BRIAN DICKERSON: Conviction in sex case doesn't pass smell test
BY BRIAN DICKERSON
FREE PRESS COLUMNIST
November 1, 2006
No one can say for certain whether 12 Oakland County jurors got it wrong last month when they convicted 32-year-old James Perry of sexually assaulting two young boys at the Oak Park elementary school where he taught kindergarten until October 2005.
But new evidence reported in today's Free Press suggests that the alleged attack simply could not have taken place the way prosecutors told jurors it did -- and that should compel Oakland County Circuit Judge Denise Langford Morris to set aside the jury's guilty verdict in a post-trial hearing this morning.
Even before his Sept. 20 conviction, James Perry was not a prepossessing figure; friends concede a vague resemblance to John Mark Carr, the delusional pervert who falsely claimed credit for JonBenet Ramsey's murder.
But looking creepy isn't a crime. Neither is possessing videotapes of Harry Potter and "The Lion King," which Oakland County Assistant Prosecutor Andrea Dean described as "non-erotic pornography" after a police search of Perry's house failed to turn up anything more damning.
Dean's case rested on the conflicting, ever-changing accounts of two kindergartners who identified Perry as their attacker. Oak Park Detective Erik Dolan told jurors that Perry yanked the boys out of a lunch line and attacked them inside an empty special education classroom.
But the teacher assigned to the classroom, who was never interviewed by police, said the room was filled with children and adults when the attack is supposed to have taken place, and two other staffers have corroborated her testimony in sworn affidavits.
Sloppy police work, the absence of any physical evidence that the assaults ever happened, and the disclosure that one victim's mother had made similar allegations about her son's sexual victimization in another city all raise grave doubts about Perry's guilt.
Oakland County Prosecutor David Gorcyca and Dean insist that the exculpatory evidence reported in today's Free Press wouldn't have altered the jury's guilty verdict. But it's telling that when eyewitness accounts contradicting the prosecution's case surfaced, Gorcyca's first reflex was to block reporters from discussing them with the jurors who convicted Perry.
Jurors' names and addresses are a matter of public record. But the prosecutor went to extraordinary lengths to keep them secret when the Free Press filed a routine request for the information.
Judge Morris eventually ordered the names released. Gorcyca complied, but only after warning jurors that reporters might be contacting them with questions about the prosecution's case.
Morris will have to summon all her political courage to take the extraordinary step of ordering a new trial. Her own federal court ambitions, the publicity likely to arise from any intercession on behalf of an unpopular defendant and the risk of political retaliation by vindictive prosecutors all argue for passing the buck to appellate court judges.
But justice requires that this slow-motion train wreck be brought to halt now. And justice is all Judge Morris should concern herself with this morning.
Contact BRIAN DICKERSON at 248-351-3697 or email@example.com
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