Freedom and Justice For All
Seven years ago my husband was pulled into our local police department by a local detective. A woman with whom he had had one time consensual contact with had reported that he had assaulted her 18 years prior when she was his student (when she was 11, 12 or 13, she didn’t settle on an age). My husband, Ben, denied the allegations for over two hours, admitting to the officer that he had had legal sexual contact with the woman once, when she had been working for his landscaping company.
The detective did not believe him. He issued an arrest warrant two months later, in it stating that Ben had admitted to assaulting the woman and that he also admitted to having consensual sex with her when she was 17 (Ben had said she was 18. The detective would later admit he knew the woman was 18 at the time because the incident had occurred after the woman had crashed a truck she had borrowed from Ben, left the scene of the accident, and had to be brought back to the police station by Ben to report it. Sexual contact occurred afterward as he was consoling her. The date of the police report clearly showed the woman was 18). The woman spent two years telling the detective this incident never happened and was Ben’s way of making their sex seem legal. She would finally admit on the stand during trial that the event had taken place and that she was of legal age).
Ben told the detective that he had remorse for this incident, and expressed regret for it to the woman, who had assured him she had wished it had continued to fruition and had meant more to him. She continued to work for him for two years until her heroin addiction caused her to begin to steal from him and his business. Ben fired her. After she attended his wedding to his second wife, came to dinner parties with them, hung out with them and Ben’s kids then she began to get in more trouble with the law. Unfortunately she needed money and began to tell Ben if he didn’t supply her with money she would report that he had sexually abused her when she was his student.
The evidence the detective stated he had was an audio/video recording he had attained from the accuser when she had been arrested on her third probation violation (in July of 2013). She said in it she and Ben discussed him assaulting her when she was a child. In September of 2012, when my husband began dating me, this woman demanded to speak with him about me, privately. She recorded this conversation. She asked him why the incident when she was 18 had happened, he expressed he didn’t see the boundary and had cared for her, and he was sorry that it had hurt her. She gave her phone to the detective and told him they were discussing when she was a child, that she had begun the recording before she got in the truck and ended it when she got out.
The recording began in the middle of a sentence and ended in the middle of a sentence. There was no context and no way to know what they were talking about. It was choppy and confusing but it was clear that both people knew what they were talking about with confidence. When the detective referenced the conversation to Ben, prior to telling him he had a recording, Ben told the detective that it didn’t sound like the detective had all the facts about the conversation, and filled him in on what they were discussing. The detective would eventually admit in a dismissal hearing that the conversation was a fragment, missing pieces in the beginning, the end and possibly the middle. He admitted there was no mention of the crime within it. It would be discovered that this detective had come under reproach for violation of evidence rules/laws in previous cases.
The ADA at the time was a woman with a penchant for sexual assault cases; who was sanctioned for discovery law violations and the first prosecutor in Maine to be disciplined for it, two weeks prior to beginning my husband’s case. When given the phone the recording was on she returned it to the detective who put it back in the accuser’s personal affects in jail custody. The ADA would wait nine months before asking the detective to get it from the accuser so that it could be analyzed for tampering, and another three months before notifying my husbands counsel that it been returned to the accuser and subsequently been lost/destroyed. She lied in the dismissal hearing and told the judge she never collected the evidence so it wasn’t on her that it had been destroyed. She admitted five years later in Ben’s PCR hearing that she had collected it and then returned it which lead to its destruction, and that she had been put on probation from practicing (probation that had immediately been suspended by the DA’s office) for the same discovery law violations.
