Friday, November 12, 2010

One of the more chilling wrongful rape claims in recent times: the woman who sent a man to prison for five years because she was bored

Today, we dip into the archives to explore one of the more disturbing "he said/she said" wrongful rape convictions in recent times.  It occurred in 1997 following a purported "date rape" at the University of Akron, and it is a chilling reminder of the risks that men, especially our college-aged sons, face in our hysterical, and imaginary, rape culture.

In 1996, Christina Heaslet, a University of Akron student, accused a classmate, Nathaniel Lewis, of raping her in her dorm room. On the basis of her say so, Mr. Lewis was convicted and spent five years in prison. 

Five years.

As you read the story below, ask yourself if Heaslet should have been charged with a hate crime. Did she not single out her victim because he happened to be male? Alas, she was charged with nothing, much less convicted. But in a judicial proceeding years later, Mr. Lewis proved by a preponderance of the evidence that he had been wrongfully imprisoned.

It turned out that after the purported rape, Heaslet kept a diary that illustrated her innermost disdain for men, and a critical passage chillingly suggested that Heaslet accused Mr. Lewis of rape to punish him for all the men who had supposedly used her for sex.  This diary would be Mr. Lewis' salvation.

A brief review of the facts is in order.  Before the night in question, Heaslet had rebuffed Mr. Lewis's sexual advances by explaining she "wasn't that kind of person that started having sex with anybody that she just met." Remember that statement as you read the passage from her diary, below.  She testified she was physically attracted to Mr. Lewis, but that he "tried to hook up with everybody" and that she was not interested in the kind of relationship that he was.

On the evening of October 12, 1996, at 8:45 p.m., Heaslet called Mr. Lewis and invited him to her dormitory room. Mr. Lewis arrived at approximately 8:50 p.m. They had made plans earlier in the day for him to come to her room to borrow some compact discs. Heaslet drank alcohol in Mr. Lewis' presence. She called her roommate to insure that she and Mr. Lewis would be alone, and she took a birth control pill in front of him.

While Heaslet and Mr. Lewis were listening to music, Mr. Lewis got up and turned off the light. According to Heaslet's trial testimony, this is when Mr. Lewis raped her. He allegedly grabbed her, threw her on the bed, and took off all her clothes. He then completely disrobed, stood up, pulled out a condom, and placed it on his penis. Heaslet testified she was repeatedly pushed down by Lewis, and her legs were forced apart, while she continued to cry "don't do this." Mr. Lewis then supposedly penetrated her.

Mr. Lewis's testimony, however, was diametrically opposed to Heaslet's.  He said that after he turned the lights off, he told Heaslet to come and find him. Heaslet found him on the bed, and he put his hand up her shirt. Heaslet removed her bra, and they started kissing. Together they removed Heaslet's sweatshirt, and then Mr. Lewis disrobed and put on a condom while Heaslet took off the rest of her clothes. According to Mr. Lewis, Heaslet did not say anything during the time they had intercourse.  When they finished, Mr. Lewis turned on the lights, wrapped the condom in a tissue and threw it in the trash. Heaslet rode down the elevator with him and signed him out at the front desk.

Heaslet then went to see the Resident Coordinator for the dormitory, who called the police. Mr. Lewis was arrested in his dormitory room in the early hours of October 13. (Ever notice that police can't come for a man accused of rape at a decent time?  They typically come to his place of work and parade him out in handcuffs in full view of his co-workers, or they awaken him in the middle of the night.) Heaslet eventually agreed to see a counselor on October 14, and was encouraged by her counselor to keep a diary.

The diary became the central issue in Mr. Lewis' trial and subsequent legal proceeedings. Defense counsel argued that diary passages were relevant to Heaslet's veracity and motive to lie, and spoke directly to the issue of consent.

Read the following chilling diary passge, dated April 20, 1997 -- it is among the purest expressions of misandry we have seen in our studies of unfounded rape cases:

I can't believe the trial's only a week away. I feel guilty (sort of) for trying to get Nate locked up, but his lack of respect for women is terrible. I remember how disrespectful he always was to all of us girls in the  courtyard . . . he thinks females are a bunch of sex objects! And he's such a player! He was trying to get with Holly and me, and all the while he had a girlfriend. I think I pounced on Nate because he was the last straw. That, and because I've always seemed to need some drama in my life. Otherwise I get bored. That definitely needs to change. I'm sick of men taking advantage of me . . . and I'm sick of myself for giving in to them. I'm not a nympho like all those guys think. I'm just not strong enough to say no to them. I'm tired of being a whore. This is where it ends.

"Yesterday morning I went to see two lawyers (partners) about a civil suit against Nate. *** I know that suing him is wrong, but what else is there for me to do? I know I'm not an evil person normally, but Nate pissed me off, and took advantage of me. Sorry for him that I'm so revengeful. I'll probably feel guilty about this someday."

