A Georgia-based Court of Appeals judge has come under fire after overturning a rape conviction against a man accused of repeatedly attacking a woman with Down's syndrome because she "did not behave like a victim" and the accused "did not behave like someone who had recently perpetrated a series of violent crimes against her."
In his judgement issued in Fayette County last month, judge Christopher J. McFadden overturned the jury's guilty verdict and ordered a new trial for William Jeffrey Dumas, who was convicted of repeatedly raping the 24-year-old woman on October 18, 2010. Dumas had been sentenced to 25 years in prison for the alleged attack.
Issuing his ruling and outlining concerns that had "left the court in doubt", McFadden wrote:
"At no time prior to her outcry … did [the victim] behave like a victim. Nor did [William Jeffrey] Dumas behave like someone who had recently perpetrated a series of violent crimes against her… "
He added that the victim did not show "visible distress" when reporting the rape.
The judge conceded that, "It is true, as the state pointed out in closing argument, that there is no manual dictating how one must behave in such circumstances."
But, he added, "It requires more than that bald argument to satisfy this court that it should ignore the fact that, until the outcry, neither of them showed any fear, guilt or inclination to retreat to a place of safety."
He also noted, "The difficulty with the state's case may be reconciled on the basis that [the victim] needed time to process what had happened to her, as is often the case with small children who have been victimised in this way. But notwithstanding the state's characterization of her as a child, she was in fact a 24-year-old woman."
Judge Christopher J. McFadden
In his transcript issuing judgement on the case, McFadden also pointed to discrepancies in some of the witness testimony in the original trial.
Fayette County District Attorney Scott Ballard, who prosecuted the case, said he received news of the re-trial with "disgust."
"I had to go visit the Down syndrome woman who was the victim of the rape and tell her that even though a jury had convicted her assailant of the crime, the judge was giving the guy a new trial," Ballard told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "Her parents were, as you can image, outraged. I just hope we can get some justice."
The prosecution has since filed a motion asking McFadden to recuse himself from the case. The motion noted that during the trial, the prosecution had established that Dumas’ semen was found on the bed on which the woman slept the night of the alleged attack and that a doctor who examined the woman had made findings that were consistent with her having been raped.
McFadden denied the motion to recuse himself and said he could not comment further on his ruling, in case it interfered with a future fair trial or hearing.
"I cannot go beyond my written orders," McFadden said. "The Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits me from commenting further."
Prosecutor Ballard said it would be difficult for the victim to testify at another trial. "It was very hard for her to testify the first time because she didn’t want to even be in the same room where he was again," he said.
Words: Anna Brech, Photos: Rex Features