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Wrongful Convictions - The Case of Aleck Carpitcher in Virginia

Updated on February 03, 2015
Aleck J. Carpitcher
Aleck J. Carpitcher

The Story

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!

Comments

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  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

    I think we would be amazed by how many times this sort of thing happens, and you are absolutely correct....if it can happen to this man, it can happen to anyone. What a sad story of injustice! Bravo to you for making it public; hopefully it will stir up some outrage and from the outrage, change might come. I hope and pray that it does.

    Well done Linda!

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Good morning Bill. You are right. You could fill a large room with documentation for cases such as this. It happens everywhere and for various reasons. Aleck is a friend of mine. We had worked together on several American Indian issues and he had stayed in my home on several occasions. I also knew the child's mother but we were not friends. When I think about it, there were so many levels to this story and if any one of them had been different, this would not have happened. If there hadn't been a divorce, if no one drank, if there had been fewer arguments, one less threat, another lawyer, different judge, one replaced juror...or any one of another dozen scenarios, and it could be a different story that's told. One has to believe that even in the face of adversity, there is a plan; a higher purpose. It is hard to understand but wrong all the same.

    Hope you have a wonderful day.

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

    Well you are a good friend for writing about this; I hope, somehow, that this man will someday see freedom once again.

  • Georgie Lowery profile image

    Georgianna Lowery 4 years ago from Slaton, Texas USA

    How can this happen? I read your answer to Bill's comment and this must be really hard on you. I know that Virginia can be backwards about a lot of things, but this just isn't right.

    This happens more and more these days, right along with parents being accused of abuse that never occurred. What the heck is wrong with us as a nation?

    ps. I love your writing, and thank you for these facts.

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Georgie, There are many case like this. And honestly, I understand that we have a responsibility to protect children but there is a reason that our justice system was founded on the value of evidence. It has strayed so far from that now. I'm fine. I worked with Aleck on some American Indian issues back in the 90's. He's a good guy, not perfect but I absolutely know he didn't do this. It was really hard when he was going through all the court dates because he had no family here and I became his contact for the lawyers at the Innocence Project. They, by the way, are absolutely amazing human beings. They do what they do for free, because they care. They are the bright stars in the legal profession.

    Thank you so much for being the person you are. I know you genuinely care and your messages mean so much to me.

  • The Dirt Farmer profile image

    Jill Spencer 4 years ago from United States

    What an absolutely horrific miscarriage of justice--doubly horrific (and just ... crazy) because uncorrected.

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    It is crazy Dirt Farmer. It' s just insane that any government will let someone die in jail rather than just say "we screwed up" or "we're sorry".

  • benisan85745 profile image

    Ka'imi'loa 4 years ago from Tucson, AZ.

    Unfortunately Irc7815, it is big business, nothing personal. As an ex-con myself for different circumstances, it is all to common to see men like your friend here Aleck, go down for a misunderstood situation. The fact that America is the number one country to house us knuckleheads, we're nothing more than a paycheck for the government. The investors on Wall Street has made this the fastest growing industry in the states. This multi-billion dollar industry has its own trade exhibitions, conventions, websites, and mail-order/internet catalogs. It also has its own advertising campaigns, architecture companies, contruction companies, and investment houses on Wall Street...the private contracting of prisoners for work fosters incentives to lock people up. At times, its not the judge himself sentencing the offender, but the pressure from prison work lobbyists for longer sentences in order to expand their workforce. It may all seem like conspiracy theory to you, and of course it does, but keeping prisoners is big money. And no one wants to lose money, no matter what it cost to prevent industries from losing a cent.

    I feel for Aleck, it's a sad way to get lock up with that kind of number attached to his name, but in all a complete shame that a simple little girls tears can ruin more than just one life, I truly hope she has learned to keep her mouth shut when she doesn't get her way.

  • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

    Pavlo Badovskyi 4 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

    your country is not the only one with such innosent prisoners. I believe it is a common practice in many countires.

    alas.....

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    benisan85745 - you have told me nothing that I did not know. It is sad, but very true. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Paylo - It is an imperfect world, isn't it? Your comment reminded me that we may speak different languages and have different traditions, but when it comes down to truth - we are human beings who make the same mistakes. Thanks so much for visiting.

