Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Victim recantation spurs possible East Texas innocence claim

The Lufkin Daily News published three stories over the past few days about a fellow named Tony Hall who's seeking to clear his name after serving a 15 year sentence in prison day-for-day for sexually assaulting a child, an allegation the victim later recanted and which his aunt says was coerced from the child.
Hall told the paper "he was physically and emotionally scarred by beatings and rapings at the hands of his fellow inmates — the price of being a 'child molester' behind bars." He maintained his innocence at trial and rejected a plea deal that would have given him probation. The alleged victim's mother still claims the abuse occurred, but both the boy (now grown) and his aunt say she manufactured the story. From the victim:
“My memories of that time are vague, however, I do not have any memory of Tony Hall molesting me or touching me inappropriately,” the victim’s statement read. “I do remember my mother telling me to say Mr. Hall touched me. I was very scared and told my mother what she wanted to hear so that I would not get a beating. I remember arguing with my mother about this and I remember my mother threatening me.”
And from the aunt:
“(She) picked up (the boy) and placed him on the table with his legs hanging over the edge. He was wearing shorts,” the aunt’s statement read. “(She) repeatedly said to (the boy) ‘Tony messed with you, didn’t he?’ (The boy) kept answering no. Every time he would say no, she would slap him on his bare legs, making him cry harder. Eventually (he) answered yes and she stopped slapping him. She would not stop slapping him until he answered yes.”
The mother, for her part, says:
“I vehemently deny that I ever did anything physically or emotionally to (my son) to cause him to make up allegations against Tony Hall or testify falsely against Tony Hall,” the woman’s statement read. “I stand by my prior testimony at trial that my son outcried to me about Tony Hall’s sexual abuse against him. I was not responsible for sending an innocent man to prison.”
Family dynamics being what they are, it's hard to peel these narratives apart to discern the truth except for this glaring reality: The case is an excellent example why, in biblical law, "two or three witnesses" were required to secure a criminal conviction. Basing a conviction solely on the uncorroborated testimony of a 7-year old invites this sort of second guessing, since children both sometimes lie and are easily manipulated by their parents or other loved ones. Without the recanted testimony, and with no corroboration beyond the mother's claim her son "outcried," there's simply a vacuum in Hall's case where the legal system typically expects evidence to be. That's a slim reed on which to send someone to prison as a child molester.

Which is apparently why a state district judge signed off on Hall's habeas corpus writ, which now heads to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Though Hall was released a couple of years ago after serving his full sentence, he still must comply with sex-offender registration requirements and the shunning associated with that stigma living in a small town. One usually thinks of habeas relief as getting someone out of confinement, but in this case Hall is seeking to get out from under registration requirements.

Since there's no DNA evidence - or really, after the recantation, no evidence at all - it's impossible definitively to "prove the negative," i.e., that Hall didn't do something 17 years ago. Since the 1970s, there's been a steady push to make it easier to prosecute sex crimes, which often stem from he-said she-said circumstances. I understand the motive behind that push, but this type of situation demonstrates the flip-side of the equation. Making it "easier" to prosecute child molesters is a great thing if they're really child molesters, but it also makes it easier to convict the innocent based on relatively flimsy evidence.


Anonymous said...

This is a good example of the difficulties presented in these types of cases. These are probably the most difficult types of cases to investigate. Unfortunately, most jurors don't realize that it is not that hard to manipulate a child into making false allegations like these. The Smith County DA's office needs to take a good look at this in relation to the Mineola Swingers Club cases. In that case you had a Texas Ranger who had no training or experience conducting forensic sexual abuse interviews of children. Then, that same Ranger committed perjury by denying that he had viewed videos of prior interviews of the children where they had denied the abuse. I'm sure this Ranger will be promoted soon.

Anonymous said...

In the 80's, I believe, for a rape accusation could be forwarded to the grand jury, There had to be two witnesses to the abuse. The victim, and another (a trained medical person doing tests could be the second). They did away with that portion of law because 'victim's' rights groups stated that the embarrassment or pain of the outcry created a situation where the victim would not come forward. Funny though, they still do that same things whether the second witness is still considered a witness or not. True rape/molestation victims have the same tests run, and evidence is collected. They use that evidence in the case if the evidence is available. If there is no evidence of any wrong doing, they will still go forward and convict on the stories of 'victims'.

It isn't difficult today to get a conviction of any sort of sex accusation. And it would seem that it wasn't too difficult 17 years ago either.

