Michael Charles Hill was convicted by a Hunt County, Texas jury in April 2012 for aggravated sexual assault of a child and indecency with a child. He was sentenced to consecutive(stacked) life terms. A grand jury had indicted Hill in March 2010 for the two offenses that occurred in 2006 and 2007. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) on October 20, 2021, upheld Hill’s two convictions but remanded his aggravated sexual assault case back to the trial court for a new sentencing hearing.
The Hill decision by the CCA is remarkable not because of its final result but for the information it revealed.
Multiple Recantations and Changed Stories Undermine Conviction
The victim, who was under 14 years of age, lied to the police during their investigation of her alleged sexual abuse by Hill. Before Hill’s April 2012 trial, she recanted her sexual abuse allegations against him during medical examinations. Yet, at trial, she reaffirmed those allegations. The jury was not aware of her earlier recantation or her lies to the police. Again, in 2014, the victim recanted her allegations against Hill in an affidavit given to Hill’s post-conviction attorney, who was preparing for an impending habeas corpus hearing. Before that hearing could take place in 2016, the victim once again recanted her 2014 affidavit recantation.
The underage victim in the Hill case is a serial liar.
False Allegations Not Uncommon
False sexual assault allegations by underage children are not as uncommon as most people think. This tragic reality was demonstrated to the entire nation when between 1984 and 1986 at least 30 defendants were wrongfully convicted in Kern County, California, based on false child sexual assault allegations. This case became nationally-known as the “Bakersfield Witchhunts.”
Again, in 2012 the National Registry of Exonerations released a report concerning 102 exonerations across the nation. The report found in the child sexual assault cases, 74 percent of the exonerations involved false allegations.
COVID Quarantine Causes Abuse to Surge
Allegations of child sexual assault have accelerated during the COVID pandemic.
Most allegations of child sexual assaults involve either a family member or someone in the family’s social orbit. As the COVID pandemic isolated and confined people to their homes, the reports of child sexual assaults increased anywhere from 20 to 70 percent. Some mental health experts have called the situation a “public health crisis.”
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says that reports involving allegations of child sexual abuse and child exploitation doubled from 6.3 million during the first half of 2019 to 12 million during the first half of 2020. The Centers for Disease Control puts the costs at $210,000 for each sexually abused child during the pandemic.
Inherent in the increased numbers of child sexual assault allegations during the pandemic is the reality that thousands of the reports are false. It is estimated that anywhere from 6 to 15 percent of child sexual assault allegations are false.
Michael Charles Hill is in the Texas prison system. He has been incarcerated for more than eleven years based on allegations of sexual assault abuse leveled by an underage victim who either lied or changed her testimony four times. Whether or not Hill’s post-conviction attorney will prevail on any newly discovered evidence claim remains to be seen. Recanted testimony is considered newly discovered evidence in Texas. What is certain is that Hill has a life sentence for the indecency with a child conviction that he must serve at least 30 years before he becomes parole eligible. He remains subject to a possible sentence of 5-99 or life for the aggravated sexual assault conviction now on remand.
Bottom line: Michael Charles Hill will most likely die in prison because courts generally apply the rule that recanted testimony is presumptively false or not reliable.
There will be thousands of legitimate allegations of child abuse made during the pandemic. These perpetrators should be treated harshly. However, there will also be hundreds, if not thousands, of false allegations made by children frustrated and angry because of restrictions necessitated by the pandemic. These false allegations will most often result in a rush to criminal charges, convictions, harsh sentences, and years, if not decades, in prison.
We don’t know if Michael Charles Hill is guilty. What we do know is that no person should spend decades in prison based on the testimony of a child who has repeatedly changed their story or recanted.