10/09/2011

House Arrest: Juvenile Injustice in Texas Part 2

 
In for Murder
"I cried pretty much every night," says Jason of his long and lonely incarceration. "I tried to be a man, and be strong. I don't want you to think I was a wimp or nothing, but I was scared. I was only allowed to talk to my mom on the phone every other day for 30 minutes. I wasn't allowed to see her at all."
But despite it all, Jason managed to keep his boyish sense of humor.
"I was the youngest kid in there," he says. "I was nervous about telling people what they said I did. And because I didn't want nobody messing with me, I told them I was in for murder."
Imitating himself, and assuming a funny tough-guy persona, he said he told them, "I killed a man just to watch him die - 'cause I like blood.'"
One good thing about Jason's ten business days in detention - he took and passed a full battery of psychiatric evaluations and tests with flying colors. The assessing counselor, Dr. Mona Cox, said Jason is a perfectly normal boy.
"There are no indications of any kind that he has any deviant sexual thoughts whatsoever," Dr. Cox wrote in her report to the court. "In my professional opinion, he is neither capable of, nor responsible for, any form of deviant sexual aggression."
'You Think He's Innocent'
But the important players in this drama don't seem to be listening to Dr. Cox. After his ten business days of detention, Jason went back before the court.
Even though they had more than two weeks to get it done, Child Protective Services of Texas told the judge they still needed time to interview and evaluate Jason's younger brother Sam to determine if Jason has sexually abused him.

Once again, it was a mere hearing - no trial and no entering of a verdict by Jason. In fact, there was still not one word from Jason. Nearly a month had gone by since Jason had been arrested. He had spent over two weeks in jail, and he had still not even had charges formally filed against him, much less been given an opportunity to stand before the judge and say, "I didn't do it."
Mike Carlisle, a new attorney hired by Jason's grandfather to replace Yarborough, whom Jason's parents had fired, objected repeatedly during the follow-up hearing. The prosecutor, CPS officer, and judge all kept referring to "the victim," and Carlisle had to keep interjecting that Monica is an alleged victim.
"It was obvious that everyone was just assuming that Jason was guilty," says Carlisle. "The prosecutor hadn't even filed any charges yet, and they've already got the boy convicted in their minds."
But Carlisle's objections and arguments went mostly unheeded. The judge ultimately decided that Jason would be released pending his trial, which the judge ordered must take place within 60 days. And Jason's release would be subject to 26 conditions.
And the conditions imposed by the judge were draconian, to say the least. Among the rules:
1. Jason must be removed from his parents and live with his grandparents in Dallas County, Texas and they will serve as his court-appointed custodians.
2. Jason must enroll in an alternative school rather than a regular middle school.
3. He will not be allowed to participate in any extracurricular activities - no football, no band (Jason plays the saxophone), and no track.
4. Jason must not at any time be in the presence of a child under 13-years-of-age (male or female), including his own brother.
5. Jason may not be out of the sight of a supervising adult for more than ten minutes at a time.
6. Jason will be under house arrest and will not be allowed to go anyplace, at any time, other than school or home, unless written approval has been granted by the court at least 24 hours prior.
7. Even at home, Jason will not be allowed to go into the backyard or into the garage, nor is he allowed to have any windows open.
8. To monitor Jason's compliance, he must wear an ankle bracelet at all times, and he must report to a probation officer once a week.
When the defense attorney objected to the outrageousness of such terms of release for a child who has not even been tried, he was over-ruled. After the hearing, when Jason's grandfather Darryl asked the judge why the boy had to have so many restrictions if Jason was going to be under his supervision, the judge answered, "because you think he's innocent."
Little Boy - Adult Crisis
"It's like still being in jail, except I get to wear my own clothes," says Jason of life under the judge's terms. "I can't do hardly anything. But at least I don't got to listen to people keep calling me a rapist and a child molester all the time like in jail."
Jason tries to remain strong and act nonchalant about his condition - not wanting to appear to be a kid. But he is a kid. And the stress is taking its toll.
