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Judge orders former Stafford teen’s name removed from sex offender registry, vacates sentence

ONLINE EXTRA: Read the full ruling and order from Judge Jane Marum Roush.

BY PAMELA GOULD/THE FREE LANCE-STAR

Circuit Judge Jane Marum Roush on Monday ordered former Stafford County teen Edgar Coker’s name removed from the state’s Sex Offender Registry and vacated the convictions that put him there.

The order resulted from Roush’s ruling that court-appointed attorney Denise Rafferty failed to provide effective assistance of counsel to Coker in 2007 as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

Edgar Coker

Edgar Coker

Since January 2009, a team of attorneys with the Innocence Project at the University of Virginia School of Law, the law school’s Child Advocacy Clinic and JustChildren/Legal Aid of Charlottesville has been working to clear Coker’s name.

Coker, who now lives in Orange County, was 15 in June 2007 when he was accused of breaking into a 14-year-old neighbor’s house in Aquia Harbour and raping her. She recanted her accusation after he had been convicted and sent to the state Department of Juvenile Justice for an indeterminate term.

The ruling was welcome news for Coker’s team but the case is not officially over.

Rafferty could not be reached for comment.

Roush gave Stafford Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Olsen 60 days to decide whether he wants to retry the case.

Olsen said Monday that he will consult with the lawyers in the Virginia Attorney General’s Office who handled the civil case about the ruling before deciding whether to retry Coker.

Olsen said he didn’t know when he would decide, but said it wouldn’t take 60 days.

Roush also gave Coker’s attorneys and the assistant attorneys general 21 days to file any objections to the ruling.

Assistant Attorney General Craig Stallard had no comment on Monday.

Coker, now 22, was charged with rape, abduction and breaking and entering related to the June 4, 2007, incident. On Rafferty’s advice, he pleaded guilty in Stafford juvenile court to the rape and break-in charges to avoid being prosecuted in adult court, which Olsen—then a deputy prosecutor—had threatened.

But two months after Coker was sent to the juvenile justice system, Michele Sousa said her daughter told her she had lied about being raped, to avoid getting into trouble. The girl said she and Coker were friends, she had invited him into the house and the sex was consensual.

After that, Sousa sought to rectify what she considered an injustice.

On Monday, she called it “fantastic” that the convictions had been thrown out and Coker’s name was to be removed from the registry.

“That’s just a miracle—long overdue, but that’s great,” Sousa said.

ROUSH’S RULING

Roush is a Fairfax judge, but was appointed to preside over the civil case after Stafford judges recused themselves.

She concluded that “Rafferty’s representation of [Coker] fell below the wide range of professionally competent assistance.”

Roush listed six reasons for that decision in the 22-page ruling that accompanied Monday’s order:

Rafferty failed to discover the existence of a tape-recorded interview of Coker by the investigator and thus failed listen to it.

  • She failed to discover the existence of a tape-recorded interview of the accuser and listen to it.
  • She failed to investigate the accuser’s reputation for truthfulness.
  • She failed to investigate the accuser’s ability to consent to sexual activity.
  • She failed to investigate her client’s cognitive limitations.
  • She failed to present additional exculpatory or mitigating evidence.

Both Coker and the accuser have limited intellectual abilities. She is classified as borderline mentally retarded. Coker is in the borderline range of functioning.

Olsen has said he was prosecuting the rape case on the grounds that the girl did not have the ability to consent to sexual intercourse, though Coker wasn’t charged under that section of the statute.

But her mother, teachers and counselors testified in the civil case in July that she had a full understanding of sexual intercourse, its consequences and terminology.

The teachers and counselors also testified that she had a reputation for dishonesty and for making false accusations.

In her ruling, Roush also faulted Rafferty’s claim that Coker confessed to her.

“The court does not believe Ms. Rafferty’s testimony that [Coker] made a ‘full confession’ to her,” Roush wrote.

Rafferty, whose practice is based in Stafford, testified in July that Coker made a detailed confession to her.

But Roush noted that not only did her version go beyond what the investigator had in his taped interview, it also wasn’t recorded in Rafferty’s files.

“The court finds it difficult to believe that [Coker] made a ‘full confession’ to Ms. Rafferty and she did not make a single note of such a significant event in her representation of him,” Roush wrote.

Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972

pgould@freelancestar.com

 

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/justiceforum/2014/02/10/judge-orders-former-stafford-teens-name-removed-from-sex-offender-registry-vacates-sentenc/

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  • Lynda Knotts Birdwell

    Its a shame this young man has had to wait this amount of time for his name to be cleared…

    • Jason Atkinson

      and sad that our system only allows it to occur through an “ineffective representation” claim…once it was brought forth that the girl had lied, it should be much easier to undo everything than this…our system is seriously flawed in some ways.

      • Jessica

        I feel so horrible for this young man. Bless his heart. I can’t imagine what his family went through. It shows our justice system needs to be corrected. Until we get the right people working in our system it will never be fixed.

      • ChristCrusader

        But imagine the ping pong nature imposed on the courts of potential victims’ dysfunctional regret after harsh sentencing upon a convicted “loved” one. Lie to protect oneself, or tell the truth of a crime, either one leading to a conviction; then the accuser’s/victim’s remorse leading to a claim that they lied and that instead the convicted is innocent.
        I’m glad justice found an excuse to exonerate the guy, but it’s a little tough on the system to expect it to react after a seemingly legitimate court process seemed to prove a crime, in this case a guilty plea. However, it seems to bring to light the tactic of heavy handedness by the prosecutorial system to paint such a horrid picture of doom and destruction ahead for the accused, that pleading to a lesser crime, though uncommitted, seems like a gift. I’m not so sure enough value is put into letting justice play out for the innocent compared to fast convictions for the seemingly guilty.

        • Jason Atkinson

          All true, but 5 years to undo one act? It seems we have all spent a fair amount of our tax dollars to make official something that we all could have probably agreed to back in 2009…

  • Brandon Johnson

    Added to the sex offender register, presumably for life, because of something he did when he was 15? Somehow, that doesn’t seem quite right, even if he had in fact committed the crime. There have been many who have permanently injured or even killed people at that age and have sealed criminal records because they were so young when the offense was committed.

    • Jason Atkinson

      Very true! There really needs to be more “common sense” and less statutory “black and white” rules on things in our society. Unfortunately, when our politicians can only see black and white, and not compromise with each other anywhere in a gray area, it only follows that our society and justice systems will follow suit. They really need to be able to look at circumstances (to include age, etc.) in these sort of cases, and allow a means for these things to be “worked off” through being a good, upstanding citizen over time. Even if he were guilty, at 15 it should definitely be more of a teaching moment than a life defining one…

      • NPerry

        Fifteen knows better. If he did it he should be on the sex offenders list for life even at that age.

        • Jason Atkinson

          So what then is the cutoff age when children “know better”? I don’t disagree entirely, but I believe we have set that age at 18 in the U.S., and have done so for a number of reasons. Again, this is not as simple as “black and white”, everything has a gray area, and people are too scared to acknowledge that things are not as simple as they would like for them to be…

    • NPerry

      If a fifteen year old rapes someone he/she should be put on the sex offenders register for life. Rape is a very violent crime and one that the repercussions for the victim last a lifetime. It appears to me Mr. Johnson that you think of rape as a minor incident regardless of the age. A fifteen year old knows better. They know it is a crime and it is an adult crime and therefore they should be treated like an adult. If this young man is innocent he should be set free his name cleared and compensated. However he did confess with the encouragement of his attorney. Also Mr. Johnson even at fifteen if he had done it sex register for life is where he needs to go his victim received a life sentence for the crime committed against her/him. If he is committing a violent crime such as rape at fifteen he needs to be watched in the future.

      • Hugh Barber

        Read the whole article. Both the young man and the young girl are developmentally disabled.

      • Brandon Johnson

        NPerry, WHEN did I ever say that rape is a minor incident? You apparently believe in ruining a kid for life when he is still young enough to be rehabilitated, I do not. We disagree,but that does not give you the right to put words in my mouth.

  • Emily Preston

    Big surprise. Olsen is a politically ambitious thug.

    • jjramsey

      I don’t disagree, however in this case unfortunately it wasn’t Olsen’s fault (this time). The victim lied and the defense didn’t stand up for their client. I’d like the FLS to do some follow up on what if anything happened to the public defender.