Many people are on the registry and in prison today, because daddy wouldn't let him/her date who they wanted. Or worse, because some woman woke up and had buyers remorse. Damned sad state of affairs, makes you wonder on some cases who is the real victim.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Grits, you're perpetuating a myth. The incidence of children being "coached" to make false allegations of sexual abuse is almost as rare as the incidence of stranger abductions. Any parent knows how hard it is to coach children to lie and, more importantly, to lie consistently. Heck, most grown people can't lie consistently. At any rate, this notion that there is some sort of ongoing societal epedimic of children being taught to make false allegations is just flat wrong--even in connection with divorce/child custody cases. The credible research on this issue has pretty well established that in the overwhelming majority of cases where a child made an outcry of abuse, the allegation was ultimately proved to be well founded.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

11:14, memories can be manufactured in 25% of adults through the power of suggestion. From that link, in a study where people were given four written scenarios, three they'd actually experienced and one fictionalized, "Remarkably about one third of the subjects reported partially or fully remembering the false event. In two follow-up interviews, 25 percent still claimed that they remembered the untrue story, a figure consistent with the findings of similar studies."

The idea that children are somehow immune to the same phenomenon, particularly when pressured by their parents as alleged in this example, strikes me as unconvincing.

Anonymous said...

"my son outcried to me about Tony Hall’s sexual abuse against him"

What normal person uses the word "outcried"? Mom's statement sounds like it was written by the DA's office.

Anonymous said...

Luckily neither the DA, the officers, the judge or any caseworkers were harmed in this case.

Prison Doc said...

I'm pretty shocked at 11:14's statment; I thought that after the Wenatchee and Fells Acres cases the public realized how fraught with manipulation these cases were. When I was a general practice physican, I was approached on at least four occasions by different divorcing parties to give statements that I'd seen evidence of abuse where there had been none.

The whole thing is scary. How is one to know?

Anonymous said...

For starters....

Research has consistently shown that false allegations of child sexual abuse by children are rare.
Jones and McGraw examined 576 consecutive referrals of child sexual abuse to the Denver Department of Social Services, and categorized the reports as either reliable or fictitious. In only 1% of the total cases were children judged to have advanced a fictitious allegation. Jones, D. P. H., and J. M. McGraw: Reliable and Fictitious Accounts of Sexual Abuse to Children.Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 2, 27-45, 1987.

In a more recent study, investigators reviewed case notes of all child sexual abuse reports to the Denver Department of Social Services over 12 months. Of the 551 cases reviewed, there were only 14 (2.5%) instances of erroneous concerns about abuse emanating from children. These consisted of three cases of allegations made in collusion with a parent, three cases where an innocent event was misinterpreted as sexual abuse and eight cases (1.5%) of false allegations of sexual abuse. Oates, R. K., D.P. Jones, D. Denson, A. Sirotnak, N. Gary, and R.D. Krugman: Erroneous Concerns about Child Sexual Abuse. Child Abuse & Neglect 24:149-57, 2000.

Everson and Boat interviewed child protective service workers and found an estimated rate of false allegations that fell between 4.7 to 7.6% of all child and adolescent reports of sexual abuse. Everson, M.D., and B.W. Boat: False Allegations of Sexual Abuse by Children and Adolescents. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 28, 230-5, 1989.

After reviewing the empirical literature concerning the frequency of false allegations of sexual abuse, Mikkelsen, Gutheil, and Emens concluded: “False allegations of sexual abuse by children and adolescents are statistically uncommon, occurring at the rate of 2 to 10 percent of all cases.” Mikkelsen, E.J., T.G. Gutheil, and M Emens: False Sexual-Abuse Allegations by Children and Adolescents: Contextual Factors and Clinical Subtypes. American Journal of Psychotherapy 46: 556-70, 1992.

When four different states (Florida, Missouri, Vermont, and Virginia) reviewed Child Protective Service (CPS) records to determine the extent of false reporting, they found intentionally false reports to comprise less than 1% of all unsubstantiated reports of child abuse (0.00999634 or less than 1 out of 100 unsubstantiated reports)

Anonymous said...

And this...

Research with children whose sexual abuse has been proven has shown that children tend to minimize and deny abuse, not exaggerate or over-report such incidents.

