Sunday, November 15, 2009

Anatomy of injustice from one of our readers, the mother of a young man accused: 'We are going ahead with the rape charges with what little evidence we have'

The following is an article submitted at my urging by a reader, Mary H. She is a member of the demographic that writes to our site most frequently for help: she's the mother a young man she contends is falsely accused of rape. Some of the names have been changed, but that doesn't affect the power of the story.

It is very hard to decide where to start, I am thinking about the Pledge to Allegiance, the last phrase in particular, “with liberty and justice for all.” It strikes me now that is not always the case. It sure did not apply to my son, or others like him who are falsely accused of rape.

Adam‘s story is only unique because he is my son, and because this travesty happened to our family, the burden of which we will always carry.

I will never forget the confusion that followed so quickly after the Flat Head County Sheriff’s deputy pulled into the driveway of our vacation home. I had gone out to open the garage door to have a cigarette, and there he was pulling into the driveway, I quickly ran back inside and got my husband. I was still in my pajamas and was not nearly ready to entertain a deputy sheriff. He told my husband that he wanted to talk to Adam, who was still asleep; we were told to awaken him. As told, we got Adam up and explained that there was a deputy here to see him, this is when the confusion really set in; the deputy said he was under arrest for the rape of Lexi, my niece, Adam’s cousin. What the f--- was all that came out of Adam’s mouth, and then he was cuffed, removed from the house and put in the deputy’s cruiser. I followed him to the garage and asked again what the arrest was for; again he told me for the rape of Lexi. Adam was trying to tell the deputy that there was a mistake, that he had just spent the last couple of hours before he came home talking with his uncle Karl, Lexi's father. I asked the deputy where Lexi was, he said in the hospital having a SANE examine, all I could tell Adam was when the SANE came back this would be over, and do not talk to anyone. I was so very wrong, extremely na├»ve about the seriousness of the situation.

Here comes that feeling. The same feeling that anyone who has experienced what I just did has, the feeling of being out of control. It’s like this you heart is racing, but it is not in your chest, it has worked its way up to the middle of your throat. It is pounding so very hard that the pain is behind your ears, your head begins to throb in rhythm with your heart, and then the heat sets in, your whole body heats up. Now you know why your heart is in your throat, your body is on fire and it’s trying to escape the pain of the flames. Then the pin pricks start all over, hot pin pricks, because of the internal fire. Is this an anxiety attack? No, it’s just disbelief and dread.

I watched them pull away and I quickly returned to the house, my family standing there all with the same look on their faces: disbelief, horror, and confusion. See, this was supposed to be a family reunion; we do it every two years, my sister, two brothers, our children, and grand children get together. We are spread out so this is our opportunity to be together. We chose -- or I did, as it was my turn to choose -- Montana. Then to put the icing on the cake I convinced Adam to come. See, he is active infantry in the US Army and was set to be deployed to Afghanistan; he had a short leave before he was deployed and I begged Adam to come Montana for a night to see everyone. This is my great regret.

After the Sheriff drove off with my son, Jerry and my youngest daughter, Maggi, set out for Karl's vacation home, just a short block from ours. I came back into the house to find my oldest daughter Leslie speaking to someone on my cell phone. Leslie had such a disgusting look on her face. It was Lexi calling from the hospital to tell me her side of the story, and to tell me she was having a bad day. It was a short conversation I hung up the phone thinking to myself, “is this what rape victims normally do? Make calls to the mother of the man they accuse?"

While I was trying to figure out what to do next, my brother walks in, he’s got a grin on his face, it’s a common expression for him, he wasn’t grinning about the situation, just his grin. He starts to tell me what happened. Lexi woke him up about four in the morning and asked him to get Adam out of her room, so he did and he took Adam into the den, they talked for about two hours, then Adam came home. This is when they called the police, Lexi waited until Adam left to become hysterical. I told him that Lexi and Adam had come to our house about 2:30 a.m. and they were both very drunk. Lexi was carrying a half empty bottle of wine I tried to get Adam to come in and call it a night, but he would not. Lexi asked Adam in front of me, his father, and sister to come home to her house -- or to her sister’s house -- to sleep. This was fine by me, as long as he was somewhere safe, with family. If he ended up in Lexi's room, he was there by Lexi's invitation. The whole time I was speaking to Karl he was staring behind me, his response to what I said was that my coffee pot was painfully slow and he would go to his house and bring coffee back.