      • Lakers21

        You don’t tell your client that he should go to trial against a man who is well known for trying to have an iron fist. Olsen wanted to charge him as an adult and send him to jail for 30+ years. She advised him right in this case because he would have gotten his wish. It has taken him 5 years to get his name off of the sex offender list and they have known he was innoncent since 2009..can you imagine what he would have to go through to prove that he is innocent at trial? After he has been convicted? These commonwealth attorneys need to be held accountable for the innocent people they send to jail. If that were the case than more innocent people would probably take them to trial. It’s a lot easier to say go to trial but when you are facing the possibility of a very lengthy sentence than its fairly easier to say you win than to fight. Olsen’s problem is that he doesn’t believe there is a such thing called an innocent person. Its just impossible, you had to do something. I guarantee he would sleep good tonight if he knowingly put five guilty and two innocent in jail. He should have been the first person speaking up and fighting for this kid…just goes to show that he could care less about an innocent person. I would like the FLS to do a follow up on the steps that Olsen has taken to prevent this from happening…where did he drop the ball in realizing that the girl was lying? Why didn’t he charge the young girl with lying? Why hasn’t he spoken out about this?

      • AlRussell

        How is it Ms. Rafferty’s fault that the girl LIED? She only had the same information available to everyone else at the time, which was the accusation of rape. Mr. Olsen was prepared to prosecute the poor kid as an adult based on that same information. As for the “Exculpatory Evidence” and the Interview Tape, those were in the possession of Mr. Olsen at the time of the trial. So, I’d say this is yet another example of overzealous prosecution.

  • Kay Garrett Watson

    It’s about time! Thank you Judge Roush for doing what should have been done some time ago.

  • Michael

    Poor kid. Six years of all that because of a lie.

  • adv1sor

    And of the “victim” whose lie caused this mess? She gets to ruin a young man’s life with no repercussions?

    • Jessica

      I know its so messed up. I wonder if she’ll use her disability as an excuse lol

      • Jason Atkinson

        An “excuse”? Wow, that’s a thoughtful comment…I’m sure if she is mentally challenged, that would have no bearing whatsoever on her decision making ability, especially at 14. I mean, I am all for justice, and can’t imagine what this poor boy went through, but another kid, especially if she is mentally challenged, didn’t set out to ruin his life. Common sense applies most of the time, but too many people lack it these days…

        • Jessica

          Not trying to discriminate her and all. But, if she’s mentally challenged and had sense enough to know what sex and rape is then she should know it is wrong to lie about it. To me it sounds like she was immature and just didn’t want to get caught by her parents. Sure I was a kid once but I would never lie about something like that.

        • ChristCrusader

          They went to great effort to prove her competence to be believed that she lied and so the guy was innocent (that it was consensual). So she’s competent enough to understand the terms and consequences of sex, what’s right and wrong, having displayed a propensity for lying, but she shouldn’t be held accountable?
          And yet, if she had faced the probability of charges for admitting she had lied to a false conviction, maybe self-preservation would have continued to dominate her story and the guy would never have been exonerated.
          What a dilemma for Solomon.

          • Jason Atkinson

            Either way, she was 14, and apparently recanted shortly thereafter. You can’t charge a 21 year old woman with a stupid mistake made and retracted at 14, can you? I’d honestly doubt if the statute of limitations hasn’t expired on that one anyhow.

          • ChristCrusader

            Certainly if law prohibits then so be it…

    • officialrapcritic

      I would be in favor of prosecuting the lying party in a case like this but the girl was 14 and this article stated that she is borderline mentally retarded. It’s best that both parties just move on from this.

  • AJ McKay

    So, since the girl isn’t a “victim” any longer, where’s her name and public shame. She should face charges for this, along with a civil suit. Stories like this only make it more difficult for both defendants and the accused in cases where it comes down to he said/she said.

    • Jason Atkinson

      Agreed, but since she was a juvenile at the time, I doubt they will release it specifically. I’m pretty sure people who know her know who she is, since her mother is named, and her age is known… I would imagine all involved can determine whether or not she “gets it” at this point, and any lawsuit would be against her family most likely. It is a shame what this does for actual victims, but it’s also hard to be overly angry at a scared 14 year old for making a bad snap judgement. Thank God she saw the light and didn’t let this poor guy rot away for years without ever telling the truth…

  • teacher2511

    His accuser needs to face some serious charges, the least being filing false charges, lying under oath during a deposition (I assume she was deposed for the prosecution.) His family should seek restitution in the manner of a civil suit. And why is her name not published. She older now, an needs to held accountable for destroying this young mans life.

