A 13-year-old girl’s claim that she lied about being sexually abused may have little effect on the 14 guilty pleas and five convictions that resulted from the so-called Wenatchee sex ring investigation, experts said Friday.
“Generally, courts tend to be very reluctant to set aside a verdict on the basis of recanted testimony,” said John Myers, a law professor at the University of the Pacific in Sacramento, Calif. Myers specializes in evidence issues in child abuse cases.
“They look with some degree of skepticism on recanted testimony because, I guess, their feeling is a lot of times people tell the truth under oath in court and then somebody gets to them later.”
On Tuesday, the girl identified in court documents by her initials, M.E., told The Associated Press she had never been molested. She said she lied initially because Wenatchee police Detective Bob Perez - the lead investigator who later became her foster father - pressured her to do so.
The pressure to keep lying continued, she said, including sessions before she testified during four trials. “The day before Roby’s (Roberson) trial, he goes, ‘Well, I want you to put him in prison,”’ the girl said.
Roberson, an unordained pastor, and his wife, Connie, were among 28 people charged with child rape and molestation in the Wenatchee area. Fourteen people have pleaded guilty, five were convicted and charges were dismissed or greatly reduced against five others. Three people, including both Robersons, were acquitted and one case is pending
The girl’s parents pleaded guilty to charges they abused two of their daughters, including the girl who now says she lied.
Auburn, Wash., lawyer Robert Van Siclen said Friday he is preparing to file a request that the parents, Harold and Idella Everett, be allowed to withdraw their guilty pleas. Harold Everett pleaded guilty to child rape and is serving 23 years in prison. Idella Everett pleaded guilty to child molestation and is serving four years and eight months.
Van Siclen said he was looking for additional evidence to offer the court.
“I feel it would be imprudent for a lawyer to go in just on M.E.’s statement because (her sister) D.E. was also alleging this happened,” Van Siclen said.
Myers, who said he was unfamiliar with the details of the Wenatchee case and spoke only in generalities, said a judge would be unlikely to allow a case to be re-opened based solely on the recantation.
“One cannot assume that because a witness recants that their trial testimony was false,” he said.
“…The judge is going to make a judgment as to whether she thinks the kid is telling the truth now - ‘It didn’t happen’ - or at the trial - ‘It did.’ And probably look beyond that to whatever other evidence of guilt there was.”
Tom Lyon, a law professor at the University of Southern California Law School who also has a doctorate in psychology, said recantation among sexually abused children is common.
“Research suggests that about 20 percent of children who say they were sexually abused at one point will subsequently recant their allegation,” Lyon said.
Judges therefore look at the child’s motive for recanting, he said.
The burden will be on the defense to prove that the recantation is the truth, Myers said.
“It’s not easy to prove,” Myers said. “If it were easy, every defendant would have a pretty great incentive to go out and find some way to get some witness to change their story and get another bite at the apple.
“The system is sort of deliberately set up to discourage that.”