As more of my family slowly started to file through the house to offer their condolences to the mother and father of the "rapist" I went back to getting cleaned up and trying to figure out where the Flathead County Detention Center was located. Apparently, Karl had made his rounds early to tell everyone that Adam had been arrested for raping Lexi; thank God he had not said anything to our ninety-three-year-old mother who was with us for vacation.

Jerry and I found our way to Kalispell and by luck found the jail, but that was the only luck we would have. We could not see our son; he was on a seventy-two hour hold. We were able to buy him a phone card to use, but as it turned out he did not get his card until we had left to return to Texas five days later. We asked about a public defender and if we could see Adam and he said it would be three weeks before anyone would be available to see him; we tried to find the Public Defender’s office to no avail. So we returned to our vacation house. I needed to get in touch with the army base to see if they would be any help and to make sure that Adam was not considered AWOL when he did not report back

His sergeant tried everything under the sun to get Adam released, but the deputy prosecutor would have none of it. This was my first insight into what I was up against in my quest to clear my son of these charges. The second glimpse of what we were up against came on Wednesday, the third day after Adam was arrested, when a jailer called. Adam had ask him to call, to tell us that his bail was set at $50,000.00 and he was charged with sexual intercourse without consent and breaking and entering. Adam could not make a phone call as it would be long distance to our phones. Jerry called the deputy prosecutor to get the information first hand, and she told him --and I will put this in quotation marks as these are her exact words, “We are going ahead with the charges with what little evidence we have.” I told my husband, “It is time for an attorney”!

We found Adam’s defense attorney in the yellow pages of the phone book. He had been a prosecutor, so I felt he would know the ropes. As it turned out the only difference between him and the PD office was $7,500.00 up front. The attorney we needed -- that Adam needed -- was considerably more, and now I wish I had come up with the money somehow. As it was, we took out a second mortgage on our home to meet all the expenses we were about to encounter.

After confirming an appointment with the attorney, we returned to the jail as we could not figure out why Adam was not using his phone card. Jerry was getting very irritated with the jailer at the window as she could not seem to answer our questions. He then asked for her supervisor, who promptly appeared. Jerry’s frustrations continued and he was getting nowhere fast, so I stepped in and spoke to the man calmly, explained our dilemma and asked for any help he could offer us. He said he knew we were from Texas and would be returning home in a couple of days, and then said he would allow us to see Adam for thirty minutes and radioed for Adam to be brought down. I must say at this point that man looked like an angel to me, tears welled up in my eyes and my knees went weak. This was more than I could hope for.

The image of Adam sitting on the other side of the glass was so very pathetic. His right arm bearing a cast from an injury sustained while on base. He kept saying that this was a big mistake, he wanted us to get him out, was Uncle Karl crazy? All questions I could not answer, all we could do is tell him how much we loved him, we knew he did not hurt anyone, and we would do everything we could to clear this mess up. I remember telling him that no one in our family believed he had hurt Lexi, but that was a lie. I know what I saw on the faces of my brothers and sister as they came by that first morning with their families. To be accused of rape meant you did it. This is a sad and horrible assumption that all men face with when they are accused. There is no innocence until proven guilty; you are guilty on the statement of your accuser. That was the case with my son, which is why they arrested him without a warrant, without a probable cause affidavit -- just pick him up and build the case with what little evidence you have. I am not so naive to believe Adam is the first man this has happened to, and sadly enough probably not the last. The thirty minutes fled by and a jailer came and took Adam away. That, to this day, is the last time I have seen my son, which is my lasting memory of him.

We saw the attorney. He was very upbeat about our story, and he assured me that during a jury trial, all he had to do was convince one juror that Adam was not guilty. I wanted the whole world to know that he had not done this, not just one person. He also read an article to us from the local newspaper that described Adam as a predator that he had been hitting on Lexi all night long. Nothing about her running through the sprinklers naked that night in front of all her male and female cousins; nothing about the “come home with me Adam"; just that he had broken into the house and raped her. After hearing about the article it felt like my son had already been convicted. And there was the breaking and entering charge, which was later dropped as the fact was, he walked in through an open door. The window that he was suspected to have broken happened earlier that night at the party. But it served well for his arrest.

