The Salem Witch Trials of Tom Green CountyOpinion
In the last few years, the stories of Thomas Boden, and others like him in Tom Green County, have created a culture of hysteria in the community involving sex crimes. Boden, the most infamous of these cases, admitted to sexually assaulting a toddler, an act discovered when the child’s mother found blood in the baby’s diaper.
National news coverage of this admitted baby molester who got probation in Texas created a demand for a change in our community. Protests, outrage, concerns over city ordinances involving sex offenders and outcries of impropriety erupted from the residents of this county. At the root of it all is the fact that the District Attorneys in Tom Green County, either through the fault of the law enforcement investigations, lack of evidence, political pressure to not lose cases, or improper procedure led to child sex offenders continuously getting to walk with probation.
The District Attorney’s offices used these plea bargains to secure “guilty” outcomes for the accused without having to go to trial.
In the middle of this environment, in 2014, with nothing more than a complainant’s unofficial statement, the Tom Green County Sheriff's office issued a warrant for the arrest of yet another accused child sex offender. Evidence and proper investigative procedures weren’t important in these cases up to this point because the guilty gladly took the plea deals offered by the State. Up to this point, the arrest and threat of prosecution had been enough to secure guilty outcomes through bullying tactics and threats by the State.
When faced with losing your whole life to prison, who wouldn’t take one of these probation-only plea deals? Our county was protesting, outraged and demanding the head of every single accused offender. Guilty or innocent didn't matter anymore, only the perception of justice and to “protect the children.”
This case, however, would be different from all the others.
Justin Riordan was arrested and charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child. There was no physical evidence. There was no investigation. He did not agree to any of the numerous plea deals offered to him. He refused to admit that he committed a crime. The case was delayed, and with every delay came a new attempt to get a plea deal.
His legal team, friends, family and outside experts looked at the lack of evidence in his case and decided that the state could not prove guilt. The prosecution, bending to public pressure, but unsure of their own case, offered a last minute plea deal. Justin refused and decided to fight this charge against him. Probation would have been nothing, except that he would have to plead guilty. He turned down this slap on the wrist and chose to go to trial, knowing that if he lost, he could get life in prison. He had nothing to gain by going to trial, other than his integrity, and everything to lose, so he went.
He would not submit to the lynch mob who said he raped a child, even if it meant spending the rest of his life in prison.
Let’s look at the facts of the trial:
All of the witnesses, apart from the accuser, had statements and testimonies that were consistent about the amount of alcohol consumed, the character of the accused, and the events of that night. There was an incomplete nurse exam, conducted 36 hours after the alleged incident, with an inconclusive outcome. While “redness” was present, there was no bruising and the hymen was intact. The irritation observed, by the nurse’s own testimony, could have very possibly been attributed to tampon usage. This redness was the backbone of the State’s case, despite the nurse testifying that this case was only labeled as a sexual assault because the patient claimed it was, and not because of the physical evidence. The accuser was menstruating at the time of the attack, and at the time of the exam, but no blood was ever discovered anywhere in the house, not on the couch where the incident was said to have occurred, not on the clothes of the defendant, who the accuser herself testified never left the room after the attack.
There was no blood in the bathroom where the accuser claimed to have bled profusely the morning following the alleged attack. The only blood found was a quarter sized blood stain in the shorts of the accuser, which seems consistent with nothing more than a leaking tampon. By her own admission, the accuser was menstruating and wore the same clothes for three days. The accuser also claimed to have slept in her shorts, with no underwear and without any kind of feminine protection, for seven hours following the attack. She states that when she woke the next morning and went to the bathroom, there was blood everywhere, despite the fact that her clothes were not consistent with that statement.
There were two witnesses, apart from the accuser and Justin, who were asleep in the room, on the same sectional sofa as the alleged incident. They testified that the room was lit by a kitchen light; the accuser was in their line of sight, and they never heard or saw anything. The accuser testified that she spoke to the defendant several times during the alleged 10-minute attack, and he spoke to her. All of this supposedly occurring feet away from two sleeping witnesses in a lit room. Neither heard or felt a thing.
There is also testimony that the accuser had planned to sneak out that night to meet up with her boyfriend. The accuser’s own statement, which she never even wrote down, changed and evolved as the case went on. During the trial, her testimony contradicted that of every other witness, and even contradicted her own previously recorded statements. The jury had to be dismissed several times so that the witness could listen to her own previous statements. Every time the defense attempted to point out to the jury that her statements were inconsistent and that it is probable that she is lying, the accuser began to cry uncontrollably.
