Friday, April 6, 2012

COTWA got it wrong: prosecutor Sue Baur was right not to prosecute rape accuser who recanted

COTWA has obtained information from Cowlitz County, Washington prosecutor Sue Baur regarding this post, where we stated that Ms. Baur had decided not to prosecute a woman who admitted that she lied about her father raping her when she was 11-years-old. The woman's accusation put her father behind bars for nine years.
The news reports distorted what happened, and COTWA repeated the distortion. Ms. Baur not only acted properly, her conduct was exemplary. 

The reporting of this case purposefully gave the impression that there had been a determination that the 2001 allegations were false.  In fact, there has been no adjudication that the girl lied at the original trial, or that her recantation was more reliable than her original testimony.  A judge simply ordered that, in light of the recantation, the father was deserving of a new trial.  
Ms. Baur, to her credit, decided that she would not retry the father because she felt that a jury would not be able to figure out what happened, much less find him guilty verdict beyond a reasonable doubt. She properly dismissed the case and released the father.  The father has not been found "innocent" by a court, and we may never know the truth about what happened.
Ms. Baur believes that no one should ever, ever go to prison for something he or she did not do, and that "we should always err, if at all on the side of the defendant’s freedom." 
COTWA relies on mainstream news media reports, and in this instance -- as happens all too often -- the reporting left much to be desired. Susan Baur has been unfairly maligned; in fact, she deserves to be applauded.  For what? For doing what too many prosecutors don't do -- her job, fairly, and with justice.
COTWA believes it is important to prosecute persons who make false claims, but no such prosecution should be brought unless the prosecutor is confident, to a moral certainty, of the false accuser's guilt.  Where it is clear that someone lies about rape, to refuse to prosecute undermines public confidence about the way rape claims are handled.  Juries want to punish rapists but are loathe to risk punishing the innocent. Juries will be all the more wary of convicting men of rape, even those who deserve to be convicted, if they believe that prosecutors cavalierly allow accusers to tell rape lies with impunity.
In this instance, Ms. Baur did not undermine public confidence about the way rape claims, or false rape claims, are handled. The news media did.  We were unwitting accomplices in that undermining, and for that we apologize to Ms. Baur.