Jason reluctantly admits that he has nightmares at night - recurring dreams that he is found guilty and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
"I didn't want you to think I was a little wimp because I get scared at night," he says. "But yeah, I don't like to go to bed 'cause I get scared. I miss my mom and my brother. And I keep thinking I could go to prison and I didn't even do anything."
Jason guardedly admits that he doesn't like to go to sleep without some music playing on his CD player, the light of his computer monitor on his face, and, preferably, another person in the room. His tough-guy persona notwithstanding, it is obvious to anyone who spends a little time with him - this is a little boy. And he's facing a very adult crisis.

"He tries to be upbeat and happy most of the time," says Darryl, Jason's grandfather and court-appointed custodian. "But he can also get pretty sullen. We do the best we can, but ultimately all we can do is wait for the trial and hope for the best. We can't tell him it's all better until it is all better."
The transition to Jason's highly restricted house arrest lifestyle has not been easy on Darryl and his wife Joy, Jason's grandmother, either. Jason has been acting out his anger and fear about his situation onto his grandparents.
"He's become very rebellious," says Joy. "He talks back, even to the point of becoming abusive. He refuses to do chores, like washing the dishes or cleaning his room. He won't pick up his towels off the bathroom floor, and he keeps making long distance calls to his friends back home without asking first."
Most distressing of all to Jason's grandparents, he has become increasingly dishonest. "He's started to lie a lot," says Darryl. "Not about anything major, just little things, like whether or not he's refilled the ice trays. He seems to lie about things he knows he'll get caught lying about."
But through it all, Darryl and Joy are remaining patient.
"He didn't used to be like this," explains Joy. "We know he's just taking out his feelings on all of us, so we try to be understanding. It's hard, but we know he's going through hell."
New Hope
Several months later, well past the 60 day deadline the judge gave for the trial to start, Jason went to yet another hearing. The good news for Jason's family is that Child Protective Services of Texas reported to the court that they closed their investigation, having found "no evidence or indications of abuse" by Jason of his little brother Sam. They also agreed with Dr. Cox, the counselor who determined that Jason was unlikely to have abused anyone.
Another bit of favorable fortune is that Jason's former principal and several of his teachers at his old school in his hometown called his probation officer in Dallas County, Texas to report that Jason has always been a good student and has never been in any kind of trouble at school. They even told the officer that they do not believe Jason to be capable of the crimes of which he has been accused.
But once again, the court and the prosecutor seemed to be deaf to the voices of the experts. This last hearing was to possibly modify or remove the conditions of Jason's pre-trial release. Jason, his family, and his attorney all hoped that Jason would be allowed to return home to his parents and brother, and that the severe restrictions would all be removed. But it didn't happen.
The judge ordered that Jason is to remain in the custody of his grandparents in Dallas County and to remain under house arrest with the ankle bracelet.
He was, however, allowed to leave the alternative school and to enroll in regular school, and he was also granted the right to play football and track and to try-out for the band.
He was now allowed to have his brother visit on weekends with his parents, and to leave house arrest from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. every Saturday. Jason may also go into the backyard and garage now, as long as he is back indoors by 6:30 p.m. every night.
Lacking Credibility
The real bombshell, however, came when the prosecutor announced that he had finally filed charges against Jason - Sexual Assault, a first degree felony.
Everyone was expecting that Jason would be charged with the second degree felony, Indecency with a Child (by Contact), because there had been no allegation of actual penetration - a condition for the charge of Sexual Assault under Texas law.
But much to the surprise of everyone, the prosecutor introduced another sworn affidavit, this one alleging that Jason had committed yet another rape of a child.
The new claim was by Cassandra, the 12-year-old girl who had previously said Jason told her about having abused 9-year-old Monica.
Cassandra claims that Jason coerced her to perform oral sex on him, and to insert her index finger into his anus, until he ejaculated. She claims this incident took place "on the side of the road" in front of Jason's house, in the early afternoon on a weekend. And she alleges that Jason threatened that if she didn't comply, "a tall man in black would come and kill Sam" (Jason's 10-year-old brother).
