DAVENPORT - A Davenport mother who says her son was wrongly convicted of rape says she will never stop fighting to get her son released from prison after discovering key DNA evidence was withheld at his trial.
[name withheld] was arrested in 2005 after a female friend said he sexually assaulted her after an all-day drunk-fest in Lowden, Iowa.
"He passed out and the next thing he knows, he's being arrested", his mom, [name withheld] said in an interview with News 8.
[name withheld] testified in his own defense at his trial, but was convicted in 2006 and sentenced to a mandatory 10 years in prison.
But [name withheld] family later discovered an incredible DNA bombshell left out of his defense.
The lab report from the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation shows that [name withheld] DNA wasn't found anywhere on the young woman. In fact the report reads "[name withheld] was ELIMINATED as a DNA donor".
The sperm wasn't his.
"My son is innocent and the DNA shows it beyond a shadow of a doubt", Apala-Cuevas said. "They found other DNA from another man this woman had sex with prior to this".
Worse yet, [name withheld]'s own defense attorney knew about the report prior to trial, but never told his client or used it in his defense.
[name withheld]'s mother filed a complaint last year with the Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board.
In September of this year, [name withheld]'s defense attorney Jeffrey Zearley of Tipton, Iowa was publicly reprimanded by the Board.
- So don't hire this lawyer, if you are thinking about it!
But [name withheld], now 26 years old, remains in prison in Mt. Pleasant.
"[name withheld] never had a chance. It should have never went to trial. They should have never arrested him until they got the DNA back', [name withheld] said.
She continues to fight, contacting lawmakers and human rights groups, and News 8, anyone who will listen to what she calls a monumental injustice that has kept her son behind bars for five years, and counting.
In August ,the Innocence Project, A New-York based legal non-profit founded by O.J. Simpson attorney Barry Scheck said it may look into the case.
Monday, December 20, 2010
A convicted sex offender is back in jail after he allegedly went to an area residence where children live.
[name withheld] was in the driveway of a home near Thessalon in the municipality of Huron Shores in early December, said Const. Marilyn Cameron of Ontario Provincial Police.
No youngsters were assaulted.
Crack was placed on a restrictive two-year recognizance in March.
His conditions included not communicating with, or be in the company of, anyone under 16.
[name withheld], 46, was charged with breach of recognizance.
He is currently being held at Algoma Treatment and Remand Centre. His court date is Jan. 27.
[name withheld]'s residence, was destroyed in a fire on Dec. 14 while he was in jail.
The cause is still under investigation, said James Allen of Ontario Fire Marshal's office.
"The structure itself sustained heavy, heavy fire damage," said Allen.
It appears the blaze began in the northwest corner of the bungalow.
Firefighters did not see any footprints around the home's perimeter when they arrived, said Const. Wayne Berthelot.
Sent in via the "Contact" form, and posted with the users permission.
Are there face-to-face support groups for parents of sex offenders anywhere? I am looking specifically for something for a mother in the Washington DC area.
How many other innocent men are sitting in prisons with their lives destroyed because of a computer virus?
How many other families have had their lives destroyed and their life savings wiped out because a family member was wrongly accused of knowingly possessing child pornography?
The main purpose of this website is to find answers to those questions and then figure out what can be done to solve the problem.
Change comes with numbers; isolated cases are forgotten. By examining similar cases, trends and similarities may be discovered that mirror Ned's case. In court, is it common practice to show images from the government's library rather than from the actual computer owned by the defendant? Is it common practice to convict a person strictly on files found on the computer or should there be more supporting evidence such as copied storage medias or libraries of child porn found in possession of that person? Is it common practice for the court to show bias towards the defense in child porn cases? Is it common practice to ignore the gathering of all components involved with the computer in question? Is it a trend that people who can wipe out their life savings to provide a solid defense can create the ability to be acquitted for the same charges given to a person who can not afford proper defense?
This family believes the specific topic is how many people are being wrongly jailed, or tried, for inadvertent files of child porn on their computer. By gathering numerous cases, specifics can be examined and trends may be discovered in the governmental processes of achieving conviction. How they strong-arm a defendant in Arkansas or Maine may be different than Wyoming, but it may still show a trend of government corruption in obtaining guilty verdicts. The overall desire is to achieve standardized guidelines in the ability of the prosecution to build a case concerning child porn so that they are not able to manipulate a jury into a guilty verdict for an innocent person.
We have posted numerous articles on this subject and will continue to post articles as we find them. They can be found on the Newspaper Link or by clicking here.
This website is inspired by the events surrounding the conviction of an innocent man, [name withheld], for possession and receipt of child pornography. [name withheld] is known as "[name withheld]" to his friends and family so that is the name we use on this website.
[name withheld]'s situation can't be an isolated case. We are looking for other people who might be going through a similar nightmare. If you have a story to tell, use the "Contact" link to email us. The more stories we can gather and post online, the more people will realize the existence of this serious problem.
The following is a little bit of background about [name withheld]'s situation. On September 21, 2006 law enforcement searched [name withheld]'s home for child pornography. After an exhaustive search of both his home and his computer nothing was found.
