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Will girl's rape-claim reversal clear teen?
U.Va. Innocence Project and child advocacy group trying to free teen they say was wrongfully convicted of rape

 Prosecutor Olsen
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RELATED STORY: Attorney: System needs safeguards
Date published: 2/5/2009

By PAMELA GOULD

A team of attorneys is asking the Department of Juvenile Justice to release a former Aquia Harbour teen they say was wrongfully convicted of rape and is listed on the state's sex offender registry.

The effort by the Innocence Project of the University of Virginia Law School and JustChildren, a child-advocacy group, is supported by the alleged victim's mother, who wants to correct what she considers a miscarriage of justice.

"We just need to make things right," Michele Sousa said in a recent interview.

Sousa said she returned home from work on June 4, 2007, to find the 15-year-old boy inside her Aquia Harbour home and her 14-year-old daughter getting dressed in the girl's bedroom.

Sousa initially believed her daughter had been sexually assaulted and immediately contacted the Stafford County Sheriff's Office. But three months after the boy was convicted of rape and breaking into her home, her daughter said she had lied about the incident because she feared getting into trouble.

As soon as Sousa learned that--on Thanksgiving weekend in 2007--she contacted a lawyer, who advised her to contact the boy's attorney. His attorney asked her to provide a notarized statement from her daughter, which she did.

In the May 23, 2008, handwritten statement, the girl states: "[The boy] didn't rely rape me in fact we did it befor. [He] was a friend of mine befor this even happend. Me and [the boy] where good friends, but now it just seems that I lied about [him]. Now I will never forgive myself. [He] didn't realy come in by himself, I let him in."

The Free Lance-Star is not naming the boy or girl because of their ages and the nature of the charges. Their parents' surnames are different from theirs. Both families have since moved from Stafford.

The parents agreed to discuss the case publicly in an effort to clear the boy, who has been in state custody for at least 17 months.

Neither Stafford Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Eric Olsen, who prosecuted the boy, nor Denise Rafferty, who was the court-appointed defense attorney at trial, would discuss the case.

Olsen said he was aware of pending action in the case. He agreed to answer only general questions about juvenile prosecutions and the Stafford office's policies.

THE CASE


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Key dates in the former Aquia Harbour teen's case. June 4, 2007--Encounter between girl, 14, and boy, 15, at Aquia Harbour. June 7, 2007--Boy formally charged with rape, abduction, and breaking and entering. June 18, 2007--Stafford Commonwealth's Attorney's Office notifies boy's parents of its intent to prosecute him as an adult. June 28, 2007--Defense attorney Denise Rafferty assigned to case. Aug. 22, 2007--Boy pleads guilty to rape, breaking-and-entering charges. Abduction charge is dropped. Sept. 19, 2007--Boy sentenced, ordered to complete sex-offender treatment program and register as sex offender. Nov. 24, 2007--Girl tells her mother, Michele Sousa, she lied about the incident. Nov. 28, 2007--Michele Sousa contacts an attorney for advice. December 2007--Defense attorney Rafferty learns the girl recanted her story. March 2008--Rafferty, the girl and her mother appear in juvenile court on defense motion to set aside verdict. Judge denies it for procedural reasons. July 2008--Attorney Joseph Brown, hired to represent the boy, petitions juvenile court judge to find error in fact in case, based on the recantation. Judge denies motion. Sept. 19, 2008--Brown's appeal of juvenile court ruling heard in Stafford Circuit Court. Judge denies motion, saying his court does not have jurisdiction. December 2008--The Innocence Project at the University of Virginia Law School and JustChildren of the Legal Aid Justice Center agree to represent boy. Jan. 22--Innocence Project Director Deirdre Enright and JustChildren Legal Director Andrew K. Block Jr. send letter to Department of Juvenile Justice Director Barry R. Green asking him to release boy.

A Dec. 8 Virginia Crime Commission report shows that the vast majority of law-enforcement officials surveyed--with the exception of prosecutors--support changing Virginia's system of assigning cases against juveniles.

Currently, by statute, teens charged with certain felonies are automatically transferred to adult court for trial. For the other charges, including those brought in the Stafford County case, the prosecutor has the discretion.

On the question of giving circuit judges the ability to send juveniles back to juvenile court, 93 percent of chief public defenders, 84 percent of circuit judges, 77 percent of court service unit directors, 53 percent of juvenile-court judges and the director of the Department of Juvenile Justice supported the move. But 81 percent of prosecutors oppose it.