Although rural, Jason's neighborhood is hardly without the occasional passing car or person. The roadside is hardly an ideal venue for a sex crime. Like the other claims of sexual abuse, this story would seem absurd on its face to most observers.
Additionally, Jason's lawyer Carlisle discovered that Monica, the 9-year-old alleged victim, had previously accused four other boys of similar crimes in the past year. And Cassandra, the newest alleged victim, has also accused her 17-year-old brother of sexually molesting her.
Most damaging of all to the prosecution's case, the specific details of the previous allegations that Jason abused Monica were beginning to unravel in their retellings. Monica and Cassandra's stories kept changing slightly. Even the judge finally was forced to state in open court that the prosecutor's witnesses are "beginning to lack credibility."
The Case Stalls
The real question most outside observer of this mess would ask is - why has the case stalled?
Mike Carlisle, Jason's defense attorney, apparently worked out some kind of a deal with the prosecutor, without consulting either Jason or his parents, and apparently without understanding the way the system works in Dallas County.
"Jason's probation officer was asked for her evaluation at the hearing," says Darryl, Jason's grandfather. "Both the prosecutor and Carlisle were expecting the evaluator to tell the court that Jason was accepted into the [Dallas County Juvenile Sex Offender Treatment Services] counseling program. But the probation officer didn't know what they were talking about."
Lisa Byrd, Jason's probation officer in Dallas County, explained to the court that no one had asked her to perform an evaluation of Jason for the juvenile sex offender program. She told the judge that she was under the impression that all she was supposed to do was assess whether Jason was complying with the terms of his pre-trial release - and he was.
Byrd explained to the judge and everyone else present at the hearing that she cannot and will not even attempt to put Jason into the juvenile sex offender counseling program, because he hasn't been found guilty of anything - or for that matter, even tried yet. In other words, it would be contrary to established procedure.
Not surprisingly, Jason's parents became very unhappy with Carlisle. It seemed as though his interest in helping their son had faltered.
"It was like he had got his money and just wasn't interested anymore," says Jason's mother. "We paid him $1,500 all up-front, and after that first hearing he just started making these weird deals with the prosecutor, without even talking to us, and meanwhile, Jason is still in Dallas."
When Mark, Jason's dad, confronted Carlisle about the family's concerns that the case had stalled - after all, the 60 day deadline the judge had given for the trial to start had long since past - Carlisle became irate and started yelling at Mark.
"I was shocked," says Mark. "I've never seen a man act like that in his own office."
'I'll Bring Your Boy Home'
So Jason's mother called a new lawyer. The new attorney, Kevin Fuller, was floored that Jason was under house arrest and had an ankle bracelet without even having been tried. Fuller said there is no reason for Jason to still be in Dallas County after so many months, and to be strung along so long without a trial.
"Deborah, I want $900 to get this case solved," Fuller says he told Deborah. "But I don't want it right now. I want to show you that I do as I say and earn my money. Pay me after it's done. I'll bring your boy home."
Looking for Answers
So what do we have here? A 13-year-old boy who could be anybody's kid - without a trial or even formal charges - is accused, harassed for a confession by an adult juvenile detention officer with a conflict of interest, is arrested, is held in jail for over two weeks, loses his family home, is forced to move out of the town of his birth, is publicly humiliated and embarrassed, and is forced to watch his parents spend thousands of dollars on defense lawyers - all because two younger kids and a dad who knows how to work the system say (with no physical evidence) that the kid did something.
And what they said he did is absurd on its face. We are supposed to believe that this shy pubescent, in a house full of people, abandoned the brand new video games he just got for Christmas, walked into the living room of his home, where a little girl from across the street just happened inexplicably be alone and demanded a sexual favor - by threatening not the girl, but his own brother, with violence.
Then we are supposed to believe that the 9-year-old alleged victim didn't notice the obvious presence of pubic hair, nor whether or not the boy ejaculated.