Law enforcement then removed the hard drive from [name withheld]'s computer and took it back to their lab for forensic testing. Only after several days of examination were they able to find trace evidence of child pornography.
In the meantime [name withheld] went on his merry way. He knew there wasn't any child pornography on his computer so he wasn't worried. He went and bought another hard drive for the computer and life continued on for him.
It was a complete surprise to [name withheld] and his family when on January 20, 2007 he was arrested and charged with "knowingly" possessing a hard drive containing digital images of child pornography.
A trial commenced November 3, 2008 and on November 10th the jury reached a verdict of "guilty." On January 21, 2009 [name withheld] was sentenced to 72 months in federal prison.
[name withheld] is incarcerated at the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas. Due to concerns over his safety he is currently housed in the Special Housing Unit (a place the inmates refer to as "The SHU" or "Hole"). [name withheld] has been housed in "The Hole" since arriving at Leavenworth in July 2009. Inmates housed in "The Hole" do not enjoy the privileges that the rest of the general inmate population are able to enjoy.
[name withheld]'s Notice of Appeal was filed on February 5, 2009. On February 17, 2010, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver rendered its decision to affirm the conviction of [name withheld] for Receipt and Possession of Child Pornography. A review of the full court was requested, but denied on April 7, 2010.
[name withheld] is near the end of being able to resolve this issue through the legal system. As of today, justice has not been served. This family realizes there may not be any hope for [name withheld] (although we continue to hold on to hope), but it has become very obvious to us that changes need to be made to the legal system to keep this type of thing from destroying the lives of more innocent people and their families. It is our hope this website will be a start to that end.
They will never block all porn, but they could start by putting it all behind the .XXX domain, then people can just blog anything with .XXX in the domain. But, porn makes billions of dollars, so you can bet it will be fought in court. It's nothing more than "for the children" politics. If they really wanted to protect children, they'd take the kids a way from their own parents, since studies show that they are more likely to be abused by their own family than someone they do not know. And if you eradicate one persons rights, you should also eradicate everyone else's as well. We are all equal, right?
Government plans to block pornography "at source" are unlikely to prove effective, say ISPs.
The proposal to cut off access to pornographic material was floated by Culture Minister Ed Vaizey in an interview with the Sunday Times.
The government is talking to ISPs to set up a meeting at which the proposal will be discussed.
But, say experts, technical challenges mean any large scale filtering system is doomed to failure.
A spokesman for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, confirmed Mr Vaizey's plan to talk to ISPs about setting up an age verification scheme to govern access to pornographic sites.
- You cannot prevent a child from purchasing cigarettes or alcohol, so what makes you think you can protect them here? You can't!
"This is a very serious matter," said Mr Vaizey. "I think it's very important that it's the ISPs that come up with solutions to protect children."
"I'm hoping they will get their acts together so we don't have to legislate, but we are keeping an eye on the situation and we will have a new communications bill in the next couple of years."
- God giveth and man taketh away!
In response to the government proposal, Nicholas Lansman, secretary general of the Ispa industry body, said: "Ispa firmly believes that controls on children's access to the internet should be managed by parents and carers with the tools ISPs provide, rather than being imposed top-down."
Mr Lansman said its members provided parents with many different means of controlling what is accessible via the computers in their homes.
"Online safety is a priority issue for the internet industry and ISPA will be discussing the options available to protect children with Government," he said.
"ISPs currently block child abuse content which is illegal and widely regarded as abhorrent," said Mr Lansman. "Blocking lawful pornography content is less clear cut, will lead to the blocking of access to legitimate content and is only effective in preventing inadvertent access."
BT, the UK's largest ISP, said it would be "happy" to take part in any discussion of the issues, but added: "There are many legal, consumer rights and technical issues that would need to be considered before any new web blocking policy was developed."
"Unfortunately, It's technically not possible to completely block this stuff," said Trefor Davies, chief technology officer at ISP Timico.
He said the sheer volume of pornographic material online and the number of ways that people access it, via the web, file-sharing networks, news groups, discussion boards and the like, made the job impossible.
While some proponents of a national pornographic filtering scheme cite the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) as an example of how such a scheme might work, Mr Davies said it was not a good guide.
The IWF circulates a list to ISPs of sites found to be hosting illegal images of child sexual abuse.
However, said Mr Davies, the IWF draws up its list largely using information passed to it by the public. In addition it only tackles illegal content found on websites.
Such a system would not work if it was used to deal with millions of porn sites, chat rooms and bulletin boards, he said.
Experience with filtering systems, he said, shows that they are a very blunt tool that often blocks access to sites that could be useful.
"You end up with a system that's either hugely expensive and a losing battle because there are millions of these sites or it's just not effective," he said.
- It's the government, they are good at wasting money and doing stuff that won't work.
"The cost of putting these systems in place outweigh the benefits, to my mind," he said.
Mr Davies also feared that any wide-scale attempt to police pornographic content would soon be expanded to include pirated pop songs, films and TV shows.
"If we take this step it will not take very long to end up with an internet that's a walled garden of sites the governments is happy for you to see," he said.