We spent the rest of our time in Montana trying to appear somewhat normal and happy, for my mother's sake. If she asked me what was wrong, or if I was okay, I simply said that I was worried about Adam going to Afghanistan. While we were all dying inside, given to uncontrollable bouts of crying, Lexi was golfing, fly fishing, and went for a massage. This is not the expected behavior of a young woman that was traumatized by rape, more the behavior of someone ready to get on with their vacation. This type of action could not be considered during a trial, just the alleged actions of my son. Her behavior that night and the days and nights that followed had no bearing on the case.

We returned to Texas, and it was a long trip. Adam’s lawyer proved to be less than we had anticipated. The private investigator that was promised never materialized. His bond reduction hearing was a bust. They said he was a flight risk because he was in the army. Although if anyone had bothered to speak to the base they would have known that he would have remained on the base until a trial. The US army wanted this resolved, and they would not allow him to leave base until it was. We tried to post bond but we had to put our home up as collateral. Adam said NO! All this time we are waiting for the SANE results, it took ninety days for them to come back, clean, no DNA was found on Adam or on Lexi. This was just a few days before he was set to go to trial, but now comes the most astonishing part.

We were ready for trial, when the deputy prosecutor got in touch with our attorney stating that Lexi was worried about the cost of the airline ticket from Norway to Montana on such short notice. There was no short notice. We have known about the trial for a month. When the DNA came back clean, the deputy prosecutor was willing to release Adam to our custody in Texas if he gave up his right to a speedy trial. IS SHE NUTS? Adam is twenty-nine, and property of the US Army, not Mom and Dad. Then, to top off this insanity, I find out that Lexi is already at her father’s house in Canada for a wedding. She is, in fact, just a few short hours by plane away, and believe me when I say that money is no problem for this family, that is why she is in school in Norway. Someone is lying!

And now comes the plea bargain. I get sick every time I think about it. Yes, Adam took it, after ninety days in jail he caved in and took it. Plea down to a misdemeanor assault, keep your nose clean for a year, get psychological evaluation to prove that you are not a sexual predator or an alcoholic within ninety days, and send a letter of apology to Lexi. He took it, he wanted out so very bad; he wanted to join his unit in Afghanistan. I am still puzzled as to why the charges were not dropped after the DNA came back. We had held to the belief that the DNA would set him free. Our attorney said that she would still prosecute Adam on the charges and would probably win. How could that be?

Adam was released and left in Kalispell to find his way back to base in Washington. He called to tell me he was out and had walked to his attorney’s office to get his back pack that I had sent there with clean clothes, shaving items, his wallet and cell phone. Then he walked to a motel and checked himself in until we could arrange for a flight out. He was deeply depressed and we were too far away to get there to be with him. He called later that night to tell me he was having problems with anxiety. He had gone to a store to pick up something to eat and drink and was having a hard time looking at people. He was afraid that someone would accuse him of an inappropriate look. He basically hid in his room until he left for base.

Back at base the JAG office reviewed his case as did his Sergeant; they found no basis for the charges and allowed Adam to return to the army. There was always the underlying fear that he would be discharged, but thank God they saw it for what it was.

I cannot to this day believe that he was arrested on the accusation on this young lady, and that he was held for ninety days in jail with a bond that was unreasonable, oppressive, and was not considerate of his financial situation, or the fact that he had no prior record. I cannot reconcile myself with the fact that the deputy prosecutor wanted a conviction after the DNA came back clean, a conviction at any price. This is not upholding the law; this is getting convictions, almost like they are on a point system, no matter what the price to the accused is.

In closing I would like to share with you that four years previous to this my youngest daughter was drugged and raped. It took a full day after it happened for her to come to me about it, her SANE results were inconclusive as she had bathed, not uncommon for someone that is so very ashamed of what happened to her. The investigators on her case had three suspects, but she would not point a finger at anyone, her memory was cloudy at best, and she did not want to run the risk of ruining someone’s life if she was wrong. She was encouraged by the investigators to “cooperate” with them so that they could make an arrest, but she would not. It took her quite some time to overcome her fears and to return to a normal life style. She was not out playing golf, fly fishing or getting a massage; she was trying to put her life back together. In the end neither my daughter nor son got the justice they deserved. I can only hope that my son will be able to put his life back together, I am painfully aware of how hard that will be. If our justice system does not require accountability for both sides of a crime such as this, if it does not uphold the premise of innocence until proven guilty, if it will not monitor those who are sworn to uphold the law and protect us all, then we will never have “justice for all.”