In one study, researchers examined 28 cases in which children had tested positive for a sexually transmitted disease by forensically accepted procedures. To be included in the study, the children had to have presented for a physical problem with no prior disclosure or suspicion of sexual abuse. In addition, subjects were required to be over the age of three but prepubescent and were required to have adequate expressive language capabilities. Each of the 28 children was interviewed by a social worker trained in abuse disclosure techniques and use of anatomically correct dolls. Only 12 of the 28 (43%) of the abused children interviewed gave any verbal confirmation of sexual contact. Lawson, L., & Chaffin, M. False negatives in sexual abuse disclosure interviews. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 7(4), 532-42, 1992.

The “gold standard” study in this area comes from Sweden. This case involved a lone perpetrator who pled guilty after videotapes of his abuse of ten children were found by authorities. Because of these detailed videotape recordings, researchers knew exactly what happened to these children and were able to compare it to what the children told investigators when they interviewed. The researchers found here was a significant tendency among the children to deny or minimize their experiences. Some children simply did not want to disclose their experiences, some had difficulties remembering them, and one child lacked adequate concepts to understand and describe them. Despite the fact that some of the interviews included leading questions, there were no false allegations. Sjoberg, R. L., & Lindblad, F. Limited disclosure of sexual abuse in children whose experiences were documented by videotape. American Journal of Psychiatry, 159(2), 312-4, 2002.

Some people believe that recantations are a sure sign that a child lied about the abuse. However, a recent study found that pressure from family members play a significant role in recantations. Mallory et al. (2007) examined the prevalence and predictors of recantation among 2- to 17-year-old child sexual abuse victims. Case files (n = 257) were randomly selected from all substantiated cases resulting in a dependency court filing in a large urban county between 1999 and 2000. Recantation (i.e., denial of abuse postdisclosure) was scored across formal and informal interviews. Cases were also coded for characteristics of the child, family, and abuse. The researchers found a 23.1% recantation rate. The study looked for but did not find evidence that these recantations resulted from potential inclusion of cases involving false allegations. Instead, multivariate analyses supported a filial dependency model of recantation, whereby abuse victims who were more vulnerable to familial adult influences (i.e., younger children, those abused by a parent figure and who lacked support from the nonoffending caregiver) were more likely to recant.alloy, L.C. , Lyon, T.D. , & Quas, J.A. (2007). Filial dependency and recantation of child sexual abuse allegations. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 46, 162-70.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thanks, 12:44 for adding some substance to the discussion.

That said, 2-10% (the range cited in the '92 metastudy you mentioned) is a small but not insignificant number, and larger than the proportion of stranger abductions as a percentage of child abuse (assuming you were the writer at 11:14). Also, one of the referenced studies with lower numbers caveated data about false allegations with the word "intentional," but for the falsely convicted, good intentions don't matter much. I can imagine scenarios where parents are under the honest impression their kids were abused, innocently misinterpret events, etc..

In any event, saying that statistically most outcries are legit does not prevent courts in cases where they're not from securing false convictions.

My point was not to claim there's a wave of intentional false accusations out there, but to describe how the evidence currently required to secure a conviction is insufficient without corroboration to be sure of it beyond a reasonable doubt, particularly in the face of recantation.

Alex S. said...

"Making it "easier" to prosecute child molesters is a great thing if they're really child molesters, but it also makes it easier to convict the innocent based on relatively flimsy evidence."
You nailed it on the head, sir.

All of which makes it 90 times harder getting a conviction overturned on appeal. Under the "legal sufficiency" standard of review, the Appellate Courts are going to rubber stamp the verdict as long a child says he/she was "touched"---that's all it takes. This writ was granted only because the complainant was willing to sign an affidavit after the fact---this rarely happens!

Anonymous said...

moM and aunt need to man up and tell the truth. They are east texas trailer trash for making this story up.

People are so fucking stupid, until they realize that attorneys and the state are the only one's making money off the "criminal justice system" this system will continue to show how badly it doesn't work.

Anonymous said...

Prison Doc/12:44, you notice most of those studies were from before Wenatchee, Fells Acres, etc. Between those, Mineola Swingers Club, Duke lacross, all the overturned rape convictions from DNA ... it just goes on and on ... I don't see how you can minimize false accusations as a problem.

Nick said...

This story is all too common. Well, the conviction is at least. Actually getting the recantation acknowledged and potentially some relief is not common.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and bet that the CCA finds a reason to deny relief.

Anonymous said...

