Friday, December 17, 2010

Alleged rape victim recants; prosecutor seems disinterested

I was re-reading Mike Dennison’s piece on the Missoula man who fought for eight years to overturn is rape conviction and I was absolutely stunned by the prosecutor’s quote in the story.

First a little background...

Cody Marble, 26, was convicted in 2002 of raping a 13-year-old fellow inmate at the Missoula County Juvenile Detention Facility and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Marble adamantly denied the charges from the beginning and has insisted all along that he was set up by his fellow inmates.

Now, according to Dennison’s article, the alleged victim said the rape never happened and that Marble was indeed framed by fellow inmates (emphasis are mine):
“In a statement filed Tuesday with Marble's petition, the alleged victim, now 22, says he was not raped by Marble and that he was told by other teenagers held in the detention center to make up the story to frame Marble for the crime.
"I testified falsely against Cody Marble at the trial,” he said in his statement. “I thought by then that the story had gone too far and I could not go back. I never thought he would be found guilty or go to prison. ... My hope now is to set the record straight.”
That a HUGE twist in this case.

The alleged victim, and the only real witness other than Marble, says he wasn’t raped and that he lied in court because he “though that the story had gone too far.” It’s pretty easy for me to imagine that a 13-year-old might be afraid to tell the truth after a lie had gone that far.

But here’s the part of the story that left my jaw on the kitchen table (again, emphasis mine):
Marble's petition, filed in state District Court in Missoula, asks the court to hold a hearing on the new evidence and either set aside Marble's conviction or schedule a new trial.
Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg, who had seen the petition only briefly Tuesday afternoon, said it's surprising to see a victim recanting testimony eight years later.
“It's just one more thing that Cody Marble is trying to do to avoid responsibility for his case,” Van Valkenburg said. “We're just going to have to deal with it.”
Faced with a signed statement from the alleged victim saying the rape never actually occurred, and that Marble has indeed been telling the truth—that he was framed by fellow inmates—Van Valkenburg dismisses the new evidence and says Marble “is trying to avoid responsibility.”

Responsibility for what? Being in jail at the wrong time with the wrong inmates? For being convicted of a rape that even the victim now says never happened?

I’m absolutely dumbfounded by VanValkenburg's statement.

The Montana Innocence Project obtained the victim’s statement last summer. Jessie McQuillan, executive director of the Innocence Project, had this to say:
“Our investigation yielded information that supports his innocence and raised more questions, and we turned that over (to Marble's attorney),” said Jessie McQuillan, executive director of the Montana Innocence Project. “The centerpiece of the petition is that the alleged victim has recanted. He says what many people suspected: That the rape never took place.”
Innocence Project staffers and lawyers learned that the alleged victim was ready to recant his trial testimony, and visited him at the state prison in Deer Lodge 11 months ago, McQuillan said.
“He told us it was time to recant and we got the signed statement in July, at a subsequent visit with him,” she said.
Good job Mike Dennison for following this story and reporting on Cody Marble’s case after many journalists—including yours truly—weren’t able to put all the pieces together.

And hats off to my former Missoula Independent colleague Jessie McQuillan and the Montana Innocence Project for obtaining this startling admission from the alleged victim. For those who don’t know, Jessie McQuillan is also the award-winning  journalist who made Barry Beach a household name in Montana. You can read her excellent reporting on Beach’s case, the article that lead  to a 2-hour Dateline NBC special, here.

Am I over reacting here? Please read the whole story and this stunning statement by an elected official and share your thoughts.

1 comment:

elkamino said...

that was EXACTLY my response to vanvalkenburg's comment when i read this story yesterday. shouldn't our prosecutors focus on justice and not just blind victory? fred's statement pretty clearly shows a bias against even considering what looks to be credible evidence.

seriously. i don't claim to know any more than is reported in this story but goddamn fred's comments should be called out by whatever association or board montanans use to monitor prosecutorial bias.

and besides, what if fred someday finds himself wrongly accused?

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