Green Bay, Wisconsin
On February 6, 1998, Vasquez was arrested and charged with first-degree sexual assault of a minor.
Josephson interviewed G.T. again on February 8, 1998. At that time, G.T. stated, without prompting, “My uncle didn’t” touch me. When she was asked about her prior statement that multiple people had touched her, she said, “I don’t remember…It’s just Mario.”
Prior to trial, G.T. was videotaped as she was interviewed by a social worker who was assisted by a translator. The girl was unable to distinguish the difference between a truth and a lie. She also made several curious statements, including that she lived with Mario (she did not) and that she lived with “my uncle who does not touch me.” At one point, the girl said her uncle touched her, but the translator did not translate her reference to her uncle to the social worker.
Detective Josephson interviewed the girl’s uncle who said that sometimes G.T. called him “Mario.” The uncle denied he had herpes but said he had sores 12 years earlier in Mexico. He offered to be tested, but no test was performed.
The babysitter told police that the girl’s mother had told her in the summer of 1997 that the uncle had touched the girl’s private parts. The mother considered notifying the police, but the mother had not done so at the urging of her husband, who was the uncle’s brother. After hearing this account from the babysitter, the police asked the girl’s mother whether there had been any previous incidents of touching by the uncle. The mother confirmed that in the summer of 1997 G.T. had said that the uncle touched her, but the mother told the police that she had concluded it was harmless touching.
During another interview at the police station, while the detective stepped out of the room, the mother told the interpreter and a social worker that after friends expressed concern about leaving G.T. alone with her husband, she changed her work schedule so he would not be alone with G.T. and her other children.
Vasquez went to trial in Brown County Circuit Court in June 1998. His defense attorney told the jury during opening statement that an expert witness would testify for the defense about inappropriate interviewing techniques and problems with G.T.’s testimony. But the lawyer never called an expert during the trial.
G.T. testified, although she continued to have difficulty understanding the difference between truth and lies. She identified a photograph of Vasquez as her abuser—out of a photo array she had seen several times before—but was unable to identify her abuser in the courtroom.
The uncle testified and denied that he had molested the girl or that he had herpes.
On July 1, 1998, the jury convicted Vasquez and he was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
No appeal was filed in the case. In 2002, Vasquez wrote to Detective Josephson requesting the police records because he wanted to try to file an appeal. Josephson went to the school and interviewed G.T., who by then was eight years old. At that time, G.T. said she could not remember the name of the man who abused her, although she again picked Vasquez’s photo out of the same array used before and at trial. She also told police that the uncle had been subsequently kicked out of the family home for inappropriately touching her. However, when Josephson interviewed G.T.’s mother, she said he was kicked out because he was abusing the children physically, not sexually. Josephson filed a report of the interviews but did nothing further.
In 2007, Vasquez retained an attorney who filed a motion to inspect G.T.’s records, but the attorney failed to follow up on the motion, and it was dismissed.
Vasquez subsequently asked the Wisconsin Innocence Project (WIP) to investigate his case. WIP obtained the police file pursuant to a public record request. In the file, WIP students found a report filed by Josephson relating to a complaint filed shortly after Vasquez was convicted in 1998. A woman had reported to police in Ashwaubenon, a town near Green Bay, that she contracted herpes from the uncle following a sexual encounter.
In May 2014, a post-conviction petition seeking a new trial was filed on Vasquez’s behalf citing the evidence that the uncle had given herpes to a sex partner.
After the petition was filed, David Thompson, a forensic psychologist, examined the transcripts in the case as well as the police reports and the recorded interviews with G.T. In a detailed report, Thompson concluded that G.T. was subjected to suggestive and improper interviewing techniques that could have resulted in the girl mistakenly accusing Vasquez of sexual abuse committed by the uncle.
Thompson also noted that as recently as 2014, G.T. told police that she had been “sexually assaulted when she was younger by several people.”
Thompson said the girl was likely influenced by her mother, who either refused to believe that her husband or the uncle had molested the girl or intentionally ignored indications that they may have been abusing the girl. In addition, Thompson noted that during the trial, the girl testified, “My mommy told me last night that they’re going to lock Mario in jail and he’s never going to get out.” Such a statement was “critical evidence” that the girl was strongly influenced to identify Vasquez, Thompson said.
Thompson concluded that there is “no way to definitively know whether G.T.’s statements are true statements or untrue statements which resulted from inappropriate interviewing, interviewer bias, source monitoring error or other influences.” He added that it was “my professional opinion…that G.T.’s statements are unreliable.”
In December 2014, the Wisconsin Innocence Project filed a supplement to their post-conviction petition claiming that Vasquez received a constitutionally unfair trial based on the failure of his trial lawyer to retain an expert to examine the girl’s testimony. The supplement was based on Thompson’s report as well as Wisconsin State Bar disciplinary records that showed that Vasquez’s attorney had been privately sanctioned and suspended prior to representing Vasquez for neglecting clients and making false claims in court.
After Vasquez was convicted, the lawyer was ultimately disbarred following nearly 100 instances of misconduct in the representation of clients.
A hearing on the motion for new trial was scheduled for January 30, 2015. On January 29—the day before the hearing—the prosecution interviewed G.T. who was now 21. She said, despite testifying in 1998 that only Vasquez had molested her, that in fact the uncle had sexually molested her around 1998 and that her father also sexually molested her for several years throughout her childhood. She also said they both had herpes.
On the day of the hearing, after Wisconsin Innocence Project lawyer Cristina Bordé gave her opening statement outlining the evidence she intended to present, the prosecution agreed that the motion for new trial should be granted without the hearing. The judge granted the motion and Vasquez was released on bond.
Vasquez could have been paroled earlier, but wound up serving nearly 17 years of his 20-year sentence because he maintained his innocence and refused to participate in sex offender classes in prison. On February 11, 2015, the prosecution dismissed the charge.
– Maurice Possley
||False Child Abuse