May 02, 2002
Made-up story = Life in prisonGirl recants account of being molested, but man is still in prison
BY FRANK GREEN
On the word of a child who later changed her mind, Aleck Carpitcher might do life in prison.
In 1999, at age 43, he was sentenced to 38 years without parole. A Roanoke County judge spared Carpitcher the full 73 years the jury wanted him to serve for sexually abusing the 11-year-old daughter of his girlfriend.
Nine months after Carpitcher entered prison, however, the girl said there had been no molestation. She has passed a poly-graph test in an effort to prove it.
She made up the story, she said, because Carpitcher and her mother would drink and get in fights. State police are investigating, and a hearing on his appeal may be held in the near future. "I want my freedom," said Carpitcher, a Seminole from Oklahoma.
If the girl's testimony was a lie, Carpitcher wouldn't be the first victim of false sexual abuse testimony from a juvenile.
In January 2001, the last act of former North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt was to commute the life sentence being served by Joe Kennedy for the alleged sexual abuse of his daughter, Vickie.
Vickie also recanted her testimony and passed a polygraph examination, but she waited 12 years before she told the truth. She had lied to escape a strict, religious upbringing.
"It is not at all uncommon for a child to change her testimony in such a case. . . . " Michael G. Brock, a psychologist and social worker who has published papers on the subject, said of Carpitcher's situation. "Children often give false testimony for a variety of reasons. Jealousy over the time a parent is spending with a new partner is a common reason. Manipulation by the parents in bitter divorce/custody cases is perhaps the most common of all reasons.
"Children, even teen-agers, don't fully comprehend the gravity of these situations and the irreparable damage they are doing."
Early in the investigative process, he said, there should be a videotaped interview of the child relating a narrative of the events with minimum prompting and no leading questions.
"Liars will inevitably contradict themselves, and it is visible for all to see," he said.
Julia Sullivan, one of Carpitcher's attorneys, said authorities still have not provided them with initial statements made by the girl to police. However, based on what the girl and her mother have said, it is believed the girl's story changed by the time she testified, Sullivan said.
In an affidavit late last year, the girl said that "lots of different people asked me questions about my story, and I tried to remember all the lies as best I could. Every time I talked to someone new, the story seemed to get more complicated."
Jay Newberry, of Salem, the probation and parole officer assigned to Carpitcher's case, studied the girl's statements to police and social service workers and was struck by how little her pretrial story changed. His suspicions were aroused because the story "was just too pat," said Newberry, who since has retired.
"It was too consistent. There were just no variations in her story regardless of who was interviewing her. You usually expect there to be some discrepancies," he said.
Newberry said, "I feel very strongly that this is an innocent person in prison." He said he tried repeatedly - but with no success - to interview her. "I really felt if I'd been able to sit down with that girl . . . she would have recanted," he said.
The girl testified that incidents occurred on Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day and her birthday - February, March and April - of 1998. She was 9 and 10 years old at the time. She was the only person to testify against Carpitcher.
Carpitcher testified and denied any misconduct. But he had spent time in prison before, for shooting and wounding a man in Oklahoma, and the jury apparently found the girl more credible.
In the girl's affidavit of last Dec. 28, she said: "I did not like Aleck because of the drinking and the violence. I begged my mother to stop seeing him. I told her I would do anything to break her and Aleck up. I was very hurt when, despite my strong feelings, my mother continued to see Aleck.
"I took a class in fourth grade where we learned what to do in the event of sexual abuse. I knew that if I accused Aleck of sexual abuse, he would have to go away," she said.
She said a social worker told her she could go back and live with her mother only if Carpitcher were convicted. "I tried very hard to get him convicted so that I could go back to live with my mom.
"The testimony I gave at Aleck's trial was not true. I made up the story so that Aleck would have to go away. I did not know that he would get in so much trouble or that he would have to spend the rest of his life in prison.
"I feel like everything backfired, and now I am trying to make things right," she concluded.
The girl, now 14, has been advised by Carpitcher's lawyers not to talk to reporters. Her mother, however, said, "I never believed that it happened from the very beginning.
"Being 9, she didn't realize that it would have the outcome that it would have," said her mother, who lives in the Roanoke area.
She said mother and daughter have reconciled and live together again. "She's been through counseling, and we know that there's more counseling to come," the mother said.
Carpitcher said he met the girl's mother, a Cherokee, during American Indian political activities. They started living together in 1996 in Lynchburg. The girl's father lives in Elkton.
Carpitcher said he was shocked when he was charged and was stunned by the trial's outcome. Then, when he learned in March 2000 that she had changed her story, he thought he'd be free soon.
But he remains in Augusta Correctional Center. To gain his freedom, he somehow must get around Virginia's 21-day rule. Under it, the state bans evidence discovered more than 21 days after the final disposition of a case - such as the girl's recantation - from being used in a Virginia court.
"It breaks my heart that people can be taken away and put in these places, and they can prove that they're innocent later, but it's more than 21 days later," Carpitcher said.
The prosecutor in the case, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Rick Buchanan, said he believed the girl's story during the trial and that the defense "only had to convince one juror that she wasn't telling the truth, so, obviously, the jurors all believed her."
Buchanan said: "I know that she was under pressure from her mother to tell the truth. . . . Whether that induced her to change her story . . . I don't know."
Lawyers with the Innocence Project of the National Capital Region have filed an appeal not subject to the 21-day rule. It contends that Carpitcher's constitutional rights were violated and that, among other things, he is innocent. A hearing date has not yet been set.
Meanwhile, state police are reinvestigating and interviewed the girl Tuesday, said Christopher Amolsch with the Innocence Project.
If a new trial is ordered on appeal, Buchanan said, the commonwealth would elect not to have one.
"She was the only witness, and her credibility is totally destroyed at this point," he said.
Contact Frank Green at (804) 649-6340 or firstname.lastname@example.org