    • NPerry

      The accuser should be charged but should be charged as a fourteen year old would not the adult she is now. She tried to rectify the situation while still a minor.

  • L Renee Walker

    This case just proves the sheer corruption that has a strong hold in Stafford County. This is not the first case that Rafferty has been involved in where she knew that the person was 100% innocent, she has been doing this for years along with Eric Olsen and The Infamous Dan Chichester. I personally know of many cases where this is fact. If I had a chance to repeat some of the things that this Woman has said to me personally it would sicken the best of you all. Every case that she has been involved in needs to be looked into, even the Judge said that he did not believe her version of the story. If she lied under oath what makes you think all of her cases were on the up and up? The Justice Department should have been stepped in this jurisdiction years ago and cleaned it up. I am an optimist so I will hold on to that hope that one day this place is cleaned up from top to bottom and all of their dirty little secrets and back room dealings will be exposed.

    • WTFStafford

      I agree Stafford County Courts are very shady! They need to have an external investigation on the business practices of this court and its prosecutors!

      • L Renee Walker

        I so agree with you. It should have been done back when Olsen ran for that office of Common Wealth Attorney when it was discovered that he wasn’t being truthful about his address on record. You have to live in the County where you run for office, he did not live in Stafford County but was allowed to take the position anyway. Rafferty is just a product of her environment and followed the foot prints placed before her instead of standing for what is right! Her son who is a Patent Attorney was being used as a criminal defense attorney ( court appointed ) paid for by We The People, that is like sending a Dentist to do a Heart Surgery, can you imagine how many people went to prison or have convictions behind him representing them? The corruption and dishonesty run deep in that place.

  • WTFStafford

    Typical Stafford County! Wonder how much money they wasted to prosecute this because they want to uphold the Stafford County reputation of being overzealous! The defense and the prosecutors are probably drinking buddies! Stafford County needs to get a grip on Law.. its one thing to be hard on criminals but its another to put a mother in prison for two years because she threw a McDonalds ice cream cone out the window of her car. If I had known just how bad Stafford was I would have moved to Fredericksburg or even Woodbridge (hoodbridge). I feel like I can’t even drink a beer on my deck without breaking the law in Stafford!

    • L Renee Walker

      They are buddies, I will quote her ” He was her mentor and was very instrumental in her becoming an Attorney ” Check his Campaign donation registry, she was a major contributor. Please believe that there is a long line of people sitting in prison/jail/convicted behind these 2 tag teaming… I am not just talking, I have been a witness to it all and could tell you some horror stories.

  • Melissa Lee

    I think this little girl should now be charged, let her see what it has been like for this young man to loose years of his life. And now if only we could get the rest of the inocent off the registry, and get the real abusers on it. The justice system might be worth something. To many can’t afford good lawyers they have to get court apointed who guess what? Works for the state, get inocent people to plead guilty, scaring the crap out of them if they don’t saying it will be alot worse to fight it. Bul$#&: when will this ever stop

  • TINA

    At the end of the day when it comes to prosecutors in STAFFORD COUNTY IT WILL ALWAYS REMAIN BLACK AND WHITE{race}The Feds should step in and make changes etc.With everyone there in such arms reach with friendship and family I have NEVER seen a judge,lawyer or anyone else in Stafford requse themselves.I went thru the same exact thing in 2001 I was told by my lawyer john franklin that ANDREA MCCAULY{prosecutor} said that if I didn’t take the plea deal I would be convicted by an all white jury no matter what because I was black.I have been fighting Stafford since 2003.i’m living as a felon in order for STAFFORD to keep up a notorious conviction rate.smdh everytime I think about how long my children and I have been homeless,jobless,depressed..

  • TINA

    Because this judge Jane M Roush did the right thing this young man now has a fighting chance..Good for her.I know where I will be forwarding my information to.I think in order to make it fair judges should be rotated from Stafford to Fairfax,fairfax judges here.i have seen this done. without notification given to any prosecutors.omg this would be great!!

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