- Politics and Social Issues»
- Social Issues
Wrongful Convictions - The Case of Aleck Carpitcher in Virginia
Chances are that he will die in prison. If not, he will be 86 years old when he is released. On August 30, 1999, a Circuit Court in Roanoke, Virginia sentenced him to 73 years in prison. The trial court suspended 35 years, leaving him to serve 38. He was 43 years old.
She was 9 years old when the problem began. The child of a broken marriage, an alcoholic mother and an absentee, alcoholic father, she was troubled and rebellious. She had lived with violence when her parents were still married and drank too much. Her mother brought home a new boyfriend and she didn't like it one bit. They drank a lot and fought, just like her parents had done, and she was scared. When she rebelled, her mother threatened to send her to live with her father. That’s when she remembered what they taught her in school. They taught her that if someone touches you, you should tell someone and that person will go away for a long time. So, that’s what she did.
First, she told her mother that he pinched her on her bottom. Her mother questioned her, asking if he touched her underneath her clothes. She said “no”. Her mother then confronted him and he strongly denied the accusation. Believing him, the mother threatened to punish the child for lying. That’s when things went from bad to worse. While visiting her father and his girlfriend, she told the girlfriend and her paternal grandmother another more serious version of her story. They notified the authorities and she thought her problem was solved. The boyfriend would surely go away now. She wasn't old enough to know it wasn't that easy or, how bad it would be.
Warrants were issued and he was picked up and placed in the county jail. There was no physical evidence and the child was referred to counseling. A court appointed attorney was assigned to represent him and the legal proceedings began. The child was ordered by the court to live with her father and told she could not return to her mother’s home unless he was convicted. That’s when the story became more convoluted and harder to keep straight. She was interviewed by social services, a pediatrician, and the State Police. There were inconsistencies in each interview.
Lawyers, Courts, and Laws
It was the first jury trial for his court appointed attorney but he didn't seem stressed over it. He admitted in court that he spent only 20 minutes preparing for trial and that he had not taken the time to review the discovery evidence in the State’s possession. The jury convicted him solely on the inconsistent testimony of a troubled 10 year old child. There was no physical evidence and two witnesses provided alibi’s that he was out of the state when two of the six alleged incidents occurred.
At sentencing, the judge instructed him to appeal the court’s decision and offered to find him a good Appeals attorney. Sadly, the judge died before that was accomplished. And that’s when the case makes a reverse turn.
Nine months after sentencing, while he sat in the county jail waiting to be transferred to a State prison, the child, now 11 years old, recanted her story to her counselor. She told the counselor she had made up the story; that none of it ever happened, and that she only wanted to break up this relationship between him and her mother. She subsequently passed a polygraph and wrote a letter to the governor asking him to overturn the court’s decision. She got no reply.
His court appointed attorney filed an appeal. It was denied.
The child and her mother felt horrible so on a Sunday morning, they drove four hours to Washington, DC, to beg an attorney with the Innocence Project to take his case. After reviewing the court transcripts and talking to the key players, the Innocence Project took the case. They filed a “Writ of Innocence”. The court denied it. Why? Because there was an old law still on the books in Virginia, the “21 Day Rule”. The rule prohibited new evidence from being presented to a court UNLESS it came to light within 21 days of the conviction AND would have compelled a jury to reach a different verdict had it been available at the time of trial. Remember, the recantation came nine months after conviction. It was simply too damn late.
The Innocence Project took the case all the way to the Virginia Supreme Court and failed at every step along the way. Why? Because no one wanted to admit that the State of Virginia had made a horrible mistake. The high court sent it back to the lower court and the lower court refused to make a decision, stating that the “witness” had proven herself to be unreliable and therefore it was impossible to tell which story was the truth. The court would err on the side of caution “in case” the first story, the allegation of abuse, was the true story. A petition for Clemency was denied on the same grounds.
Where is Justice?
His name is Aleck Jacob Carpitcher and he is a registered member of the Seminole Indian Nation in Oklahoma. Today he is 56 years old and he still maintains that he is innocent. So does his accuser. That’s right – so does the accuser. After all this time, she still maintains it never happened.
Aleck Carpitcher sits in a prison in Oklahoma (at his request) under an interstate compact agreement. He wanted to be closer to family and members of his tribe.
One has to wonder why justice failed in this case.
- Was the court really unable to determine the truth?
- Did an inexperienced court appointed attorney fail?
- Did race play a role?
At the time, Aleck Carpitcher was a long haired, brown skinned man with a heavy Seminole dialect in a predominantly white county. She was a petite, 10 year old white girl.
It is a sad story from any perspective. It began with a dysfunctional family consumed by alcohol and violence. It was perpetuated by a school system that taught children about abuse but not about the serious consequence of false claims. Add to that an inexperienced and irresponsible court appointed attorney, a judge and jury afraid to trust their instincts, and a State with antiquated and irrational laws still on the books. It was a recipe for disaster and it cost an innocent man his freedom. I am reminded once again – if it can happen to one of us, it can happen to any of us.
Aleck Carpitcher will most likely die in prison knowing that the Commonwealth of Virginia wrongfully convicted him. The Commonwealth refused to hear the truth based on an antiquated and irrational law. Justice did not prevail.
The Innocence Project has provided a legal team of volunteer attorneys to Aleck Carpitcher since 2000 at their own expense. They believe in his innocence. They largely paid for his transfer to Oklahoma out of their personal finances. They do incredible work for the disenfranchised and deserve to be recognized and funded. But wouldn't it be better if justice was sure and fair and equal? Wouldn't it be better if the system worked and there was no more need for the Innocence Project? Is your fear of losing your personal freedom enough for you to hold those you elect to public office accountable?
Update: November 2012
Governor MacDonald, of the Commonwealth of Virginia, recently pardoned a man convicted of rape eight years ago. It seems his accuser recanted her story. I was excited to hear we had a Governor who would do the right thing and so I contacted Aleck Carpitcher's attorney to ask if this case would be helpful in the Carpitcher case. I learned that Aleck Carpitcher has no options. He will serve his 38 years, locked away from his family. During the clemency procedure, the mother of his accuser reported to a physician that the accuser has again recanted her recantation. The heresay rule apparently does not apply. Therefore, Aleck Carpitcher has lost his right to repetition for Clemency every three years, as the law would have allowed. When a reporter contacted the mother for a statement, they were told to leave the family alone; that the accuser simply wanted to get on with her life. Sadly, Aleck Carpitcher wanted the same thing. As far as the Commonwealth of Virginia is concerned, this case is closed. There is no justice!
- Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project
Learn more about the Mid Atlantic Innocence Project
- LIS > Code of Virginia > 19.2-327.10
The 2004 revision of the Code of Virginia regarding a "Writ of Actual Innocence" (the 21 Day Rule)
- A QUESTION OF GUILT
We the people are guaranteed, by our constitution, the right to a FAIR and unbiased trial. Does it happen, and if so, for whom?