His comment was echoed by Jim Killock, chair of the Open Rights Group which campaigns on digital liberties issues.
"This is not about pornography, it is about generalised censorship through the back door," said Mr Killock.
"This is the wrong way to go," he said. "If the government controlled a web blacklist, you can bet that Wikileaks would be on it."
Miranda Suit, co-chair of Safer Media, which campaigns to make media safe for children, told the BBC that the pornography available on the internet was "qualitatively and quantitatively" different from any that has gone before.
Ms Suit cited a report compiled by the US conservative think tank The Witherspoon Institute which suggested that easy access to pornography was damaging some young people.
- What about all the smut on TV? Music? Video games? Etc?
"Children are becoming addicted in their teens to internet pornography," she said. "They are being mentally damaged so they cannot engage in intimate relationships."
Safer Media backed the government call to block pornography "at source", said Ms Suit.
"What we are talking about is censorship to protect our children," she said.
"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin
By MARY ANN GREIER
LISBON - A ruling earlier this year by the Supreme Court of Ohio regarding sex offender reclassifications has resulted in another sex offender winning his appeal and having his civil case sent back to Columbiana County.
[name withheld], 42, was one of several convicted sex offenders who challenged the constitutionality of a portion of Ohio's Adam Walsh Act, which resulted in the state automatically changing their classifications to more stringent requirements.
The reclassifications which lengthened reporting requirements in some cases came after the offenders had already been in court and faced a judge, in effect, overturning court action.
The Supreme Court ruled the move by the state in those cases was unconstitutional, resulting in the state reversing the action and reinstating the original sex offender classifications. The ruling didn't affect registrations determined after the new classification system was put in place.
The high court ruled the reclassifications violated the separation-of-powers doctrine, which means legislative action can not overturn court action.
A Common Pleas Court jury convicted [name withheld] of sexual battery, a third-degree felony, and sexual imposition, a third-degree misdemeanor, in 1999. He was sentenced to four years in prison and 60 days in the county jail, with the terms to be served at the same time. He was also named a habitual sexual offender, but that was reduced to sexually oriented offender status in 2001, meaning he had to register his address with the Sheriff's Office for 10 years after his release from prison.
When he was reclassified by the state in 2007, he was given more stringent reporting requirements and filed a lawsuit against the state. Many of the cases were stayed pending a ruling by a higher court. Once the 7th District Court of Appeals found the reclassifications weren't unconstitutional, the Common Pleas Court judges followed suit and denied the constitutional challenges.
[name withheld] appealed the Common Pleas Court ruling to the 7th District Court of Appeals, which cited this year's decision by the Supreme Court as the reason for overturning the lower court's decision.
[name withheld]'s classification had already been switched back to sexually oriented offender. He's currently listed on the county sheriff's web site as a registered sex offender.
Court documents said [name withheld] had sexual contact with a woman and a female juvenile in 1998.
His civil case over the reclassification will be reviewed in Common Pleas Court.
This is an excellent speech by this ex-judge. She tells it like it is.
Governor Jennifer M. Granholm today praised Michigan Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth "Betty" Weaver for her lifelong effort to protect Michigan's children and young people and her unwavering commitment to an independent, fair and balanced judicial system. The governor's comments followed Weaver's announcement that she has resigned from the state's highest court. Her resignation became effective at 11:00 a.m. today.
Granholm also announced the appointment of Judge Alton Thomas Davis to serve as a justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, filling the vacancy created by Weaver's resignation. Davis, of Grayling, currently serves on the 4th District Court of Appeals. Prior to being appointed to the Court of Appeals by Granholm in 2005, Davis served as chief judge of the 46th Circuit Court representing Crawford, Kalkaska and Otsego counties.
By Allison Glock
LOCATED IN A WAREHOUSE outside Dallas, the windowless Metroflex Gym is not air-conditioned, an aesthetic choice that edits the clientele to a select group of cops, bikers, bodybuilders and other masochists who thrive on the deprivation that exercising in unfiltered 110-degree heat produces. Inside on this blazing midsummer day, patrons are greeted by a 10-foot wooden cross and the rib-rattling sounds of speed metal or hardcore rap. The walls are plastered with bodybuilding glossies, pictures of champions past and present, including local hero and former Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman. Above the photos, artwork depicts the end times -- which, in the given environment, are easy to imagine.
Below the cross, NFL hopeful [name withheld] is pumping out a set of curls. At 6-foot-7 and 310 pounds, the 24-year-old offensive lineman is easily the biggest man in a room filled with big men. His shoulders are the size of canned hams; his thighs cement-solid. As he pauses to swig water laced with protein powder, a 4-year-old girl toddles over and stops at his feet.
"My mama is over there," she shouts, pointing a chocolate-covered finger toward the rear of the gym.
[name withheld] smiles, gives her a gentle high-five. "You gonna work out too?" he asks, crouching to meet the girl eye-to-eye. She shakes her head.
"Is that chocolate bar for me?" he teases.
[name withheld] laughs, then nods to the mother, who gives him a thumbs-up. "Looking good, [name withheld]!" she yells over the music.
