In the previous post, I wondered how it was possible for Hanna’s family to receive payment as a victim before a trial was even held, and whether that automatically indicated that the accused (my brother) was guilty of the crime.
In Aggravated, I have tried to avoid comparing Steve’s case to incidents like the Salem Witch Trials, or the satanic child daycare abuse trials from late last century, during which false accusations led to hangings in one and false imprisonment in the other. Those cases don’t correlate to what happened to my brother in a few important respects. In his case there weren’t dozens of very young children or prepubescent or early teen girls claiming abuse or witchcraft or Satanic rituals. In fact, despite numerous girls having been around the family for twenty years or more, some of them spending the night occasionally, Hanna was the only one to ever make an accusation of any kind. Many of the girls who were friends of Steve’s daughter, Marri, said that Steve had never displayed any inappropriate behavior toward them or anyone else they knew. Some of them also testified on Steve’s behalf.
Steve’s case went to trial based on Hanna’s word alone. Her witnesses only repeated what Hanna had told them (and some of their testimony is suspect). The DA and the sheriff did very little investigating. They didn’t interview anyone in Steve’s family, and none of his neighbors or friends. Aside from Hanna and Steve, the only interviews law enforcement did were with the few people who approached them. As far as I can tell, before they brought the case to trial, even though they had over two years to do so, they did almost nothing to try to determine the truth of Hanna’s statements. The only real digging for facts was done by Tom Swearingen, Steve’s investigator, and (in my opinion) his findings only served to corroborate Steve’s claim that he didn’t do any of the things Hanna claimed. Other evidence I have found since then enhances Steve’s position further, but that’s covered in the book, and this post is about the conditions around the time of the trial.
Aside from the inherent prejudice and animosity in the community, some of it against Steve directly, and a great deal of it against child molesters in general, I believe that a movement in law enforcement and judicial circles, which is known as Believe the Victim, did as much damage to Steve’s case as anything else. In some instances, the presumption of innocence has been completely done away with because the attitudes of law enforcement and prosecutors are now skewed so heavily in favor of the accuser, that the idea that accusers might lie or that they might be accusing the wrong person never enter into their game plan. In the next post, I’ll link to several articles that explain this phenomenon in detail, and why this approach doesn’t solve the problem for people who actually are victims, or for people who have been falsely accused.
Have you had anything like this happen to you or someone you know (being falsely accused of a crime without due diligence on the part of law enforcement or prosecutors)? I’d love to hear about it. Post in the comments below.
Standard Disclaimer: Please post a comment below if you would like to. All comments are personally moderated by a grouchy old guy, though, so posts by self-promotional schemers, spammers, and lunatic ranters won’t make it through. Everyone else, whether your thoughts about this story are positive or negative, please feel free to speak your mind, but don’t ask me to reveal the identities of any of these individuals. Thanks.