Furthermore, we are supposed to accept that he forced another girl to perform oral sex on him and to insert her finger into his anus - again while threatening a third person, not the alleged victim, with violence - while standing on the side of the road in front of his house in broad daylight on a Saturday. And this time he was supposed to have ejaculated. But somehow, no one saw anything.
Even if this story were assumed to be true, the girl was 12 and Jason is 13 - hardly a case of child molesting.
This could be your kid. It could be your neighbor's kid - any kid.
But how can this happen? Aren't there laws to protect us from arbitrary arrest and detention? Aren't we innocent until proven guilty? Don't we get a speedy trial? What about the Constitution?
The prosecutors, judge and alleged victims' families all declined to be interviewed for this story.
The judge has said repeatedly throughout the ordeal that Jason, as a juvenile, "has no civil rights."
Internet research on the subject is confusing - some data seems to say that yes, he does have civil rights. Other data seems to say the opposite.
But the bottom line is, at least in Anderson County, Texas, the judge and the other county officials do not treat accused kids as innocent until proven guilty, do not either file charges or release the child and do not grant a speedy trial to accused children.
To the outside observer, it seems that all one has to do to ruin someone's life in Anderson County, Texas is get two or more people to accuse a kid of something he or she didn't do, and the kid goes to jail - with no trial, no formal charges, and with hugely restrictive conditions for his or her release pending a trial that may never come.
Parents could be ordered to leave their hometown forever, sell the family home at a huge loss, and give up their child to be raised by someone else. And this all seems to be routine procedure for the court system in this East Texas county.
Is it the norm everywhere in Texas? Let's hope not.
But why do this? It seems tragically absurd to the outside observer, and even to at least two lawyers in Anderson County. But why can't the judge and prosecutor see it this way?
Perhaps that this is a small, rural, county plays a role? Ultimately, no one really knows why. It just seems to be the norm for this particular court system.
Why would two little girls lie and make up a story about Jason, and get him in so much trouble? Again, who knows?
As noted above, one of Jason's lawyers found that alleged victim Monica had accused four other boys of the same thing in the past year. And 12-year-old Cassandra, who is alleging the roadside rendezvous, has also accused her older brother of molesting her.
Could it be, as some have suggested, that someone else victimized both girls, yet agreed that Jason would make a better target? Who really knows?
But ultimately, does it really matter? Even if he were guilty of the offenses, most would agree that of course Jason should still be granted the right to know the exact charges against him, enter a plea and be heard by the judge and be presumed innocent as he awaits his trial.
Furthermore, most would question the justice in putting an un-charged, un-tried child into a counseling program for sex offenders.
A Spark of New Hope
So what's next for Jason? It looks like his new lawyer, Fuller, is going to finally get the ball rolling for him.
As of this writing, Fuller has already spoken with the judge to get an update on the status of the case and he's promised to get Jason off house arrest and back home to his parents as soon as possible. Jason remains cautiously optimistic about his prospects.
Over breakfast, Jason tries to act nonchalant and adult, assuming a tough-guy tone about the new development - not an easy task when you've unwittingly got a milk mustache.
"Oh yeah," he says. "I'll be going home soon. I know this guy [his new lawyer Fuller] can do it. He seems to know what he's talking about. And he says he feels certain I'll be proved innocent when we go to trial."
To most people, the real tragedy of this story would seem to be that a probably innocent boy's life has been turned upside down, and the system - supposedly designed to protect the innocent - is the culprit.
Jason's parents and grandparents have even been dragged into it and have suffered both emotionally and financially.
"We can't sue anyone," says Jason's mother, Deborah. "All the attorneys we've talked to tell us that there's nothing we can do about any of it in court. And even if we could, nobody has any money we could win anyway. We just have to live with it."
And live with it Jason did - ankle bracelet and all.
But finally, in December, after more than six months of waiting and worrying, Jason finally got to go back home to his parents and brother.
All the charges have been dropped as the district attorney decided not to prosecute.
 
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