He returns to his reps, sweat running like water over his cheekbones and neck. A 20-something dude wearing long shorts and flip-flops passes by, reaches up, punches [name withheld] in the chest. "What up, brah?"
[name withheld] nods hello while the dude raps along with the radio and rhymes right in his face -- "Put a cap in yo' muthaf---in' head!" -- bobbing up and down until, finally, he starts laughing, doubling over at his own drollery, then dances away, chin jerking like a chicken's.
"That guy, he was born rich," [name withheld] says impassively. "And his dad lost everything. So now he has to start over." He takes his baseball cap off, turns it backward, puts it back on. "He's trying to build himself a life from nothing." The big man smiles, lips tight. "Kind of like me."
THERE ARE LINES you don't cross. That's what we all believe, what we tell ourselves to make sense of this world and its chaos, a psychological life raft we self-inflate. One thing is okay and another is not, the lines sharp as razor cuts, impossible to ignore. We like it this way. Solid. In or out. Good or bad. Right or wrong. But the circumstances, they interfere. They smudge the lines, or erase bits completely, making everything hard to see. And then we find, all of us wandering in this world and its chaos, how easy it is to get lost.
[name withheld] was a joyful kid, the sort of boy other parents wanted to have over for barbecues and board games. This was before, during those brief idyllic years when his bartender dad, Thomas Wells, was still at home with them all -- [name withheld] and older brother [name withheld] and younger sister [name withheld] and mom [name withheld] -- in a Dallas suburb. No one had gotten their hands on [name withheld] yet, taken him to places he wasn't able to understand, excised his trust and replaced it with an abiding shame that led, inexorably, to the after.
He was 9 years old. Too young, he says, to see what he saw. Too small to endure what he endured. Exposure to pornography. Unbidden touching. Sexual misconduct that he stops short of calling abuse. "It was nobody that matters now," he says. Then he adds flatly, "Close relatives."
When [name withheld] was 12, his father left the family. "We moved to New Orleans, and he went someplace else," [name withheld] says. No one ever said why. So he didn't ask. He was good at keeping quiet.
The boy left behind his beloved go-kart, and the woods and the parks, as he and his siblings and their mother settled a block from the projects in Marrero, La., on the west bank of the Mississippi, across the river from New Orleans. Any aspirations he harbored before moving were quickly knocked down, shattered by the bone-deep apathy that seeped into the community like tea into porcelain, dark and permanent.
[name withheld] noticed how nobody ever talked about getting out. How nobody believed they could. Soon enough, neither did he. Months passed. Memories of Texas faded. His focus shifted from the future to the present. More specifically, to how he "could survive another day." This was not a metaphorical question. "Every day I left home, I realized I might have to fight," he says. "I spent most of my time making sure I didn't get killed."
With his gentle nature, [name withheld] was a frequent target. Gangs of boys would circle, pound him senseless, steal his shoes. He never started fights, nor was he very good at finishing them. His strength was in taking it, picking himself up off the sidewalk, hobbling home, saying nothing. "There was no one to tell," he says.
His mother worked two restaurant jobs. He says his brother, older by three years, was a "street body," coming home late and only to sleep, before eventually enlisting in the Marines and leaving New Orleans behind. [name withheld] spent many hours on the street himself, wandering, trying to avoid the wrong block, to avoid inadvertently pissing off the wrong guy. He saw things. Things he wished he hadn't seen. Like that girl down the road. She was 12 years old, maybe. They said she did everything. He never went to find out. But he saw her, all cutoffs and crazy hair. He looked into her eyes, knew that what they said was true.
When he wasn't walking, he rode the bus. It had AC, and he could sit. He rode for hours to places he didn't care about. Rode in circles, watching folks get on and off. He took in everything, but felt nothing. This was something he taught himself. He called it "the swallowing."
His family moved to a rougher neighborhood, then moved again. "We couldn't make rent," [name withheld] says. Four more times they moved, putting him in three different schools. His only constant was [name withheld], younger by a year. He looked after her, helped her with homework, made sure she ate dinner. She gave him purpose, reminded him of the person he used to be, before.
Still, the images piled up. The broken faces, the men stooped by life, the young boys glimpsing their futures, their last stubborn desires, draining like a cut snake. He was no different. "I tried not to think so much," he says, "because when I would think, I would get depressed."
So he shut it down, made himself "dead to the world." Happy, sad, it was all the same big nothing to him. He became concrete. He became the moon. And it worked. He was 16 years old now. Nobody could touch him.
"I WAS never taught how to be good."
After his workout, [name withheld] is placing his order at a Chipotle in Plano, Texas. He requests a chicken burrito and a large bottled water.
"You play football?" the cashier asks him, looking at his massive forearm as he reaches for his change. [name withheld] sucks his teeth, doesn't answer. He sits down, gingerly eats half his lunch, wraps the rest for dinner. Four of his fingers are recently tattooed, the skin still flaking from the scabs. Perseverance. Dedication. Resilience. Faith. The words trail knuckle to nail. "My life in a nutshell," he says.
