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Will girl's rape-claim reversal clear teen? page 4
U.Va. Innocence Project and child advocacy group trying to free teen they say was wrongfully convicted of rape

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

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He is currently housed in a Department of Juvenile Justice facility.

FIGHTING FOR HIS RELEASE

On Jan. 22, Block and Enright sent a letter asking Department of Juvenile Justice Director Barry R. Green to release the boy.

They outlined the steps they have taken to investigate his family's claims of his innocence, the support of Sousa and her daughter, and how the case moved through the Stafford justice system.

"We're not asking him to do anything he doesn't have the authority to do, regardless of [the boy's] guilt or innocence," Block said.

After taking custody of him in the fall of 2007, the Department of Juvenile Justice classified the boy as a "major offender" and set his term of confinement at between 18 and 36 months. That makes March 19 the earliest possible release date without the agency's director intervening in response to the attorneys' request.

But Block said Green has the discretionary power to release the boy immediately, absent any court action.

"Even though the Department of Juvenile Justice is our first step, it's not that we're laying the blame for any of this at their feet," Block said.

Green said this week that it is standard for him to periodically review the case of any youth classified as a major offender and that he routinely does it as an early release date approaches. If the youth has successfully completed any programs he or she was required to take part in and has everything in place for any assistance needed after release, then the department's practice is to work toward release.

"For any of the kids we have, our goal is not to incarcerate them any longer than need be," Green said.

Though he is powerless to deal with issues of innocence and would not discuss details of this case, Green said he would review it.

"I will give this an honest look. If he's either completed or amenable to completing whatever requirements there are within the community, we would not have a reason to hold him," Green said.

Enright and Block said they are working for the boy on three fronts.

First, they hope to get him released from custody. Next, they want to clear his record of the convictions.

Enright, her investigator and students in her Innocence Project clinic are working to craft what's known as a habeas corpus petition, a legal appeal raised on constitutional grounds.

This case, at a minimum, will include an argument that the boy had ineffective counsel, Enright said.

Finally, the attorneys want to get the boy's name removed from the sex-offender registry.

"In a lot of ways, the registry is what has the potential to really ruin his life, if we haven't already," Enright said.

Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972
Email: pgould@freelancestar.com


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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.