Ben was charged with three class A GSA and five class C sexual assault charges. Two years later, in 2016 the accuser got out of prison and trial began. (It came out later that she had accused two officers, one female, while in prison of assaulting her, and her psychiatrist) The woman’s only cooperation was her knowledge of tattoos on his body, but Ben didn’t have those tattoos at the time she claimed assault. He did however have them when they had contact when she was 18. She also had no knowledge of an area of excess skin that remained on his mid section from when he was an obese boy. When they had sexual contact when she was 18 he did not have this. Ben testified to this after she testified. The next day on rebuttal the ADA had her take the stand again and asked her about Ben’s body again. She repeated Ben’s testimony, word for word in some places. At sidebar the ADA admitted he had told her about it, and wished to rehabilitate her.) The judge allowed this. The woman had said she didn’t know where she had heard it, but when asked by the ADA she admitted he had told her. Ben was convicted of one class A GSA charge which came with a lifetime on the registry, and two class C’s. His appeal failed and he has spent the last three years in prison. On post conviction review we brought to light medical evidence that indicated the woman was a virgin after the time she claimed assault; which explained why the state moved the indictment charges to a year after the woman actually said she was assaulted. We also brought to the court’s attention that the original ADA, Mary Kellett, and the lead detective Stephen McFarland knowingly violated Ben’s civil rights and denied him a fair trial and due process. The judge heard McFarland admit to lying and offering no reason why, as well as Kellett admit to knowing she should have retained the original device (so that Ben could extract any missing pieces before or after). The Judge chose to uphold the Class A GSA and remand the two lower charges for a new trial. His reasoning was that it was the issue of Ben’s original attorney to deal with the due process issues, and that there was enough evidence to convict on the class A (ignoring the medical evidence completely).
Ben will be out of prison in two months. He must register as a lifetime sex offender. He has five kids, two grown and three younger and a grandson. He has spent his life teaching and coaching. He did his best to prove his innocence and was denied that right by the state of Maine. I do not know how to get through the rest of our lives with the fear that he will somehow ‘have contact’ via talking or being in the same store as a kid and be sent back to prison for the remainder of his 11 year sentence. The family and the woman herself who have accused him are violent and aggressive. They have publicly ‘called off all civilities’, and the restraining order I was able to acquire against the woman’s father (because he was following us around town, calling the police on us, driving by our house and video taping us on my daughter’s first day of second grade) has expired and the courts are not inclined to grant me another (after the woman herself blocked me into a job site three days after Ben reported to prison. I was seven months pregnant and she wouldn’t let me go while she screamed profanity and threats at me).
We live in a small community. So many people here love him and us and our children. Over 65 people showed up to his PCR hearing to fight for his freedom, over 50 people spoke for him at his sentencing. He has been loved and protected within the confines of the state prison where he has been incarcerated, both by the inmates and the Correctional Officers. In so many ways he has been safer in there than he will be home. I don’t know how to keep him safe nor accept that he is now officially a lifetime registrant; who will not be able to leave our state for six years, or the country at all. He won’t be able to drop off or pick our kids up from school, go to their sporting events, dance recitals, art shows, parent teacher conferences. The latest information is that he will have to call his probation officer every time he is in the vicinity of a child and will have to take rehabilitation class once a week for six years (his probation term).
I don’t know how to continue on like this, but I am trying to accept that guilty or not he is now a citizen required to register. I never imagined this could happen to us or our family but here we are, and I have to find a way to figure out how to live as a family with the stigma. We know nothing of that lifestyle, what forms of normalcy we will be able to find, or how to get our kids through this. I can not find advice or help from attorneys or legislators or senators or even mental health professionals. They are all too stunned to be of help. None of them thought this would happen either.
So we carry on, into uncharted territory, trying to accept that our life is forever changed and that in many cases the masses will not believe us; deeming him guilty. We will stand and navigate our way through this, just as we have the court process (which neither of us had any experience in) just as we did the prison sentence (again, which neither of us had any frame of reference for, neither one of us having a criminal record). But I don’t know how and right now I am devastated for our kids, who are being robbed of the normalcy they deserve, the memories they will never make with their dad, or as a family. He has already missed the births of his youngest daughter and grandson, and the last thee years of our lives. I have traveled with our kids, three hours one way, to see him once a week in prison. I thought this nightmare would end at some point, but my eyes are being opened in ways they were previously closed, to the stigma they face and the unfair uncivil ways in which they are treated, both in society, the court system, and all other avenues of ‘civil’ life.
I believe there should be freedom and justice for ALL; regardless of past mistakes or convictions. Now I search for a way I can change the landscape of this part of our society in a true and fair nature. How is it that detectives and Da’s and ADA’s can all admit to violating the law, and yet the one person who’s rights they have sworn to uphold they trample over. Ben told the truth, and everyone else being paid to tell the truth and uphold the law broke it. And now we are left with the consequences of their actions, and they walk away, proud and upheld? Something has to change… for all of us.