Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Sensational teen 'rape' case ended with the court finding the girl 'totally lacking in credibility'

Here is a belated update to one of the more troubling stories we've covered on this site, and our hunch about it was confirmed. (I had tried to find an update to this case earlier, as is our custom to track important cases, and wrote to the newspaper some time back to no avail. I was only was able to locate the update about it today in connection with my periodic search of outstanding issues -- searches are often difficult when the names of the accuser and accused are not printed.) 

This case is a chilling reminder of the vulnerability of young men to false rape claims, and a cautionary tale that men and boys falsely accused of rape are sometimes doubly victimized -- once by the false accuser, and again by overzealous prosecutors.  This was one of those cases that underscore the painful truth that sometimes law enforcement officials are willing to play Russian roulette with the lives of young men and boys accused of rape in the hope of possibly getting a conviction -- even when the evidence is incredible and even when justice dictates that the charges be dropped.

First, we'll recap what we previously reported, gleaned from multiple news reports about the case:

The Recap

On the night of December 7, 2007, a 13-year-old girl, who was intoxicated from vodka coolers, alleged she was sexually assaulted by two 17-year-old boys.

The alleged victim's girlfriend was present when the purported rape occurred and initially supported the alleged victim's story.  However, in June 2008, the girlfriend recanted. According to the one of the news reports, the girlfriend told police that the alleged victim "had been a willing participant in a threesome with the two older youths." In addition, the alleged victim "instructed her to make the teenage boys' behaviour sound more aggressive than it was and not to mention the fact that the girl shortly afterward had sex with a third boy, who was 14 years old."

The girlfriend "admitted that contrary to what she told [a police detective] in December 2007, she did not try to prevent her girlfriend [the alleged victim] from going with the older boys into another bedroom of the home, where the girls (both 13 at the time) were visiting the younger brother of one of the accused youths. . . . 'When it happened, they didn’t force her because if she really didn’t want to, I would not have let them (have sex with the girl),' the [girlfriend] told [the police detective] when she changed her story six months later. 'They [the 17-year-old boys] were encouraging her,' she told the detective. 'She never actually said no.' The [girlfriend] admitted that she lied the first time around about the aggression of the older boys and about how they were angry with her when she tried to stop the assault on her friend." The girlfriend also told police that the [alleged victim] subsequently had sex that night with a 14-year-old boy.

The alleged victim finally corroborated a portion of her girlfriend's story when she confessed to police that, indeed, she did have a third sexual episode that night with yet another teenage boy -- the 14-year-old -- and, guess what? She claimed the 14-year-old boy raped her, too.  (Is every teen boy in Canada a rapist?)

During the trial, one of the teen defendants took the stand and swore under oath that the alleged victim claimed she was 14 (the age of consent at the time) and that she was a willing participant to a threesome. According to the news story: "The girl, who had been drinking alcoholic coolers, was asked to show everyone her breasts, but she said not without seeing the boys' private parts, he told the court. The two 17-year-olds said they would show only her in another bedroom, he said. The accused said he then suggested the threesome. 'At first, it was an idea tossed out there as a complete joke,' he said. When the girl asked about it and he explained what was involved, she agreed, but only after she finished her drink, saying, 'I want to be more drunk for this,' he said. The girl appeared excited, but 'I didn't think she'd go for it,' he said. 'When she was up for it, I was shocked and surprised. Now, I had to go through with it.'"

The recantation of the victim's girlfriend created a gross inconsistency in evidence critical to the fate of the two teen boys. Why were the charges against them not dropped? Was the prosecutor banking on his little "victim" being a better actress than her girlfriend? And is that an appropriate way to mete out justice for any offense, much less a very serious offense that not only carries with it a significant punishment but a lifelong stigma?

On the witness stand, the detective handling the case was asked if he thought it was "unusual" that both the alleged victim and her girlfriend had initially failed to report the alleged victim's third sexual encounter on the night in question -- with the 14-year-old boy. Read his answer carefully: "A little bit," replied the officer.

A little bit.  Right.

The defendants' counsel asked the police officer if there was any reason he did not confront the alleged victim about her girlfriend's assertions that they had initially conspired to fabricate evidence and mislead the police. "I can't ... No," he said.

"I cant ... No."  Right.

According to one of the news articles: "The detective said the witness had pleaded to be released from her responsibility as a witness because she believed it would interfere with her summer vacation plans. 'The reason I didn't put stock in her story was because I believed she was a witness trying to get out of coming to court. I didn't believe it (the recantation) to be sincere.'"

So the police officer rejected out of hand the girlfriend's recantation (even though it was partially corroborated by the alleged victim herself), but he believed the uncorroborated musings of a tipsy 13-year-old, who somehow forgot to mention that she also had a sexual encounter shortly after the "rape" with yet another teenage boy, and then six months later, she somehow remembered it -- and, oh, yeah -- at that time she remembered that the 14-year-old boy also raped her.  Was she initially afraid to come forward to report the 14-year-old's "rape"? Hell, she'd already accused two other boys of rape, why would she be fearful about adding another notch to her bedpost?  Watch out, this girl might just get hot and accuse every teen boy in Canada of raping her -- and Canada will probably put them all on trial.