Her testimony was inconsistent with the physical evidence, the other witnesses, and even her own words.
Justin took the stand in his own defense, and his testimony was consistent with that of the other witnesses and the physical evidence. The prosecution narrowed in on text messages sent the morning the allegations were made. These are text messages between the people who first heard the witness’ accusations and the accused, and it is obvious he is in complete shock about what is being said about him. Those texts could be interpreted to mean that Justin couldn't remember what happened, and that he was ashamed or experiencing guilt. This is the argument that the State made and the last thing the jury heard.
Or, the texts alluded to something entirely different. He simply could not understand what could have happened that could lead a person to say these things about him. Had he said something offensive without realizing it? Did someone else attack her and she thinks it was him? How could this be happening to him? How does he tell his family that he is being accused of such a thing? The question of these texts that we ask is, “Why wouldn’t an innocent man faced with such horrific allegations be just as distraught and frightened in this circumstance as a guilty man?”
The SANE kit and the clothes the accuser was wearing were left somewhere in the hospital for several days after the complaint was filed. The investigator on the case testified that she is unsure who handled them, where they were, and who finally collected them from the hospital. The investigation also has other issues. If the Tom Green County Sheriff's office had visited the scene in a timely manner, then would this case been dismissed?
If there was evidence of tampon use in the bathroom trash can, the case would have been dismissed. The nurse testified that the redness the victim had during the SANE exam could have been from tampon usage. One witness testified that the accuser asked her for a tampon the day of the alleged attack. The nurse who conducted the exam writes in her SANE report that the victim self-reported tampon usage at the time of the exam. When confronted with this evidence at trial, the accuser claims to have never used tampons. Finding tampons in the trash can would have ended all of this, but the scene was not examined until many months after the incident, thus robbing the defense of exculpatory evidence.
If the couch, the bathroom, the defendant’s clothes, store receipts and witnesses had been investigated within 48 hours of the report, the case would have been dismissed. If no blood evidence was found then, we would not be here. However, since the scene was not examined until many months after the alleged attack, the prosecution was gifted a very convenient explanation of the lack of evidence.
So, why was he convicted?
Justin refused to take a plea and admit guilt to a crime he did not commit. The public hysteria from the time this case was working its way through the Tom Green County district court’s docket tainted any possible jury pool. The prosecutor brought a case to trial where the defendant's ability to defend himself with exonerating evidence was hindered by an ineffective and incompetent police investigation.
The prosecution, proceeding only because of a political agenda, coached a child witness to gain the most emotional testimony possible. The Rape Crisis Center wore prejudicial badges into the courtroom, playing to the jury’s emotions. The jury in this case wanted proof of innocence, not proof of guilt. Their fear of releasing a guilty man outweighed their fear of sending an innocent man to prison.
How can we prove innocence in this environment?
The jury returned a guilty verdict where the charge was that a 27-year-old man violently and forcefully raped a 13-year-old girl. They had the option of 5-99 years in prison and sentenced him to only 10 years.
They convicted him just to be sure they didn’t release a child molester, but sentenced him extremely lightly because they weren’t really sure he was guilty. That is not how this system is supposed to work.
There was no evidence of guilt. But, the ineffective investigation made sure there was also no evidence of innocence.
After the trial:
Following the verdict and the massive media coverage of the conviction, a friend of the accuser came forward. A very respected and loved 14-year-old girl who had nothing to gain from speaking out. She spoke of a conversation in which the accuser admits to having lied about being raped by a man named Justin. She took the stand and testified to such in a motion for new trial two months after the conviction. She was a very credible and believable witness. The courtroom was completely full of supporters for Justin. Everyone left expecting a reversal of the trial verdict. It did not come.
Recently, a juror of the trial walked into the defense attorney’s office without prompting from anything but his own conscience. He told of how some jurors believed Justin to be innocent, but that the few jurors who believed he was guilty would not budge, and there was pressure to not spend the weekend sequestered (This is not the only case in which this theme occurs in our county). The conviction was a bargain of sorts.
The community wanted a conviction. The protesters wanted a conviction. The jurors themselves had lived in this community and were aware of the climate:
“The child molesters are all walking free, and we demand change! Stop offering probation to the guilty and put them on trial. If you put them on trial, we will see that they are convicted! Throw the accused in the river to drown. If they are guilty, they deserve it. If they are innocent, sorry, but we’ve got to be sure our children are safe.”
The prosecution obliged. And the jury obliged. They sent a man whose guilt was never proven to prison, just to be sure.