"Speaking of money, I'm suing Nate. I'm desperate for money! My consience (sic) wouldn't allow me to do that before, but I'm going to do whatever I have to to get out of debt."

Let us briefly analyze this singular manifestation of wickedness and hatred for an entire gender.  If men really believed that Heaslet was a "nympho," meaning a woman with excessive sexual desire, as Heaslet stated, are they guilty of rape for pursuing sexual intercourse with her?  If Heaslet really was a "whore," as she said she was, did sex with her amount to rape?  When Heaslet gave in to men, as she stated she did, does that sound like nonconsensual sex?  Is the failure to say "no" to men, on top of all the rest, yet another indication that it wasn't rape?

In the above-quoted diary passage, there is not a single mention that Mr. Lewis raped Heaslet.  There is not a single mention that he acted contrary to her outward manifestations of assent (remember, her secret, subjective desires and whims don't matter when it comes to rape).

So why did she accuse him of rape?  Well, because, like so many men, he disrespects women, of course. He happened to be the last man to come along, and he must bear responsibility for his entire gender.  Besides, Heaslet needed the drama. What better way to generate excitement than to falsely accuse some penis-bearing creature of rape?  What better way to keep from getting bored?

Just as important, she decided to sue Mr. Lewis because she needed the money, and even her guilty conscience couldn't stand in the way of getting out of debt.  She's not an evil person "normally," suggesting that she was an evil person in this case.

I suspect an entire article -- hell, an entire book -- could be written dissecting each sentence of this paradigmatic exercise in man-hating.

Now brace yourself.  At Mr. Lewis' rape trial, the court allowed some portions of the diary to be read to the jury, but it excluded others. Citing Ohio's rape shield law, Ohio Revised Code § 2907.02(D), the trial court prohibited defense counsel from introducing the following language from the diary:  ". . . and I'm sick of myself for giving in to them. I'm not a nympho like all those guys think. I'm just not strong enough to say no to them. I'm tired of being a whore. This is where it ends." 

Counsel for Mr. Lewis argued that this provision, read in context, was vital because it at least implied that Heaslet had not said "no" to Mr. Lewis, and it could be construed as an admission that she had consented to intercourse with him.

The trial court excluded the evidence, holding that the probative value of the statements was outweighed by their inflammatory and prejudicial nature and would mislead the jury.

In fact, the passage was inflammatory and prejudicial, the same way a confession -- "I killed the King!" -- is inflammatory and prejudices the jury against the person making the confession.  That, of course, does not mean the confession should be excluded.

As for the notion that the passage would "mislead" the jury, I suppose what the judge meant is that it would "mislead" the jury to a quick, and almost-certain, "not guilty" verdict, and for some reason, that was improper.  
Mr. Lewis was convicted following his jury trial and sentenced to eight years imprisonment. Imagine the unspeakable terror, the utter hopelessness he must have felt when this sentence was handed down.  His life was destroyed, and it had barely begun.

Subsequently, Mr. Lewis filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in Federal Court. Finally, in 2002, five years after his conviction, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the diary passage excerpted above should not have been excluded from evidence.  He was released from prison.

But did you get that? Five years in prison.  It can only be hoped that Mr. Lewis' half-decade of untold agony was sufficient to relieve Ms. Heaslet of her boredom.

The Sixth Circuit correctly reasoned that the excluded diary passage "could reasonably be read as Heaslet pursuing rape charges against Lewis as a way of taking a stand against all the men who previously took advantage of her."  Mr. Lewis had been denied his Sixth Amendment right to confrontation when the trial court excluded statements from the alleged victim's diary.

In 2004, Mr. Lewis filed a claim for wrongful conviction. After Common Pleas Judge Marvin Shapiro heard testimony from Mr. Lewis and Heaslet, he wrote that the evidence suggested the two students consented to sex, just as Mr. Lewis had claimed since his arrest. Judge Shapiro granted Mr. Lewis a ``declaration of innocence,'' a legal standard needed to file for damages in the Ohio Court of Claims.

In 2005, an Ohio court approved a $662,000 settlement for Mr. Lewis' wrongful rape conviction -- this amount included $412,000 for lost wages and $250,000 for lawyers' fees.  This was supposed to compensate him for the five years her spent behind bars.

Mr. Lewis told a newspaper reporter that he was pleased with the settlement, but that no one could put a price on the time he lost while in prison. He said he harbors no hatred toward Heaslet, but noted that the allegations and prison time cost him his college years, a potential pro football career, and five years of freedom.  He lost a job with the U.S. Postal Services when he failed to mention his rape conviction, despite the fact the case has been sealed and the conviction was erased from his record.

Another chilling, disgusting example of why we this blog is necessary.

-Lewis v. Wilkinson, 307 F.3d 413 (6th Cir. 2002).
-Lewis v. State of Ohio, 2005 Ohio App. LEXIS 2284 (2005).

Check out Lambs to the Slaughter: The Hofstra False Rape Case