Archive | False accusations

Wrongful Convictions and Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

Montgomery v. Commonwealth (Va. Ct. App. Dec. 20, 2013) sets aside a man’s rape conviction, because the supposed victim had come forward (several years after the conviction) to say she made up the story and her admission led her to be convicted of perjury. An excerpt:

In October of 2007, Elizabeth P. Coast, then seventeen, reported that when she was ten years old a neighborhood boy named “Jon” sexually assaulted her while the two were alone in her grandmother’s backyard…. Coast identified Montgomery in a photo lineup using his Hampton High School yearbook photo….

On June 23, 2008, … [the trial court] tried and convicted Montgomery in a one-day bench trial for the assault of Coast. Coast testified under oath that Montgomery had sexually assaulted her in 2000. She described the alleged assault in graphic detail. She said that she did not tell anyone what happened at the time of the assault because she thought her parents “would get mad” and she was “really embarrassed.” She explained that she decided to come forward seven years later because she thought she saw Montgomery at Wal-Mart….

Besides Coast, no other witnesses to the incident testified at Montgomery’s trial. Neither was any corroborating physical evidence that an assault occurred ever presented. The trial judge categorized this case as a “word against word situation.” In reaching his verdict, the trial judge concluded that Coast was more credible then Montgomery because she had “no motive whatsoever” to lie. The trial court then found Montgomery guilty of forcible sodomy, aggravated sexual battery, and object sexual penetration. On April 10, 2009, the trial judge sentenced Montgomery to 45 years in prison, with 37 years and 6 months suspended….

On November 1, 2012, Coast voluntarily made a videotaped statement at the Hampton Police Department. After consulting with counsel

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“The Hyped Campus Rape That Wasn’t”

An interesting and troubling column by Cathy Young (Minding the Campus). The opening paragraphs:

If a satirist had set out to write a scathing parody of the campus crusade against rape, he could not have come up with anything more bizarre, or more ridiculous, than the real-life comedy-drama that unfolded last month at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.

The scandal started, like many scandals do these days, in the social media. On Saturday, October 12, amidst the school’s Homecoming Weekend festivities, photos and a video of two young people engaged in a public sex act near the campus–the man on his knees performing oral sex on the woman while she leaned against a plate-glass window, half-sitting on its ledge–showed up online and promptly spread on Twitter….

Read the whole piece, plus, if you’d like, the linked-to news story on the grand jury’s refusal to indict. (For the sake of completeness, I should note that the story also mentions that the video footage showed digital penetration as well as oral sex, though I don’t think that affects the analysis.) […]

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More on Sean Lanigan and False Accusations

Yesterday I posted about Fairfax County teacher Sean Lanigan, falsely accused of child molestation. Here’s a bit more:

(1) Lanigan answers Post readers’ questions here. He opines that the accuser’s name should not be published, as she is a troubled 13 year old girl. I was already reconsidering my view on this, and I suppose I ultimately agree with Lanigan that her name shouldn’t be published–in part because I’ve learned that the Post also doesn’t publish the names of minors accused of crimes. [Apparently, however, the accuser hasn’t faced even any internal discipline from the county school system. Good thing for her she decided to make a false allegation of sexual abuse instead of, say, bringing a Tylenol from home.]

(2) I have two extended family members (who are part of completely different branches of the family and are unknown to each other) who were falsely accused of molesting their own children and arrested, just so their wives could get an advantage in custody/divorce proceedings (neither was prosecuted, but much damage was done to both men and their children as their wives pursued their respective vendettas). I also know people who suffered serious abuse that was consistently ignored by authority figures. It seems like somehow a lot of energy gets expended on pursuing false accusations, and not enough on getting the bad guys (and gals). I wish there was an obvious solution, but I don’t have one.

(3) Speaking of false accusations against teachers, Hans Bader has been all over a story that hasn’t received nearly attention:

If the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has its way, more teachers like [Lanigan] will end up being fired even if they are acquitted by a jury of any wrongdoing, and may very well be innocent. It sent a

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Falsely Accused Teacher Sean Lanigan

A Fairfax County gym teacher was falsely accused of molesting a twelve-year old student who had a vendetta against him, and was prosecuted based on the flimsiest of evidence (basically, the word of the student who held a grudge, and her friend, with contrary eyewitness and physical evidence). It took a jury all of forty-seven minutes to acquit him. The Washington Post has the story here.

Two comments: (1) Given the facts related in the Post, this prosecution seems to show, at best, incompetence on the part of Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh. Unfortunately, it’s rare that any consequences follow from incompetence or even deliberate malfeasance by a prosecutor; (2) The Post declined to publish the accuser’s name because she’s “a minor.” Fiddle-faddle. She was mature enough to hatch a scheme that would send an adult to jail to satisfy a grudge against him. Adult misbehavior should have, if not adult consequences, at least consequences. And how are other adults to protect themselves from her accusations if she’s allowed to maintain anonymity?

UPDATE: The Post has an update to its story. Given the following, Detective Nicole Christian, the lead detective in the case, needs to be investigated and potentially disciplined:

But when others – staff, parents – tried to tell Christian anything she didn’t want to hear, she threatened them with prosecution for obstruction of justice, the staff members and parents said. School district investigator Steve Kerr’s investigative report, written after Lanigan’s acquittal, confirmed those claims, noting that: “Because of the jury’s decision, the detective [Christian] advised that she will not pursue criminal charges against [staff member] or [staff member].”

Wow! Christian also refused to listen when the accuser’s friend and co-accuser tried to recant.

The Post also explains its decision not to print the accuser’s name. […]

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