12:44, I don't know anything about the studies you cited. But, I did work for CPS for 5 years and in the foster system for another 3 years. During the time I worked for CPS I investigated hundreds of sexual abuse cases. It would be hard to estimate the frequency of false allegations, but, they definitely do occur. It may only be 2 to 10%, but, if you are one of those 2 or 10 people out of 100 that are falsely accused, that's a significant number to you. If you were one of those 2 or 10 out of 100 people and you were sitting in prison for something you didn't do, wouldn't you think it's significant? It happens a lot when people are fighting over custody. And, its not that hard to get kids to say things that aren't true. I remember being at a co-workers house one day. This co-worker had a 4 year old daughter. The daughter had skinned her knee that day and the mother knew how it happened. But, to illustrate how easy it is to get a child to say something false she asked the child if her grandmother hurt hurt her knee. In just a minute she had the child saying her grandmother had done it. Even though I had been working for CPS for a while at that point I was still amazed at how easy it was. You seem to enjoy research so I suggest you research some of the many cases of sensationlized or ritualistic abuse. You can start with the McMartin preschool case and be sure to look at the Mineola Swingers Club case. Another interesting case involved a missing teenager from Gilmer, Kelly Wilson, in the early 90s. Several people, including a police officer, were arrested and indicted over allegations of ritualistic abuse that turned out to be completely false.

The overall percentage of false allegations may be small, but if you are one who is falsely accused, its significant. The thing is, if these cases are handled right, a lot of these false allegations can be rooted out. The problems occur when you have people, like Ranger Kemp in the Mineola case, who have no business interviewing children, doing so. Progress has been made, especially with the establishment of Child Advocacy Centers. Unfortunately, there are still far too many of thse cases.

Hook Em Horns said...

Typical Texas justice. Never let the facts stand in the way of a conviction. Lie, steal, cheat, do anything for a conviction with reckless abandon!

Anonymous said...

"The credible research on this issue has pretty well established that in the overwhelming majority of cases where a child made an outcry of abuse, the allegation was ultimately proved to be well founded."

Sorry, but I think that in this instance a guy who did 17 years in prison and is now a rape survivor himself would disagree with you.

Anonymous said...

Texas justice: do everything with reckless abandon!

Anonymous said...

I minister to prison inmates and have done so for about 18 years. I write, visit and mentor. All of the inmates have been screened and have been referrals from ministers that know them. Of about 15 inmates, 1/2 are unjustly incarcerated. Two are vindictive ex-wife cases, one man was a boot camp instructor, 2 of his students wanted him booted out, one man his girlfriend simply wanted to keep his hefty income tax return, the stories go on. In some circumstances when the so called victim learned the man would go to prison for years to come, they recanted their testimony, but the DA harassed witnesses until they agreed to the abuse afterall. In one case where the man denied all allegations, the judge forced his 1 yr tenor PD to take him back and tell him the way it is, accept a plea bargain or else! ALL of the cases I deal with is because of zealous officials who pushed for a conviction despite only she said, he said evidence, all had PD's for representation. I don't know how many cases are out there that used the faulty Abel Assessment to either back up a conviction or to set sentencing. Our prisons are packed full of husbands, boyfriends, uncles, grandpas, brothers, etc. The mentality out there is convict as many men as you can so that a few real perpetrators don't get away, it's crazy! I know there are real cases out there, but the whole issue has now been clouded by the abuse of the system. We've got so many innocents in prison that the state is going to go broke, as they will keep coming. I hope this recantation is taken seriously, look at the Arena case, RE:Criminally Innocent, Nov. 5 The Austin Chronicle. The victim recanted many times in this case and one of the Arena brothers is still serving time, the other is out and suffering the brunt of the system of registry. To fight for reform go to: www.txvoices.com

Anonymous said...

Just ask tyc if kids lie about sexual abuse. These pedophiles get away with sexually abusing children like it was part of the job corp benefit package. I guess its OK for tyc to molest kids, those gd state supported pedofiles.

Anonymous said...

what is sad is even though the child comes out of all this having not actually been abused the man falsely accused and incarcerated was raped... RAPED! There is no taking that back with an "oops we are sorry we ruined your life". Being exonerated is certainly owed to this man but there will always be those who will still regard him as a molester no matter what.. and don't forget he had to take it up the a** .. RAPED!

The mom should, at the very least, do time for her role in this.


Anonymous said...

If you really want to get your blood boiling concerning those (mostly young men and boys) falsely accused and convicted, visit:

Unknown said...

my son is in a texas prison now for being 16 and girlfriend was 13 parnets need to careful who they let there son date just as they would their daughters! pay attention to her age even if they are both minors texas will treat him like a monster.both teens had parents permission untilm parents got mad at each other than he(now offender) took all the fury and blame. sad mom in smith county