The Salem Witch Trials of Tom Green County

 

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.

 

Subscribe to the LIVE! Daily

The LIVE! Daily is the "newspaper to your email" for San Angelo. Each content-packed edition has weather, the popular Top of the Email opinion and rumor mill column, news around the state of Texas, news around west Texas, the latest news stories from San Angelo LIVE!, events, and the most recent obituaries. The bottom of the email contains the most recent rants and comments. The LIVE! daily is emailed 5 days per week. On Sundays, subscribers receive the West Texas Real Estate LIVE! email.

Required

Most Recent Videos

Comments

i don't know who any of these people are (outsider to the town)- but this is really an eye opening article and very shocking. Good work.

As good as the article may be, I'm not thinking as highly about the title chosen to represent an article about sex offenders. The subject of The Salem Witch Trials is in no way related to such the topic and should never be put in a relation other than the historic memory itself! Especially since some of us in the East coast take it quite seriously.

j w, Thu, 07/14/2016 - 15:36

How dare you post this trash as journalism. You have a piece about a convicted felon, from HIS OWN SISTER, holding it out to be the "real truth" of what happened in this case, when at best it's a smear piece hoping that the mere scent of taint will grant her brother a new trial. Ms. Foster draws wild conclusions about the thoughts and actions of the Tom Green District Attorney's Office, the Sherriff's Office, and even the jury, without presenting any evidence to support these absurd conclusions about witch hunts. I am sure Ms. Foster truly believes that her brother is innocent, but if you're going to accuse prosecutors and law enforcement officers of malicious prosecution, you better come with more evidence than what was presented. Despite all Ms. Foster's wild accusations, the fact of the matter remains that a jury of 12 people that had no knowledge of this case, heard BOTH sides of this story, and still convicted Mr. Riordan

If this was your brother and they did'nt do the investigation you would be doing the same thing.It is clear that girl lied.Or are you upset because yiu were wrong.This is my son if you font like it then go read some place else.Your choice.

j w, Fri, 07/15/2016 - 09:31

Ms. Riordan, I am sorry about your son. I feel sorry for you and Ms. Foster. I've never had someone that I love go to prison, but I can imagine the pain you two must feel. But if the DA's Office didn't think they had a case, then they wouldn't have gone to trial. If the Sheriffs hadn't done a good enough investigation, this would have never gone to trial. If it was so clear that the girl was lying, then the jury wouldn't have found your son guilty. The fact of the matter is that they did go to trial, and an independent jury found him guilty. If he was so clearly innocent, how is it that your defense attorney failed to get a verdict of not guilty? That's his job.

Attacking your readers for their opinions? Interesting move, Joe.

You may not be the only "news org" (using that term VERY loosely) that allows citizens the opportunity to speak, but you do pander to the Facebook crowd of lower IQ individuals compared to an actual brick & mortar news outlet that bothers to get facts correct rather than rush together a hack job on the fly to "break" a story. It's how this site has made the miniscule profits it has; by sensationalizing stories and pushing Facebook outrage with its 20-something aged freelance writers.

How many on the old facebook (where the majority of your clicks came from) are going to see the added context of your morning email? Going to go out on a limb and say not many of them are email subscribers. Just some points people, including you, should ponder.

At some point I realized the story was an opinion. I have no way to verify the comments. However, if even half of them are factually correct then there is the possibility of a miscarriage of justice. There have always been individuals put in jail, including death row, who have subsequently exonerated. While I appreciate the rant portion of your site I really think there would be more rational comments if people were not hiding behind "pen names" but rather had to identify themselves.

j w, Thu, 07/14/2016 - 17:30

1) If you wanted to report more on this story, then report. Letting a concerned party smear the name of the justice system in the search for a new trial for her brother is NOT reporting. Sure the First Amendment allows everyone the right to voice their opinions, but it is also my first amendment right to call them out on their inaccuracies and slant. The First Amendment is not a one way street.

2) You say it's an opinion piece, but the word "opinion" is marked exactly once, in a greyed out font in the corner, hard to see, yet "news" appears four times, and much easier to see. This article is not in the opinion section, but rather the "live thought" section. You can surely imagine why someone might miss that this was an Opinion piece, even when you mark it as such. Surely you could also understand why someone might be upset reading this article thinking it was written by an unbiased professional journalist, only to find AFTER READING THE ENTIRE ARTICLE that it was not.

But shame on me for taking the opportunity to provide my opinion, right Mr. Hyde?

Social Justice & keyboard warriors in addition to social medias have created these so called "experts" everywhere you look. The fact of the matter is, 90% of these people are dumber than a box of rocks. There's plenty of other so called "witch hunts" in the area online but the district attorney's and SAPD won't do anything about it, citing "freedom of speech" when unrelated people's lives are threatened by these rage groups that don't collect all of the facts. It's unfortunate that these terrorist groups are allowed to continue on, corrupting juries in the process, but that's your legal system and leaders for you, San Angelo.

Your tax dollars at work. They'll look out for themselves, but they couldn't care less about your safety or true justice.

I appreciate your news articles and the way in which they are presented. I appreciate you standing up for your writers and co-workers when 2 bit critics trash them. There is a reason I CHOOSE to voluntarily go to this site and read; if I was disgusted by anything, other than the comments, I would get my news elsewhere. That being said, San Angelo Live will still gives us news long after JW and Wolf ST find something else to read. Thank you Joe!

