46,000 Innocent Lives Destroyed by False Allegations, Wrongful Convictions
By: Houston Criminal Lawyer John Floyd and Paralegal Billy Sinclair
Seton Hall University School of Law Professor D. Michael Risinger in 2007 published the results of a study, Innocents Convicted: An Empirically Justified Wrong Conviction Rate, in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (Vol. 97, No. 3) which said that between 3.3 and 5 percent of all capital rape-murder convictions in this country involve innocent defendants. Going even lower than Professor Risinger’s 3.3 percentage, Radley Balko, senior editor of Reason Magazine, utilized the nation’s prison population in this country in 2008 and a 2% wrongful conviction rate to conclude there were at least 46,000 innocent people incarcerated in the nation’s prison system. 46,000.00!
Released from the Texas prison system in October 2008, Tony Hall now claims that he was one of those 46,000 innocent inmates—and there is compelling evidence to support his claim as recently reported in the Lufkin Daily News (here, here, and here). In 1993 Hall was living in Hudson, Texas with a woman who had a 7-year-old son. The boy reportedly made an outcry to his mother that Hall had sexually molested him. Hall denied the accusations. He was nonetheless indicted, and on May 13, 1993, following a three-hour trial before an Angelina County judge, he was found guilty. Five months later Hall was sentenced to 15 years in prison by the same judge. Hall had rejected repeated advice by his defense attorney to accept a 10-year probation which would have required a guilty plea admission.
Hall was sent to the Texas prison system, which leads the nation in sexual violence and assaults, where he was repeatedly raped and physically abused because he was a hated “child molester.” Hall tried to tell everyone he was innocent. No one listened—not even the Texas Board of Pardon and Paroles before whom his case appeared every two years. To secure parole in this state (and for that matter any state in the country) an inmate must admit his guilt, accept responsibility for his crime, and express remorse about it. Hall would not have any of this because, as he explained to the parole authorities, he was innocent.
As a result, Hall served every day of his 15-year term only to find after his 2008 release from prison that he walked into an even more terrifying position in the free world: he became a “registered sex offender,” a stigma similar to the “child molester” moniker he had endure in prison. Behind the barbed wire and gun towers, Hall had only to worry about avoiding the next rape or physical beating, while in the free world he had to avoid being falsely accused of another sex offense or violating the conditions of his sex offender registration. He told Lufkin Daily News reporter Jessica Cooley that he could not even take his Shih Tzu out for a walk without being made to feel like a monster.
“There was a little area with a picnic table across from the civic center down from my house,” Hall told Cooley. “That’s where I walked my dog. A lawman stopped me one day and said, ‘Man, you can’t be here. It’s a park.’ I said, ‘There’s no swings, there’s no slides, there’s no toys; it’s just a picnic table.’ I couldn’t be there … The landlord got kind of upset but I put little paper things that dogs poop on by the front door. My dog would sniff the front door and whine to get out. I just kept thinking, I’m in prison and I’ve got this animal in prison, so I actually started to commit suicide. I bought a bunch of Somas and I was to kill us both. My lawyer, Jeff Bates, said, ‘Don’t do that, he told the truth.’ I said, ‘But you don’t understand. I don’t have a life. I can’t even take my dog walking. I feel like I’m still in prison.’ You open the cell door, you let me out, but I’m still in prison.”
Then it happened. Two years after Hall’s release from prison his victim, now 23 years of age, provided attorney Bates with an affidavit which stated: “My memories of that time are vague, however, I do not have any memory of Tony Hall molesting me or touching me inappropriately. 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.”
The victim’s affidavit is supported by an affidavit from the mother’s sister which states: “[The mother] picked up [the boy] and placed him on the table with his legs dangling over the edge. He was wearing shorts. [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 vehemently denies the allegations that she forced her son to falsely accuse Hall or that she testified falsely against him as an “outcry” witness during his 1993 trial. But the child victim-now adult is just as vehement. “I know nothing can give Mr. Hall back the years that he lost in prison,” he stated in his affidavit, “but I want to do what I can to help him have a life now.”
