|Edgar Coker Jr.|
You would think that a criminal justice system (or branch thereof) that doesn’t take actual guilt or innocence into account can’t really claim to have anything to do with actual justice, yet that’s exactly the sort of system that’s flourishing in the U.S. Here is yet another such case: Even though his accuser soon recanted her false rape accusation, then-fifteen-year-old Edgar Coker, Jr. still spent 17 months in juvie and was swiftly entered into Virginia’s sex offender registry as a violent criminal. That was in 2007. Everyone knows he’s innocent. And yet, he’s still on that list and paying the price of his false guilty plea:
Last month, Coker, now 20, was arrested during a Friday night football game at the Orange, Va., high school he graduated from after his release from juvenile prison. Unless they have permission from the school, convicted violent sex offenders are not permitted on school grounds. But Coker had received such permission, and he attended school there for more than a year before graduation.
“He can’t do something as simple as go out with his brothers and see a football game,” his mother said as she fought back tears during a recent interview from the family’s modest rambler in Mineral, Va.
Coker’s attorneys are working to have the conviction vacated in Stafford County, and the Virginia Supreme Court is expected to hear the case early next year. To his attorneys and other advocates, the case is about the dangers of ineffective counsel and about Virginia’s restrictive post-conviction laws, which make it extraordinarily difficult for people like Coker to get a retrial.
Of course, this all might not have happened if their legal representation hadn’t been laughably incompetent:
The family’s argument is that Denise Rafferty, his original attorney, was ineffective. Among their assertions: that Rafferty did not interview school officials who knew that the girl had a history of similar false accusations and that Rafferty did not fight the judge’s decision to put Edgar on the sex-offender registry. They also contend that Rafferty told Edgar Coker Sr. that his son should plead guilty because the prosecution had DNA evidence linking him to the crime. A lab report shows that the test was never conducted.
Meanwhile, the Cokers’ punishment for a crime that was never committed continues:
The family has moved several times, twice because of complaints from neighbors who learned that Edgar Coker Jr. was on the registry. Once, a neighborhood girl made a false sexual allegation against one of his brothers, and someone else left this note on their door when they lived in Stafford County: “We don’t want a rapist living in our neighborhood.”
Similar notes have been left for them over the years, and the frequent moves have disrupted their careers and complicated the duty of raising their other children.
“The hardest thing has been trying to keep our family intact, moving from place to place with all the things we’ve had to deal with,” said Dulaney, 40. She said the family hasn’t always made the right decisions and that fear of the charges clouded the desire to fight the accusations. “We’ve moved. We’ve lost houses. We’ve lost jobs.”
Coker graduated from Orange High in June 2010 after he was released from juvenile detention and received special permission to attend the school. Since then, he has spent most of his recent days at the house, not interested in continuing his education. He is embarrassed to look for jobs, his parents said, because he has to admit to being listed on the sex-offender registry. He declined to answer questions about his experience.
“It’s been hard on all of us, not because of what he did but because we all hate to see him go through these things,” said Tevin Coker, 19, who said it has been especially difficult to watch his brother struggle with life after prison.
On the night of the recent arrest, Dulaney had taken Coker and two of his brothers to a football game at Orange High. Dulaney, the protective mother, waited in the parking lot. The next thing she knew, her youngest son called to tell her that Edgar had been arrested, she said.
Edgar was taken to Central Virginia Regional Jail before he was released on $3,000 bond. His face had been put on a news release and posted on the Internet.
Dulaney said any progress her son had made in overcoming his shame has evaporated.
“Most of these years, we’ve lived in constant fear,” Dulaney said, “fear of more allegations, fear of people who might see him on the sex-offender registry and fear of our young sons being out without us, not knowing what could happen to them. It’s been hard believing that anyone can undo the damage that has been done to him.”
In the end, I suppose you can’t be too careful. At least that public sex offender registry lets you know exactly who might be living nearby: rapists, child molesters, public urinators, streakers, innocents … After all, what’s a few ruined lives if it means the hoi polloi can feel safe (and get to play vigilante every now and then)?
(via The Agitator)