Monday, August 26, 2013

Rape charges dismissed, prosecutor does the right thing

Gregory Hartley's hands shake and he wipes away tears. Recounting the more than 50 days he spent in the Jackson County Jail as an accused rapist floods the Ashland resident with anxiety.

"I was in with the worst of the worst," Hartley said, taking a steadying breath. "I just lost all hope."

Hartley, 50, has no criminal record in Oregon, according to court documents. He has run a successful floor business in Ashland for years and is an upstanding community member, he said.

Hartley said his father's former wife made "unfounded and unproven allegations" that he assaulted her during a family visit at his home in July 2011.

The woman told her story to police a year later, following her second divorce proceeding against Hartley's father. Things went from bad to worse when her allegations caused Hartley to be arrested and lodged in jail on June 24, he said.

Hartley vehemently denies any sexual activity occurred between the two, even consensual acts, and said he remains stunned at the allegations.

"I was raised by my mom and my two sisters. You do not violate people," Hartley said. "If a woman is raped, you go 100 percent against that guy in court."

Bail initially was set at $1 million for the four Measure 11 charges, then reduced to $500,000. But Hartley was unable to raise the 10 percent required to bail himself out of jail, he said.

"I'm a big guy," Hartley said. "But you fear for your life in there."

Facing up to 25 years in state prison if convicted of first-degree charges of rape, sodomy, sex abuse and unlawful sexual penetration, Hartley said he refused to negotiate a plea deal. But he was terrified at the prospect of losing his case, his sanity or worse.

"At 3 a.m. when you can't sleep," Hartley said, "yes, I would have sold my soul to the devil to get out of there. But I didn't."

On Aug. 16, all counts against Hartley were dropped by Jackson County Deputy District Attorney David Hoppe.

At the request of Hartley's public defender, Kelly Ravassipour, Hoppe had a jailhouse meeting with Hartley just days before the case was slated for trial.

Hoppe said evidence that came in after Hartley's grand jury indictment, combined with the alleged victim's mental health issues, her drug and alcohol consumption the night of the allegations, and his duties as a prosecutor, caused him to drop the case against Hartley in the interest of justice.

"It's not about conviction rates," Hoppe said. "We need to sleep fine at night. Allegations are not proof. Every prosecutor wants to avoid the risk of sending an innocent person to prison, especially in a crime of this nature."

By the same token, Hoppe cautioned that his decision should not be over-interpreted. He stressed an unfounded allegation is not the same as a false one. The woman could have been victimized by someone or believed she was, he said.

Hartley said inmates cheered as word of his release spread through the jail and he walked toward freedom.

"It was like a unicorn had just passed by," he said. "They couldn't believe it."

Hartley wants to know why police and prosecutors are not charging his accuser with perjury or filing a false report.

"Put her in (jail) for 53 days," Hartley said. "Why isn't she being charged? It needs to be on her record."

Hoppe said no charges will be filed against Hartley's father's ex-wife. Just as Hartley is innocent under the law because of his constitutional protections, so, too, the same presumption of innocence applies to his accuser, Hoppe said.

"How would we prove it?" Hoppe said. "There was no confession or recantation."

Just because this woman had self-admitted diagnoses of bipolar disorder and post traumatic stress disorder, and that she consumed drugs and alcohol the night of the alleged incident, doesn't mean she was not victimized, Hoppe said.

"What I would say is that at the end of the day, I did not feel morally certain that these alleged crimes had occurred," Hoppe said.

Hartley said he's going to have to pay more than $1,000 to get his record expunged and his picture off

"It destroyed my life. And she might believe it happened," Hartley said, shaking his head and adding the thought of being accused of sexual assault again has him terrified.

Susan Moen, executive director of Jackson County Sexual Assault Response Team, said she is unfamiliar with the specifics of Hartley's case. But Moen detailed the legal process that tries to prevent incidents like this from happening, "including the need for a grand jury to believe there is credible evidence that a crime was committed before a DA can put forth a case to trial."

Hartley and the public should understand that false reporting is a rare occurrence, she said.

In fact, Moen and Hoppe said, sexual assault is underreported nationwide.

"The crime of sexual assault is different from many crimes, in that we see an underreporting of the crime much more than we see false reports," Moen said.

One study showed that the reporting rate in Oregon is about 10 percent. That means up to 90 percent of sexual assault victims never report the crime against them, she said.

"When I ask people what they guess the false report rate to be, I routinely hear '50 percent' or higher," Moen said. "However, the highest we have seen in a credible study puts that number at 6 to 8 percent, and many studies show it to be much closer to 2 percent. So if 2 to 8 percent of that 10 percent is the false reporting rate, we really can say it is a rare occurrence."

Hartley said the fallout from the accusations continue to haunt him. His mental and physical health, along with his personal and professional reputation, have all been negatively impacted by the ordeal, Hartley said.

"One day I'm on my way to work, then I'm gone," he said. "I'm not a rapist."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or