Angelina County District Court Judge Barry Bryan recently endorsed Hall’s claim of factual innocence, recommending that the case be reviewed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Jeff Bates is cautiously optimistic. “Getting the writ signed is just one step,” Bates told Cooley. “His case still has to be reviewed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. They could just review the facts of the case and make a decision, or we may have to go to Austin.”
Assistant District Attorney Art Bauereiss who represented by State at the court hearings last May was skeptical of Hall’s claims of innocence, implying it was about the money he would receive if his conviction is overturned on the factual innocence claim. “You understand that one of the possible outcomes is you getting a big bag of money if you prevail here on this deal?” the prosecutor quizzed Hall. “I want my name back,” Hall responded. “I want my life back. I don’t give a dang if I don’t get a plugged nickel. I want to walk out of this courtroom, and I want to know I can walk out there and I don’t have to be scared.”
There is considerable money at stake. A wrongfully convicted person in the State of Texas is entitled to $80,000 per year of incarceration, an annuity, and $25,000 per year spent on parole or registered as a state offender. But we feel ADA Bauereiss’ raising the issue of compensation reflects an ingrained mindset in far too many prosecutors to maintain convictions, even of the innocent. To accept Bauereiss rationale, one would have to believe that Hall, his now adult victim, and the victim’s aunt all joined in a “conspiracy” to defraud the State out of the possible wrongful conviction compensation Hall might receive. If anyone believes that, they probably still believe the Titanic was unsinkable.
There are many in the child-sex prosecution industry who refuse to believe, despite compelling evidence to the contrary, that children can, and do, fabricate sexual abuse allegations. These child sexual abuse “experts” rely upon studies dating back to 1987 which generally concluded that only between one to 3 percent of child sexual assault allegations are false. But even accepting the percentages as being accurate, which we do not, Child Help, a group dedicated to the treatment and prevention of child abuse, says there are more than 3 million reports of child abuse made every year in this country. 7.6 percent of those cases (228,000) involve sexual abuse. With the 3 percent floor data touted by the child sexual abuse experts, it would mean that approximately 7,000 of these child sexual abuse reports are false.
Child Help reports that 90 percent of the child abuse victims know their abuser with 68% of the abusers being a family member. These percentages tell us that more than 4700 family members and more than 1500 friends of the children who make false sexual assault allegations will face the same fate as Tony Hall: they will lose their jobs, good name, marriages, income/savings; most will be convicted and sent to prison where they will face the inmate wrath against child molesters; and when and if they are released from prison, they will face a lifetime of registration as a “sex offender,” the dreaded scourge of modern day society.
We don’t know what those like Assistant District Attorney Art Bauereiss really think about the wrongly accused, but the prospect of 7,000 innocent adults having their lives and well-being totally ruined by the simple accusation of a child is no trivial matter. Prosecutors and child sexual assault experts can tout the 97 percent accuracy of child sexual assault victims, but it’s our job, and responsibility, to put the remaining 3 percent in context—the 7,000 innocent people, mostly family and friends of the false accusers, who have their lives destroyed each year by false allegations made by children. We’re not trying to minimize the harm and dangers associated with child sexual abuse, but we are extremely mindful that prosecutors and child sexual assault experts far too often rush to judgment every year against thousands of innocent people. This makes all of us who defend the Accused look at the term “expert” in a whole different light.
Personally, giving the rush to judgment by well intentioned therapists, misguided law enforcement officers and goal oriented prosecutors, we believe the number of false child sexual assault allegations most likely far greater than the 3 percent touted by pro-prosecution child sexual assault experts. That could put the number of innocent “child molesters” railroaded each year in the tens of thousands—a very scary prospect indeed. And when we are asked, as we often are, “how could you represent a child molester?,” we think about the thousands of innocent lives ruined each year by the very mindset that could even form that question before we reply.
It is our job—and one we take very seriously—to make sure that innocent people accused of crime, especially horrible crimes like child sexual assault, are not found guilty.
By: Houston Criminal Lawyer John Floyd and Paralegal Billy Sinclair
John Floyd is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization