Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Matt Folino: Wrongly Accused

Matthew Folino, a 20-something guy living in Western Pennsylvania, suffered a terrible injustice when a young woman falsely accused him of rape. Police believed her without even verifying her story with two of the woman's girlfriends who, the woman said, were witnesses to the incident. It is an injustice that is sadly typical of hundreds we've related over the past five years. That it could happen in the United States of America is both horrifying and disheartening.

The ordeal was terrifying from the outset. Matt was literally hauled out of bed in the middle of the night when police came banging on his door with guns drawn and flashlights shining through his windows.

Exactly why was Matt being treated like one of the Boston Marathon bombers? Because a young woman named Katelyn Webster, 18, with whom Matt previously had a brief fling, told police that Matt stalked, choked, and raped her, and she showed them neck bruises to prove it. Webster claimed that all this occurred in — of all places — the parking lot of a wave pool, and that Matt stopped assaulting her only when her two girlfriends came along.  It was all a lie.

Matt spent four days in jail and nine months on house arrest, and he faced the possibility of spending five to ten years in an awful place where young men falsely accused of rape often become victims of the very crime they did not commit. All on account of a he said/she said rape allegation.

Now police say that Webster lied. It turns out that the parties weren’t together that day after all, and none of them were at the wave pool. Webster and the two girlfriends had been at a dance club, and then they spent the night at Webster’s new boyfriend’s place. Webster concocted the rape claim so she wouldn’t get in trouble with her father because her new boyfriend gave her “sucker bites.”

For his part, Matt was home with his parents at the time he was supposedly raping Webster. Matt's parents' alibis apparently weren't enough for police.

How did police figure out the truth? Good old fashioned police work, right? Well, no, not really. Matt’s family shelled out $20,000 in attorney’s fees and retained a superstar criminal defense attorney from Pittsburgh. A few weeks before Matt’s criminal trial was supposed to start, it was the attorney’s investigator, not police, who contacted Webster’s two girlfriends—the ones who supposedly interrupted the sexual assault. Matt's attorney explained that the two women refuted the whole story, that they ratted out Webster about her new boyfriend and explained that she didn’t want her father to know. They said the “sucker bites” on Webster’s neck were courtesy of the new boyfriend. After interviewing the two girlfriends, County Police dropped the charges against Matt and arrested Webster.

The County Police Superintendent, whose name is Charles Moffatt, defended his detectives’ work on the case. “We had a girl at the hospital saying she was raped, she had marks around her neck,” he said. But wait, it gets better. Moffatt said the detectives did try to corroborate Webster’s account, but she said she didn’t know the last names of the two other girls and couldn’t provide their phone numbers.

Cue the Twilight Zone theme.

That explanation wasn't a red flag, Superintendent Moffatt? You allowed a young man to twist in a false rape hell for nine months on the basis of a story that doesn't just strain credulity but breaks it into a thousand pieces?

Matt’s superstar defense counsel Bill Difenderfer correctly summed up Webster’s motivation: “Get out of trouble with my dad and let a kid go to jail for five or ten years.” He added this: “When it’s his word against her word, you have to pause: you need more.”

Amen, Mr. Difenderfer!

You have to pause – not to protect rapists, because no one cares about protecting rapists -- but because the accused might just be Matt Folino or some other innocent, maybe even your son who was home with you at the time he was “raping” his accuser.

You have to pause because it is “better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” (Commentaries on the Laws of England, 1765.) If you don't know how important that notion is to due process, you need to read this:

Webster is scheduled to be arraigned June 10. She faces one count of perjury, one count of false reports to law enforcement authorities, and one count of false swearing.

As if Matt hadn't suffered enough, the following comment appeared under the KDKA-TV Web site story about Matt’s ordeal: “While I sympathize with this young man plight, I find it disturbing that KDKA chose to run with this story in light of the recent events in nearby Steubenville.” The writer went on to cite the usual statistics about the prevalence of rape; the fact that false rape claims are supposedly rare; and that hardly any rapists spend any time in jail.

Readers, me included, took offense at the suggestion that Matt’s story was not worth telling. I addressed the person who made the vile comment:
You have excluded yourself from the public discourse on a very serious issue with your shrill odium. Matt’s family and friends are reading these comments, as is Matt, I am sure, and your insistence that his story should be censored the way the Soviet Union used to censor news stories is hateful. Moreover, it smacks of “patriarchy”-smashing gender get-even-ism. Mature adults have no room for such silliness in 2013. Matt can’t help that he was born male, and that someone chose to victimize him in this fashion. Get over it. 
Instead of sweeping problems like this, and Brian Banks’ false rape claim and a thousand others, under the rug, you would do well to tell young women not to make false rape claims. They destroy innocent young men and do a disservice to rape victims. 
This story isn't about “rape” or Steubenville or you. It’s about a young man who suffered a grievous wrong. So nice of you to have compassion!

And this story, reported here:

Venetia Teen Charged With Lying About Rape Waives Hearing
The victim spent four days in jail and nine months on house arrest.
By Becky Brindle
April 23, 2013

A Venetia teenager waived her right to a preliminary hearing in district Judge Robert Wyda's courtroom Monday on charges she lied about being raped in the South Park Wave Pool parking lot.

The formal arraignment for Katelyn Webster, 18, is scheduled for June 10.

Allegheny County police say Webster testified that she was raped by Matthew Folino so that she wouldn't get in trouble with her father about having "sucker bites," better known as hickies.

Folino spent four days in jail and nine months on house arrest before police say Webster admitted to lying to them about the rape.

Webster faces one count of perjury, one count of false reports to law enforcement authorities and one count of false swearing.

Wyda is the magisterial district judge for Upper St. Clair and Bethel Park.