "Brady violation." The term refers to a 1963 U.S. Supreme County case – Brady vs. Maryland – in which the court found that prosecutors violate defendants' constitutional rights if they intentionally or accidentally withhold evidence favorable to the defense.

There is no criminal charge for a Brady violation in Texas.

The day before Johnson's trial, the girl told prosecutors that Johnson did not sexually assault her, according to court records. A school official also called her "a great liar," according to another notation in the file.

A copy of a prosecutor's note from Feb. 5, 1995, reads: "Johnson did not make her give him oral sex. He took her in the bathroom and she told him she didn't want to do it, so he stayed in there and pretended and then let her out."

She didn't appear for trial, but prosecutors persuaded Johnson to plead guilty to sexual assault in exchange for 10 years of deferred adjudication probation. That type of probation means Johnson would not have had a criminal conviction if he completed the program.

While on probation in September 1995, Johnson was accused of having sex in the boys' restroom with a 13-year-old female Seagoville High schoolmate.

She was three months away from 14 – the legal age in Texas to consent to sex with the 17-year-old Johnson. He was charged with sexual assault of a child.

Records show the girl came to school with condoms and had sex that day with three other students under the basketball bleachers. Those students were also charged.

Court records show the girl gave conflicting statements. She told a grand jury that she had denied to others having sex with Johnson. But the denial apparently was not revealed to the defense, which would also be a Brady violation.

Judge Mark Tolle, who is now deceased, revoked Johnson's probation and sentenced him to life in prison in the first case. He was given a five-year prison sentence in the second case.

The DA's office said Wednesday that the girl from the first case told prosecutors she did not know Johnson had gone to prison. She said nothing happened in the restroom and did not have a clear recollection of what she told Hogue and when she told her. She did not object to Johnson's release.

Johnson's attorney, Shirley Baccus-Lobel, said Wednesday that Johnson did not want to speak about the case. She said Johnson is working, going to school and dating.

"It's a happy day here," Baccus-Lobel said. "It would have been a tragedy to have all that yanked from him."