Our justice system in this town does leave a lot to be desired. All you have to do is look at jail records and see how many times some people commit serious crimes yet end up back on the street. That could be due to overcrowding of our jails, who knows. At any rate, it's possible that due to the backlash from the courts giving another man only 10 months probation for a sex crime perhaps our courts decided to make a point. I wasn't in the courtroom so I can't say. Appeals can usually be done at a higher court level, so the defendant could get another trial. Just my 2 cents

First of all, well stated Devil_Dog! This news site is free. I enjoy reading all of the comments, nearly as much as the articles themselves. But why b!tch about the reporting? Its free. If you want to complain about what you think should be top notch news reporting, go BUY an newspaper, then write them a letter about how bad they are doing and demand a refund.

Second, some here have no room to point the finger about lower IQ. I knew this was going to be an opinion piece before I ever opened the page, the title gave a pretty strong indication. And if that wasn't enough, you can't make it very deep into the story before the conjecture (as you admittedly see it) begins.

Finally, as for the subject of the story. I am not related to Justin. I will admit, I have known him for many years. Personal feelings aside, if anyone were to look into the "opinions" given in this story, whether you're biased to this man's feelings or not, you would find that a very large majority of it is actually much closer to fact than opinion. You can't deny the plea deals that he turned down, or the rescheduled court dates. There is obviously reason behind this. This man had faith that the system would do it's job and find the correct verdict. Who would take a gamble on a life sentence if they knew they were guilty? It is also my understanding that it went before a judge to decide whether a retrial would be granted, and it took this judge several days to make a decision. If someone familiar with this trial, and the process as a whole, were confident in the trial and it's outcome, should that answer not have come sooner? What was the judge having to consider? Whether or not it was worth this girl having to sit through another trial to possibly prove she made it up all along? I don't like how that new evidence was so easily dismissed, and neither should anyone else.

Everyone is foaming at the mouth to have "justice served" at any and all costs, even if it isn't real. We should want our system to be truthful and do it's job as it was designed, not be corrupt and throw someone under the bus because it's easier. Whether it's a full blown trial, or a simple speeding ticket, it could be you some day. You'll certainly want it to work properly then.

Do not know any of the people involved but have loosely followed the case. At least enough to know there is not any evidence to speak of. Just because you go through the court system and get a verdict does not make it right. I would like to know that the accused is truly guilty for sending him off to prison. Some people obviously do not want to know and rather go on their beliefs. I just cannot get behind this - maybe I am of lower IQ. But show me the guilt, do not simply wish it.
This is obviously an opinion piece. Not afraid of opinions or the truth.

This is an opinion article. If you don't like what is being said in the article...then Google something else. You are not being forced to read the article.
Since this is an opinion article, I am going to give my personal opinion. I personally think that SAPD and all other agencies involved in this case SCREWED UP MAJORLY. Simply based on the obvious proven fact that the location where this "sexual assault" occurred was not properly secured and investigated with the urgency that was necessary based on how "severe" the incident was. SAPD along with other agencies waste no time at all when it comes to collecting evidence from a drug bust to make sure those criminals stay behind bars. YET....a 13 year old girl is sexually assaulted by a 27 year old man and it takes them months to properly investigate the scene of the crime?! In my opinion, that shows how they are more worried about keeping drug dealers behind bars than a child molester. In my opinion, they should have investigated the crime scene with the same...if not MORE urgency as they would a drug bust. Also, the lack of physical evidence, the FACT that the jury had to be dismissed repeatedly because she couldn't keep her story straight, the statements from witnesses who were there during the supposed sexual assault, the nurse's testimony that the "victim" was on her period during the supposed sexual assault which explained the redness and the lack of blood evidence, lack of blood evidence on clothing she wore during & after the attack PROVES she was lying........either lying about the whole incident or lying about how it supposedly happened, and the FACT that the Rape Crisis Center basically coaches the "victim" on how to win over the jury. The reason I said FACT that the Rape Crisis Center coaches the victims is because I was a LEGITIMATE victim of such crime and that's exactly what they did with me. I think based on all the physical evidence , witness statements, juror statements and the horrible way the case was handled.........COMMON SENSE will tell you that the case should have either been dismissed or had a retrial regardless of the victims emotional state as a result of the attack. I also think that Justin has too much faith in our justice system. He put all his faith in the fact that there was NO physical evidence to suggest that he didn't commit a crime or that a crime even occurred. IN MY OPINION, we failed this man horribly and we as a community should be ashamed.
This is my opinion. You are not being forced to read about my opinion. So if I said something that may have offended anyone, I am sorry but this is my HONEST opinion

The state never proved it beyond reasonable doubt. They can't say that a crime was even comitted. Justins case was on the docket to be dismissed but the rape crisis hounded the DA to press charges . Thats my understanding. As for the jury .They wanted someone to pay due to the DA'S screw up on Boden. They never saw my son they saw Boden when my son walked in courtroom. They had already decided his guilt. They sent an innicent man to orison based in a mean little girl

This isn't the first time that it has happened, it happened a few years ago and same as with Justin, the innocent went to jail because the State primed their witness so that when the questioning got too close to the truth she would start to cry. The State is good at this kind of thing in this county.
To the Riordans, my heart goes out to you. I am so sorry for what you are going through. Justin is a good, honest young man that I agree would never do something like that. Your family will be in my prayers.

Post a comment to this article here:

X Close