Our conclusion about the case from a July 2009 post

Back in July of 2009, we said this: "We must await the trial's outcome, but it's already a tragic miscarriage of justice. Based on the news accounts, the attitude of law enforcement seems to be, 'Hey, so what if the evidence is incredible or wildly inconsistent? Let's spin the wheel and maybe we'll get lucky and nail these kids' balls to the wall for a rape they may -- or may not -- have committed.'"

Now, the update

We were right. The court concluded the case in late January of this year.  One of the boys was fully acquitted while the other was given probation on a minor offense stemming from his failure to ask the girl's exact age before slipping his hand inside her jeans. That charge required a drawn out, sensational trial?

The court's take on the evidence fairly confirmed what we had gleaned from the news accounts: the judge "found the girl 'totally lacking in credibility.' He found she frequently misrepresented her age as being older on her MySpace page and 'held herself out to be older after the event in question on several occasions.' At least four witnesses testified the girl had represented herself at different times to be anywhere from 14 to 17 years of age. [The judge] accepted testimony from other teenaged witnesses that the girl bragged about her sexual adventures that night and was still 'giggling the next day when she spoke of it.'  The judge said she appeared more motivated to go to the police on hearing that rumours were circulating that she had engaged in anal sex -- when she had not -- and after receiving false threats via e-mail that the older boys were planning to post her sex video on YouTube."

She was still giggling about it the next day.  Amazing. Yet the prosecutor allowed two boys to be put through hell on the sole basis of her say so.

Sexual assault is too unspeakably serious a subject to play Russian roulette with the lives of two teenage boys. Prosecutors have a responsibility not to jack up rape convictions but to further the cause of justice. Trying two boys on a charge that could send them to prison for decades on the basis of witnesses who have proven to be untrustworthy about incredibly serious matters is not merely unjust, it is morally grotesque.

Here is the latest news report on this awful case -- which, of course, treats the girl in a sympathetic light:

Teen girl at centre of sex case still struggling: mom

The mother of a 13-year-old girl who was the focus of a sensational teen sex case says her daughter is still struggling to come to grips with the fallout from the ordeal.

She said her daughter changed schools to escape mean-spirited comments and gossip, is receiving intensive therapy from a team of counsellors and psychologists, has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome and takes medication for a sleep disorder and depression.

"Even though the names weren't printed in the newspaper, everybody (already) knew it was her. She tried to start her life over by going to a different school, but that didn't work out because word got out and different comments were being thrown at her ... She lost a lot of time at school."

The mother cannot be named because of a ban on publication of any information that would tend to identify her daughter. The girl had just turned 13 when she got drunk on fruit-flavoured vodka coolers on the night of Dec. 7, 2007, and was talked into three-way sex with two 17-year-old high school boys.

In November, Ontario Court Justice Richard Jennis acquitted one accused youth on sexual assault, forcible confinement and sexual interference. He found the second teenager not guilty of sexual assault and forcible confinement but convicted him of sexual interference of a child under 14.

That allegation involved initial sexual touching between him and the girl when he failed to ask her exact age before slipping his hand inside her jeans.

On Thursday, Jennis granted the second youth a conditional discharge, which means the teenager will not have a criminal record at the end of 14 months if he abides by the terms of his probation.

The trial heard the girl and a young female friend led the older boys to believe they were 14 and also in high school. In truth, they were 13 and the complainant was not of legal age to consent to any type of sexual activity. The girl's level of intoxication, her credibility as a witness and the question of whether the boys took all necessary steps to ascertain her actual age were key issues in the trial.

In giving reasons for his decision, Jennis said he found the girl "totally lacking in credibility." He found she frequently misrepresented her age as being older on her MySpace page and "held herself out to be older after the event in question on several occasions." At least four witnesses testified the girl had represented herself at different times to be anywhere from 14 to 17 years of age.

Jennis accepted testimony from other teenaged witnesses that the girl bragged about her sexual adventures that night and was still "giggling the next day when she spoke of it."

The judge said she appeared more motivated to go to the police on hearing that rumours were circulating that she had engaged in anal sex -- when she had not -- and after receiving false threats via e-mail that the older boys were planning to post her sex video on YouTube.

Defence lawyers Dean Paquette and Jeffrey Manishen argued that the girl's conduct following the alleged incident, including flirting with other older males, was inconsistent with her allegations of being traumatized.

The mother said her daughter was upset the judge did not believe her and not surprised when the youth who was convicted received what she and her family perceive as a slap on the hand. The mom said her daughter is mostly relieved that the whole ordeal -- including the trial and attendant publicity -- is finally over.

"I'll tell you, she used to be a very outgoing girl with lots of friends -- happy. From all that, she changed into a very sad girl with a sleeping disorder.

"She would sleep, sleep, sleep all day. She was depressed and lost a lot of friends."

Link: http://www.thespec.com/article/714874