[name withheld] got the ink two weeks prior, in early July, when he heard that a Canadian Football League team was interested in signing him. "I was days from moving," he says. Then Canadian immigration officials intervened, forcing him and the CFL into a holding pattern because of his legal circumstances. "With my specific charge, it's harder to be let in. I get that. All I know is I am here, trying to make it right."
He puffs his chest, then exhales hard enough to blow a napkin off the table. He watches it float to the floor. Like 716,750 other Americans, [name withheld] is a registered sex offender. You can find his picture online, a simple head shot; he is dressed in a black jacket, eyes low, resigned. He takes a new photo every year. It's a requirement, one of the easier ones to endure. The registry lists his address and provides a map to it. His height, weight, skin color, shoe size, employer and photos from previous years are all there too. The charge is at the bottom: prohibited sexual conduct.
On May 9, 2003, [name withheld] pleaded guilty to having consensual sex with his biological sister, [name withheld]. He was 16, she was 15.
"Incest," he says, looking straight ahead.
He says he didn't plan to do it. He was a teenager. Unstrung. Unsupervised. His world was at war. He was scared. Isolated. Except she was there, the two of them best friends, close as book pages. They loved each other, trusted each other. And one day that tipped into something more. Something neither one felt was wrong in the moment. "We were just sitting there, and it was like, 'Do you want to?'" he says. There was no discussion. "We did it. And it was like, 'OK, what's next?' We never talked about it after that."
Both say it happened only once more. The two never kissed. Never shared true intimacy. Just spontaneous, ill-conceived connections. Needs met when few others were.
A few months after they first had sex, [name withheld]'s sister went out one night to meet somebody. Her boyfriend, she says. Johns, the police suspected. Soon after, [name withheld]'s phone rang. His sister had been picked up by the cops. He needed to come get her, and he needed to come right away. "All I knew was my sister was in trouble," he says. "So when I showed up, and they asked me about the two of us, I said yes. I didn't know it was illegal."
As it turned out, according to [name withheld]'s account, the cops had been asking a lot of questions about her home life, digging to find out how a 15-year-old girl ends up on the streets. (The Magazine left multiple messages seeking comment from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office and district attorney but received no answer.) [name withheld] denied she was a prostitute. So they asked her if there were issues at home. Was that why she ran off? Had anyone in her family touched her, abused her? For more than three hours, she stuck to her story: She left home to meet her boyfriend. She adored her brother. He was a good kid who took care of her. Their family wasn't like that.
More officers came into the interrogation room. [name withheld] was alone. She had no lawyer, just her and a passel of cops and detectives, and it got later and later into the night, and she was hungry and tired. It was then, four hours in, she says, that they started talking about jail.
[name withheld] did not want to go to jail. She wanted to leave. She says the cops promised her that if she confessed, everyone could go home, that she and her family would get free counseling and all this ugliness would end, and everyone could sleep in their own beds. They said it was her choice. Did she want to end up in prison? Her brother too?
[name withheld] folded. She said things that she insists now were "half-true" or "complete lies." She nodded her head yes to every question and said whatever she thought they wanted to hear.
"And then, like that, I was in jail," [name withheld] says.
[name withheld] was let go as promised. Her brother, a juvenile, was processed as an adult and put in jail with grown men. He was released after a month, only to find out he would have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
It was an exile to another world. [name withheld] soon found himself in mandatory therapy groups with men who had collected violent child pornography, men who had raped preschoolers. "I never thought I belonged in that club -- not by a long shot," he says. "My offense was over with when I did it. It wasn't a struggle I had or have still."
As a registered sex offender and on five-year probation, [name withheld] could not live within 1,000 feet of a day-care center or school. He had to avoid playgrounds and churches. He could not move or travel without permission, granted at the discretion of a local officer. More immediately, he had to inform his neighbors of his crime: "I was required to put out fliers to a five-mile radius around my house. It was my name, my picture, what I was charged with. Incest."
His voice catches on the word.
"At first, people came around and talked to me. Then that stopped. I always knew when people found out."
He tried not to care. He tried to crawl even deeper into himself. But there was nowhere dark enough to hide. Every time he left his home, he felt the eyes on him, heard the whispers. He was unredeemable, broken. His sin was written on paper, put in people's mailboxes.
His mind began to betray him. Maybe he was what they said. A pervert. Sick. Maybe he didn't deserve to live. He considered suicide. "The intense humiliation," he says. "I began to feel like I deserved it. Maybe I wasn't so different from those other guys."
[name withheld]'s family stood by him. His mom, who blamed herself for the incident -- "I wasn't around," she says -- resolved to soldier on for the kids, "to act like a normal family." His dad, who had moved to New Orleans that same year but had remained largely absent from [name withheld]'s and [name withheld]'s lives, was more confused than angry. "I would never have conceived it," Wells says. "My son and my daughter?"
Wells' friends advised him to let his son rot in jail. "But I didn't want to lose him," says the father. "If he had tried to hurt my daughter, I'd feel different. But he didn't."
Wells says his daughter told him that "she was as much to blame as [name withheld]," that they "were experimenting." He pauses, takes a deep, cleansing breath, searches his mind for a reason. "Say you're playing football. The coach wants you to play but then says, 'Hey, we don't have helmets or cleats, but go out anyway.'" His voice sounds weary. "Sometimes in life we aren't equipped to deal with the game."
