I’ll never forget that day.
I’m talking about the winter day in 2013 when Michelle Ivey and I delivered the bad news to our crime victim. At that time the victim was 27 years old. Three years earlier she had been raped. A Fayette County jury had convicted her attacker. But, the judge, Christopher McFadden, who usually sits on the Court of Appeals in Atlanta but had come to Fayetteville to try her case, had thrown out the conviction.
The defendant’s semen was on the sheets where the rape occurred. And he didn’t even live at the house. There was injury to the victim’s genitals that a doctor swore was consistent with her report of rape. And that injury would heal quickly, within 72 hours. So the injury supported her report as to the time when she was attacked.
But, the judge overturned the conviction and granted a new trial. He said the victim didn’t act like somebody who had just been raped. The victim has Down’s Syndrome. She reads on a third grade level.
I was livid. I’m still angry. There are people who are incapable of reporting the mistreatment they endure. Some have autism. Some are in nursing homes. Others are non-verbal for a variety of reasons. They are prime targets for criminals.
Others can tell what happened to them, but may not be believed. Maybe they aren’t skilled enough in language to verbally joust with a lawyer in the courtroom.
Far too often we can’t obtain justice for handicapped victims. But here was a case where science and medicine confirmed the report of the victim. And a judge tossed the conviction.
How do you explain that to a fragile victim who had already mustered up all her courage to testify?
Michelle and I went to her house. She was thrilled to see us. Our message changed all that. We told her she would need to testify again or the man who raped her would get away with what he did.
She grabbed Michelle and squeezed her as hard as she could. She sobbed quietly. Her body shook as she cried uncontrollably for about five minutes.
Finally, she regained control. She released Michelle and turned to face me. With her entire face wet with tears she said, “Let’s do it.”
Last week we did it.
We retried William Jeffrey Dumas for rape. This time we had a different judge. And once again a Fayette County jury convicted him. He’s going to prison for 25 years and will be on probation for the rest of his life. It’s not enough punishment for what he did. But, Judge McFadden had tied the hands of this trial judge by sentencing Dumas to the minimum penalty after the first conviction.
So what was the reaction of our victim? Was she bitter that a judge had caused her such unnecessary pain? Was she wringing her hands and wondering why life is so unfair? Just what did she have to say?
“Mister Scott Ballard, I love you!”
Scott Ballard is District Attorney for the Griffin Judicial Circuit, which consists of Fayette, Pike, Spalding and Upson counties.