RSS feed of this blog

Stafford teen will get chance to clear name

RELATED: See more crime news from the Fredericksburg region

RELATED: Read more CRIME stories from the Fredericksburg region.

Stafford County attorney Denise Rafferty’s veracity and effectiveness will be on trial this summer when a former Aquia Harbour teenager gets a two-day hearing to try to clear his name in court.

Edgar Coker, now 21, is listed on the state’s sex-offender registry for a rape his accuser recanted. He and his family have been trying for more than four years to rectify what they and his accuser’s family call an injustice.

Coker, on the advice of court-appointed defense attorney Rafferty, pleaded guilty to rape and breaking-and-entering charges in Stafford juvenile court in August 2007 to avoid being tried as an adult. A judge Monday agreed to hold a hearing later this year on whether that advice and other decisions by Rafferty violated Coker’s right to an effective defense.

Coker was 15 on June 4, 2007, when he and a 14-year-old Aquia Harbour neighbor had consensual sexual relations in the girl’s bedroom.

The girl’s mother arrived home shortly afterward and called police, believing her daughter’s claim that she had been raped.

Two months after Coker was sent to the Department of Juvenile Justice for an indeterminate term, Michele Sousa said her daughter told her she made up the rape claim to avoid getting in trouble.

Coker was released from custody on Feb. 25, 2009, but the court required that he register as a sex offender. The family has moved repeatedly because of harassment by neighbors and, because of his status, Coker was briefly detained in Orange County for trying to attend a football game at his alma mater.

A team of attorneys that includes the Innocence Project at the University of Virginia law school has been working since January 2009 to clear Coker’s name and get him removed from the registry. He has had two legal victories in that quest.

On March 2, 2012, the Virginia Supreme Court overturned Stafford Circuit Judge Charles Sharp’s ruling that he didn’t have jurisdiction to hear the case.

On Monday, Judge Jane Marum Roush, who normally presides in Fairfax County, ruled in Coker’s favor, granting a hearing that will address whether Rafferty provided ineffective counsel. That hearing is scheduled for July 16 and 17.

Assistant Attorney General John W. Blanton, representing the state Department of Juvenile Justice, argued Monday that Roush had sufficient information from the arguments and affidavits of both sides to rule immediately, although he objected to several of Coker’s attorneys’ affidavits as “hearsay.”

But Roush quickly interjected that on those grounds, Rafferty’s statement would be eliminated.

“If I strike all exhibits for hearsay, I would strike Ms. Rafferty’s as well,” Roush said. “Ms. Rafferty’s is full of hearsay.”

Matthew Engle, legal director at the U.Va. Innocence Project, argued Monday that Rafferty is the only person who claims Coker confessed to raping the girl. He presented a document, apparently a memo from the Stafford Sheriff’s Office detective who investigated, in which Coker never confesses to rape or a break-in.

Rafferty, however, claims in her affidavit that Coker confessed both crimes to her during a one-on-one meeting in an attorney room in the courthouse.

According to an affidavit from Innocence Project investigations director Deirdre Enright, however, Rafferty did not state that when Enright contacted her about the case, nor is there any note of the conversation in the case file she turned over when a new set of attorneys began representing Coker.

“That confession never happened, and we’re ready to prove it never happened,” Engle told Roush.

Rafferty attended Monday’s one-hour hearing, but left before it concluded.

Blanton declined to comment afterward.

Coker’s team said they were disappointed he and his family had been too ill to attend, but were pleased with the outcome.

“He’s finally going to have his day in court,” Engle said.

Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972