ACCORDING TO THE National Center on Sexual Behavior of Youth, adolescent sex offenders have a low chance of recidivism -- 5 percent to 14 percent -- and are seen as highly treatable. Yet they are often prosecuted as adults and end up on the same state and federal sex-registration lists as violent predators, notes Patrick Maier, a former legal-defense activist specializing in sex offenders. "With these guys, the authorities can pretty much make it up as they go along," he says. Adds Bruce Cobb, an attorney in Beaumont, Texas, who is now looking into [name withheld]'s case pro bono, "[name withheld] didn't get a fair shake. He was prosecuted as an adult. And he should not have been." Cobb has practiced law for 25 years, and he says he's disturbed by what he sees as an increasingly heedless mentality toward sex offenders: "The law is paved with good intentions, but we are starting to go crazy over this thing."
Clemency for sex offenders is as uncommon as unicorns. Politicians who pardon them aren't rewarded with re-election. Cops who are lenient on the accused aren't promoted. The public wants to believe that everything that can be done to protect their children is being done -- as well it should be. Sex offenders can be dangerous, morally corrupt sociopaths. But some are just kids like [name withheld], reared in a soup of turmoil, unable to decipher what sex and love are supposed to be.
"I believe I should face the consequences -- and I have," [name withheld] says, his voice rising slightly. He is in line at a 7-Eleven, waiting to buy chewing tobacco. "I hated myself for a long time. I hated that I couldn't make a better decision. I hated what I did. I hated who I was."
Looking back, he can see the true measure of his misjudgment. He can sense in his gut the inborn error, the bedrock level of wrong. He knows how it looks to others, and he does not expect to be understood or absolved. What he wants now, as a grown man -- what he prays for, from God -- is for someone, anyone, to appreciate the circumstances.
"I'm more than what people see me as," he says, wiping his mouth with his thumb. "What I went through as a kid. I wanted to find love so bad. But I had no idea what love even was."
[name withheld] was introduced to football like so many kids are, via Pop [name withheld]. He was 9, tall enough that he played quarterback. His father jokes that he has video of a young [name withheld] running the length of the field for a touchdown -- at his own team's goal line. "Just racing as fast as he could in the wrong direction!"
The kid continued playing through middle school in Louisiana, until his life started "going south." After his first year of high school football, in 2002, he quit the sport. Dreaming about it had started to feel useless, like a trick he was playing on himself. Then the arrest happened. And jail. He dropped out of school for a year, moved in with his dad. He reduced his world to their apartment, pulled the blinds. "I just said 'Forget it.'"
But his body continued to grow. Without lifting a single weight, [name withheld] began to add size. Local coaches took note, pushing him to re-enroll. He did. And in 2004, his junior year, he played football at Alcee Fortier High School in New Orleans, dominating on the defensive line. He began to believe that his body -- the body that was betrayed, then betrayed him -- could be a tool. LSU expressed interest in recruiting him. "Every time I put on the pads," he says, "I felt my dream."
But the dream was short-lived. In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit, and [name withheld]'s family moved back to Texas for a fresh start. There, he enrolled at the University School of Las Colinas, a charter program outside Dallas. But there was no football team, and he fell off the recruiting map.
School ended. With no college offers, [name withheld] devoted himself to his new girlfriend, a staunch Christian he met in line at the DMV. "She was the first girl I met after the situation," he says. He was 17, she was 16. He called her for a date the same day. The two went to see "Pirates of the Caribbean." "We didn't even look at the screen." Two months later, he told her about his record. "She said she wasn't going anywhere just because of that."
When his girlfriend became pregnant, they got married and moved in together into their own apartment. "She was everything to me," [name withheld] says. "She looked past what I did. She just wanted to be with me. That's all I wanted in the world, just someone to sit by my side."
The marriage lasted about a year -- "We were teenagers," he says -- but the friendship survived, and the two remain close, co-parenting their 5-year-old son, [name withheld], and talking every day. ([name withheld] also has an 11-month-old son, Tage, with his current girlfriend.) It was during his marriage, and shortly after his graduation, when a used-car dealer offhandedly suggested to [name withheld] that he should play football. His wife saw it as a sign from above, so he went online and started searching for a coach and school that might accept him the way she had. He wrote letters, mailed grainy footage from his junior year. He implored and begged. He cast his humility like seed.
Then it happened. A nibble. Mark Sartain, then the coach at Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas, wrote back. He saw something in [name withheld]. A hunger. He decided to take a chance. "I basically interrogated him," Sartain says. "I could sense the pain in his voice, on his face. He was being held hostage to this thing." [name withheld] voluntarily confessed his sins the first time they met, which impressed Sartain. "We'd all be in trouble if we were judged based on something we did as kids," the coach says.
Officials in both Louisiana and Texas had to ratify [name withheld]'s petition to move, something New Orleans officials initially ignored. But thanks to his persistence in seeing the process through, [name withheld] eventually received permission. At Trinity, he started late in his first year, in 2006, after switching to the offensive line, then earned all-conference honors his second year. "There were no protests or boycotts about [name withheld] being on the team," says Sartain, who's now the coach at East Texas Baptist. "No teammates quibbled about it."
