Less than a month after a Mobile County jury unanimously convicted an accused child molester, prosecutors are working to drop the charges after receiving exculpatory evidence indicating their case may have been built on misinformation provided by the alleged victim.
After an investigation by several agencies, multiple interviews and a grand jury review, the case against 61-year-old Evan Lee Deakle went to trial in late September. As a result, Deakle was convicted of second-degree sexual abuse but acquitted of the more serious charge of sodomy. The charges were the result of allegations made by his teenage step-granddaughter more than a year ago.
However, there was never any physical evidence in the case, only the testimony of the alleged victim, who was 15 at the time of the trial. Now that same testimony is the reason prosecutors say they are prepared to throw out the case.
Deakle’s attorney, Dennis Knizley, said the allegations in court were detailed and included multiple acts of sex abuse and even a statement the victim claimed Deakle made as the crime was committed.
“I’m glad that child sex abuse allegations are taken seriously. There are a lot of perverts out there, and these [prosecutors] do a great job,” Knizley said. “But the arrest and prosecution comes with a tremendous risk in sex cases that are based solely upon testimony from the victim.”
Knizley said Deakle’s case is a perfect example of that risk. Upon conviction, Deakle was ordered to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life and was awaiting sentencing before he was granted a new trial after the victim was proven to have made similarly false allegations of sexual abuse against her biological father, Dennis Bosarge.
“We didn’t talk much about [Deakle’s case], but she seemed almost to get off on it — like she was happy about all of it,” Bosarge explained last week. “A few weeks afterwards, she had asked to go on a camping trip, and I told her no. That same night I went to bed about 8 p.m., but I was woken up at 2 a.m. by a Mobile County Sheriff’s Deputy.”
According to Bosarge, his daughter sneaked out of a window, met another adult and then asked to be driven to the hospital, where she made allegations of sexual and physical abuse against him. Sgt. David Phillips of the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) and an agent from the Department of Human Resources reported to Bosarge’s home that night to investigate the allegations.
MCSO spokesperson Lori Myles was able to confirm the investigation, which has since been dismissed. She said Phillips determined there were holes in the daughter’s story — one of which being that her father wasn’t in the state during one of the instances of alleged abuse.
“A couple of days later, she was brought back in and she said that she lied about it,” Myles said.
Detectives immediately brought in Assistant District Attorney Nicki Patterson, who had prosecuted Deakle’s case. All involved say Patterson immediately alerted Deakle’s defense attorney to the situation.
The new trial was already scheduled for March 2016, but Patterson told Lagniappe the DA’s office has plans to drop the charges in light of the new developments. However, the motion to dismiss hasn’t yet been filed, and even then will need a judge’s approval.
In the meantime, Bosarge said he and members of his family are concerned about the way this and possibly other cases are handled. He believes the DA’s office and the counselors at the Child Advocacy Center (CAC), which combines several agencies specializing in crimes against children, “coached” his daughter into making the allegations, despite telling them he had doubts.
“They asked me if I believed [my daughter]. I told them I didn’t, but I was doing what I had to do for her,” Bosarge said. “After that, the family counseling sessions stopped. When I went in, the counselor said, ‘I don’t need to see you today.’”
Regarding the process, Patterson said both family and individual counseling sessions are common, because in some cases family members have trouble believing allegations of such a heinous crime and many times have no knowlege abuse may have occurred.
“We really look to see if there’s any way we can corroborate what’s going on, but you run into a problem because this type of crime happens behind closed doors. You can have a family of five and no one knows this is happening,” Patterson said. “In this kind of case, the defendants rarely have criminal records and probably have a decent job. And frequently, they’re well known and well respected in the community.”
Both Patterson and Knizley disputed any allegations of “coaching” the witness. Knizley added he didn’t believe there was any wrongdoing on the prosecution’s part, further suggesting witness preparation and mock trials are common tools employed by “any good lawyer.”
Patterson, meanwhile, explained: “Everyone in this building has had multiple training courses in forensic interviewing, and you’re taught not to ask any leading questions … We’re very careful. You don’t suggest the answer and you don’t reward [a child] for telling you more details.”
Knizley admitted he wouldn’t have any way to know certain details of the prosecution’s trial preparation in this particular case, but did refer to Patterson as “extremely honorable,” a trait he said was evident by how quickly she turned over the victim’s recantation in the Deakle case.
Still, he said, false allegations can ruin the lives of the accused, even if they’re disproven in court.
Patterson admitted sometimes “mistakes are made” and lies may “slip through the cracks,” but said it isn’t exclusive to Mobile County or sex abuse cases. But she also suggested there are several precautions taken to make sure no one is prosecuted without cause. In cases involving children, she said that is one of the responsibilities of the CAC.
Before formal charges are filed, several counselors and pediatricians meet with each alleged victim. Then, even before a grand jury is involved to determine whether probable cause exists, a group of prosecutors, detectives, doctors and counselors meets to determine if the case should move forward.
“That’s also why [the cases] go before the grand jury of 18 people and then the jury of 12 — all of these people have to believe the child, and that’s about the best protection you can get,” Patterson said. “We’ve no-billed a lot of cases because [the allegation] just seems to be very weak or we have doubts about it.”
Patterson said the extra degree of care and scrutiny helps protect both child victims and defendants who might be falsely accused, noting the Deakle case is the first in her five years of prosecuting child sex crimes to be overturned after a conviction.
“It’s a delicate balancing act,” she said. “You try to get it right and hope that you did.”