Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Round-up: (1) Woman who claimed rapist carved 'dog killer' into her left arm to be charged for false report; (2) 'He said/she said' rape case heads to jury -- one is lying, but only 'he' is put on trial

We are trying to keep our backlog from getting out of control, so here are two very interesting stories in the news today. Both are out of Pennsylvania:

Fayette woman to be charged for falsely reporting rape

State police in Uniontown, Pennsylvania expect to file charges of false reports to law enforcement today against a woman for a bizarre incident that occurred on Feb. 20.  She allegedly made false claims to police that a man dressed as a woman came along, walking a dog. He  proceeded to tie her up with a dog collar and took her into the woods, where he raped and cut her. He supposedly carved the words "Dog Killer" into her left arm, and cut on her face, chest, arms, legs and private areas. 

According to the news report: "Police scoured the area looking for the suspect. But in subsequent interviews, the woman admitted she lied about the attack and cut herself with the razor, police said. [Trooper Heather  Clem] said the woman gave 'a couple of different reasons' for the alleged deception, but the trooper would not elaborate. Most of the woman's wounds were superficial, but some required stitches, Clem said.  The woman is 'in treatment,' but Clem would not say what type of treatment."

You will recall another Pennsylvania case involving a woman named Ashley Todd -- she was the Sen. John McCain campaign worker who falsely claimed she was assaulted by a black Obama supporter who carved a "B" in her face.


Landord: Sex Was Consensual

A rape charge goes to the jury today in Altoona, Pennsylvania, and based on the news story about it, it is amazing that a charge was even brought, much less that it got this far.  Here's what happened:

A 24-year-old mother of two, along with her boyfriend and the boyfriend's mother, moved into an apartment rented by the alleged rapist, Jeffrey L. Hazlett, 43, in February 2010.  The boyfriend and his mother subsequently went to jail for reasons not revealed, and the young woman fell behind on her rent and utilities.

The woman testified that Hazlett called her during the early morning of May 15 while she was with a friend at a bar. He asked why she was out for the evening when she didn't have the money to pay him. She testified that after she returned to her apartment, Hazlett suddenly appeared in her kitchen and forced himself on her.

Hazlett told a different story. He said that the woman invited him to her apartment. He said when he got there, she began crying because her boyfriend was incarcerated and she was going to be homeless if Hazlett evicted her.  Hazlett, who admitted he had a romantic interest in the woman, said the two had consensual sex, and that she was the aggressor.  Afterward, he said, the woman looked at him and said, "I didn't want to do this." He testified that he replied, "I didn't do anything you didn't want to do." But: "I started freaking out," he told the jury. "Oh God, I'm done," was what he thought at the time, he testified. Fearing that the woman might say she was raped, he said he had her write down that the sex between them was consensual.  Note that apparently she actually wrote that sex was consensual.

A classic "he said/she said" case. One of them is lying (this does not seem to be a case where there might have been a misunderstanding). Yet, only he is put on trial. Only his identity is revealed. Only his life has already been destroyed by the allegation. Hazlett said the rape allegation cost him his job with a local social agency. He said his wife sought a divorce and he lost many friends. He also said he has been threatened, his home was vandalized, and the Altoona Housing Authority no longer permits him to rent to clients on the authority's rental assistance list.

Given the he said/she said nature of the case, based on this story it is impossible to believe there's sufficient evidence to put either on trial. To put him on trial alone is a jurisprudence bordering on pathology.

Now pay attention to the following: Hazlett's attorney, Mark Zearfaus, asked him for reasons why the woman would tell a false story. Hazlett answered that perhaps she was afraid of her boyfriend and his friends finding out or maybe she needed a place to stay the next day.  Two pretty good motivations, don't you think?

On cross-examination, Blair County Assistant District Attorney Deanne Paul asked why the woman would go to a friend's house afterward, give a statement to police and undergo a rape kit if she were afraid of her boyfriend finding out. "Doesn't that go against your theory?" Paul asked Hazlett, which he denied.

In fact, Assistant D.A. Paul ought to read Professor Eugene Kanin's landmark report, which includes the following: "Of the 45 cases of false charges, over one-half (56%, n = 27) served the complainants’ need to provide a plausible explanation for some suddenly foreseen, unfortunate consequence of a consensual encounter, usually sexual, with a male acquaintance."

It would have been interesting if the defense had proffered the testimony of an expert on false rape claims to explain that this is a common motivation to tell rape lies. My guess is that even though expert testimony would be appropriate in this instance, it would not be allowed.  Last year, a federal court sitting in Wisconsin ruled that a defendant in a rape trial has no right to present expert testimony that women do lie about rape. But the state was permitted to have an expert testify that "it is not unusual for victims of sexual assault to delay reporting the assault to law enforcement."  Just another in a cavalcade of double-standards in this area.

The Hazlett case goes to the jury today. But regardless of the outcome, the damage has been done to Mr. Hazlett. Based on the news account, it is astounding that this case got to trial given its "he said/she said" nature, and given that she had a common motive to make a false claim. She even, apparently, wrote that sex was consensual.  Based on the news story below (read it and decide for yourself), there is every bit as much reason to charge her with a false claim (which means, most likely, neither should have been charged). 

A prosecutor is the gatekeeper of justice who should only bring charges, as Prof. Bennett L. Gershman described it, when he or she is convinced to a moral certainty of both the defendant's factual and legal guilt. To bring charges when there is any less certainty does not fulfill the prosecutor's duty to do justice, but invites miscarriages and the possible conviction of an innocent defendant.  Could this be yet another case where a prosecuting attorney really wasn't sure but decided to roll the dice, hoping she'd "get lucky" and get a conviction? 

You know, play Russian roulette with a man's life.