Opposing teams were less magnanimous. You f---ing pervert. You gonna rape me like you raped your sister?
"I heard it all," [name withheld] says.
During the lineman's second season, a friend of Sartain's, Abilene Christian coach Chris Thomsen, called about transfer prospects. Sartain assured him that [name withheld] would be a good fit, then even wrote a letter to Abilene's president, explaining the player's past and vouching for his character. Abilene, one of the most religious schools in the country, opened its doors. [name withheld] started every game for two seasons, and was named a two-time Division II All-American. "One of the most gifted athletes I have ever been around," Thomsen says.
At this year's NFL combine, in March, [name withheld] finished with a 6.3 national grade, projecting him as a possible second-round talent. Then the whispers started. In team interviews, he had been up-front about his record. "No big deal," he says he was told by league gatekeepers. But Ben Roethlisberger and Michael Vick were causing a stir, ushering in a new tide of character scrutiny. And as the draft neared, owners and their decision-makers began to think it through. How do you defend your choice to draft a known sex offender? Would [name withheld] need to announce his crime every time his team traveled to another state? (No.) Would teammates accept him?
With the whispering came rumors. That he was a rapist. That his sister was mentally disabled. That he'd had run-ins with women since the incident.
"None of which was true!" shouts his agent, former NFL defensive back Vann McElroy. "You get a feeling from bad guys. Things keep coming up. But [name withheld] is clean, and has been for years."
The big day arrived. [name withheld] knew better than to expect to go during the first round of the draft. "But on the second day, we believed, maybe," he says. The call didn't come. Certain he'd be selected on the third and final day, he threw a backyard party in Dallas. There were more than 30 people -- his parents, uncles, aunts, his two kids, his girlfriend, his trainer, his trainer's family, Abilene teammates -- all watching together, eating barbecue and flipping dominoes, waiting for his name to be announced.
By the fifth round, it started to hit him: Players with lower combine grades than his were being drafted. He began to pray, to beg God. The sixth round ticked by. Nothing. Then the seventh. Finally, the last pick came. No call. No one drafted him. "I couldn't explain it," he says. "I didn't want to have to explain it."
[name withheld] got into the car with a friend, one of his Abilene teammates, and told him to "just drive." They ended up at a park, sitting there, [name withheld] silent while his friend tried to convince him that his chance was still coming. But in the days and weeks after, there was only silence -- no invitations to camp, no tryouts, nothing. "I thought worst-case, free agent," McElroy says. "I did not sense, visiting with these teams, that no one would do anything."
The agent begins ticking off the NFL players he knows with records or bad reps: "They've got guys with DWIs, guys who killed dogs, beat up women, smoked drugs, fought in bars, raped, worse. I could go down the list." By comparison, McElroy argues, [name withheld]'s offense was minor. "I'd have no problem letting him sleep at my house with my two daughters there."
Before the draft, McElroy hired sports psychology consultant Robert Andrews to determine [name withheld]'s readiness for the pressures of the NFL. "You know what I say to people who want to throw this kid out?" Andrews says. "I say go spend six months in the worst part of New Orleans, and imagine yourself being a child there, and see if you can come to a place of understanding about how this could have happened."
Andrews dug deep in his evaluation, administering a battery of psychological tests. [name withheld] profiled as a leader. A sociable person. A man with resilience. "Nothing to indicate any trouble down the road," Andrews says.
One front-office source from a team that dropped [name withheld] off its draft board says the player didn't seem to show enough remorse. More to the point, the team didn't want to deal with the complications of having a sex offender on the roster. "He'd be a media distraction," the source says. "You have to ask, is he worth the headache?"
"I get it," [name withheld] says. "It isn't just about sports. It is politics and money. Why would they take on a sex offender? I wouldn't."
ON A LATE AUGUST evening, [name withheld], now 23, is resting in bed at her father's house in Fort Worth, Texas, where she lives with him. She punctured her eye as a child, jumping off a mattress. She can't see clearly, or drive, so he helps with all that. The two were rebaptized not long ago, she says. They wanted to renew their faith. They wanted God to bless them.
"I feel for my brother," [name withheld] says calmly. "I was so happy when he got out of jail. He had no reason to be in there."
She wants this to be known, to be clear: "My brother never, ever raped me. He never tried to hold me down. Or threaten me. Or abuse me. Or frighten me. Or anything like that. What some of these people are speculating, none of that ever happened."
The Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office recounts it differently in an arrest report that says, in part, "victim tried to push and resist the subject, but was unable as he used his body weight to hold her down."
"They twisted our stories around," [name withheld] says. "They wanted us to incriminate each other. They told me if I said that, we could all go home."
[name withheld] remembers [name withheld]'s return from jail, how they hugged each other and cried with relief, how they "thought everything was done with." She didn't understand then what her brother's sentencing meant, how the ghost of their choices would haunt him, the specter trailing him until death. "We thought we could all just move on with our lives."
She insists now, eight years later, that they have. Her brother Kim is in Kuwait, a sergeant in the Marines. Her mother lives in Jamaica with her husband of five years. [name withheld] has his football. "I would go to the ends of the earth for [name withheld]," [name withheld] says. "I love him. And I know he loves me. He would never do anything to hurt me. And I would never hurt him. Not intentionally."
She reminisces about how sweet [name withheld] used to be when they were kids, and how funny. He is less funny now. "[name withheld] and I, we talk," she says. "Sometimes we hang out. I support him, I go to his games. We have a nice relationship. Just like any family."
[name withheld] is idling in the parking lot outside the high school field in Plano, where he practices with his Arena football team, the Dallas Vigilantes. He's early, so he rolls down the car windows and waits. He says hello to a few other players who amble past, some he knows from watching the NFL, men "who used to pull millions."
He earns $400 per game. His regular season is four months long, from April to July. He has no insurance, no benefits. The team has little budget for perks, like ice water, so training sessions are sometimes brief and halfhearted. Still, [name withheld] keeps on. He loves to play. He needs to play. "With my record, it is damn near impossible to get a job," he says. "So really, this is all I got."
Although his sister's admission to police has irreparably altered his life, he insists that he has never felt betrayed by her. "We were kids," he says, then stops. He shifts in his seat, turns away.
At 24, he is just learning how to cry. Without the benefit of counseling, which he can't afford, he is trying to evolve, grow into a man. Part of that, he believes, is sharing his story. Stepping in front of the gun and waiting to see if the world will pull the trigger. "I let everyone in my life know my record," he says.
On his arm, [name withheld] sports a tattoo of the NFL logo. Around his collarbone is more ink, several inches high and running shoulder-to-shoulder, which he got after the draft: "Only God can judge me." Both, he realizes, are wishful thinking. There are rare weightless times, moments when he almost forgets. When he is driving his car and his only concern is the snarl of traffic. But most days it feels as if he will never escape the heat of his past, like he is a giant, pressing his cheek against the sun.
Last night, his credit card was denied at Walmart. He had to leave his shaving cream and deodorant on the belt. "I'm used to it," he says, spitting Grizzly dip into a busted Styrofoam cup. [name withheld] is broke. He buys gas with change, bums his protein powder from friends. McElroy is paying for his motel room, his rental car. Both men are counting on that one elusive big break. "My chance for salvation," [name withheld] says.
He opens the car door, heaves himself from the cramped space. "I know how people think of sex offenders," he says, citing cases involving predators who rape children. "But that wasn't me." He pulls a shoulder to his ear, rubs the two together. "If someone did that to one of my kids, I'd kill them."
Moments later, [name withheld] is easy to spot on the field, like a great white shark in a sea of baby seals. The day is brutally hot, wilting players like leaves. Most of them go through practice with the enthusiasm of sullen teenagers, but [name withheld]'s outsize body twitches with desire for the hit. He speeds through the drills, intense, purposeful, cocking his head to listen as the coach advises him to hold back a touch, to attempt patience. He tries again. Tamps down the eagerness. Makes himself a wall. Braces for impact. Hours pass. His exhausted teammates goof and lounge on the grass, helmets at their feet. [name withheld] stays dressed, keeps on running, trusting somehow that it matters.
After practice, the sun finally setting, he races in his car to visit his boys before bedtime. Unshowered and damp with sweat, he is reciting his poetry. I'm cold and shivering, weak in the knees. The poetry was a therapeutic exercise he learned in jail. His first poem, the one he is reciting, is called, "Why?" I think to myself, how could you do this to me?
[name withheld] makes a point to visit his kids every day. (The boys live with their mothers in the Dallas area.) He and Tage's mom plan to marry. Despite everything he has suffered, he still believes in true love. It is, he says, all he has ever really wanted. "I had a notebook full of love poems," he says, "but they were destroyed by Katrina." He hasn't written any lately. "If I wrote a poem now, it would be called, 'When is it over?'" He laughs a hollow laugh.
"What I dream for, it may not ever come to me," he says softly, eyes skipping over his NFL tattoo. "But I have to be ready to receive it. Just in case. Otherwise, what am I doing?"
Recently there has been been a slim ray of light. A scout from a UFL team has been sniffing around, albeit cautiously. "I'm trying to make that jump from a kid having a tough time to a kid who has sex with his sister," the scout says. "No one is going to argue that [name withheld] is not talented enough. We just need to know the ramifications of putting him on the roster."
[name withheld] isn't celebrating yet. He has learned his lesson about hope, fallen through those trap doors too many times. He has slogged his burden around for eight years -- longer if you start counting at age 9, when he was just a boy in a go-kart, tracing the Texas fields. He has learned something else, too, something about life and lines and what happens when you cross them. "I used to always be in such a rush," he says. "Now I wait."
"For change. For a chance. For somebody to decide it is enough. Because in the end, no matter how much right I do, it isn't my choice to say, 'You're forgiven.'"
Until that day, for as long as the universe will allow, he will put on his pads, and he will stand in the heat, on that line, and he will take the hits, one after another, unflinching. It is the thing he does best.
It is, he believes, what he deserves.