  • William Young profile image

    William Young 4 years ago from Eaglle Grove, Iowa

    This is unfortunately an example of what happens when our criminal justice system fails. This guy needed an experienced, capable trial lawyer and instead what he got was an incompetent court appointed boob. How on earth do you represent a client and you don't look at the discovery evidence that the prosecution has? That's sheer incompetence. And if the judge thought that this gentleman was being wrongly convicted by the jury and was telling him to appeal the case, why didn't the judge use his own authority to set aside the jury's verdict? This sounds like this poor guy got caught up in the perfect storm of massive injustice. Hopefully he will prevail someday and be released from prison.

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hi William. It was a perfect storm of small town politics. The court appointed attorney proved himself to be incompetent by making that statement in the courtroom. The judge and the D.A. were golf buddies, and he probably socialized with half the jurors. Aleck Carpitcher has no legal recourse now, other than reapplying for Clemency, which he can do every three years, I think.

    Thank you for reading and I appreciate your heartfelt expression of rage.

  • profile image

    KDuBarry03 4 years ago

    I remember seeing this on the news when I was younger. Because of a 21 day grace period, the man suffers his loss of freedom when the accuser claims it was all a lie? The justice in America is very confusing and irritating...

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hello KDuBarry93. Yes, it is total injustice. Thanks for reading and I appreciate your sentiment.

  • xstatic profile image

    Jim Higgins 4 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

    These are such difficult cases. This one though is such a raging injustice that it should be rectified somehow. It is so wrong, and, seemingly, no way to make it right. Thanks for spreading the word. I hope Mr. Carpitcher hears of this.

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    xstatic - thank you so much for reading this one and understanding. It is wrong, horribly wrong, and it is just one of many cases like this. Aleck Carpitcher has no options other than clemency applications every three years but as I stated, to grant him clemency means the Commonwealth has to admit they failed. It will never happen. Aleck was a friend and I became his outside contact for the lawyers with the Innocense Project, who in my opinion, are unsung heroes. I have organized rallieson his behalf and written about the case in local papers but I don't usually send them to him. He has accepted his fate and until there is widespread support for his case, I wouldn't want to set him up to be disappointed again. I just hope that if we can keep the issue alive, one day, someone, may have a solution.

    I thank you so much for youru expression of concern.

  • Nell Rose profile image

    Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

    Wow, how horrible is that? Aleck Carpitcher should be released straight away, if he was one of my family I would take up residence outside the whitehouse! I can't believe that even though the girl has admitted to making the whole thing up they can't change the law in this case, its disgusting, thanks for sharing the story, nell

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hi Nell. Thank you for feeling so strongly about this injustice. It is a horrible situation. I appreciate your concern and that you even read it.

  • Angie Jardine profile image

    Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

    This is such a depressing story and makes one wonder what has happened to common sense in the 21st century.

    I feel sure you are right about race being a factor in the fact that justice is not being served here.

    Thank you for highlighting this injustice … it would seem to be a case for an Avaaz petition.

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hello Angie. Thank you so much for reading and caring. I am not familiar with the petition you mentioned but will google it and see what I learn. I will also pass the idea to Alecks attorney. Thanks so much.

  • Angie Jardine profile image

    Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

    Hi lrc7815

    Avaaz is a massive global online organisation that raises petitions and so puts pressure on politicians etc to right wrongs and fight injustice. I’m sure you have found it by now.

    Avaaz means ‘voice’ in several languages and it gives all of us a voice to fight for change. I believe everyone should be member … all you have to do is sign petitions and it makes the internet a force for good.

  • profile image

    cjprofessor 3 years ago

    Thanks for posting this story. The textbook I use for Evidence law has an example (hearsay) based on this case. I think that we will go over the whole case also. Thanks again.

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 3 years ago from Central Virginia

    cjprofessor - thank you for taking time to read and comment on this important issue. I remain in touch with Carpitcher's family and with the attorneys for the Innocence Project who fought valiantly and with conviction to seek justice in this case. I am simply a citizen who knew those involved in this case but I see clearly that if this can happen to one, it can happen to "any one". Please, stay in touch if you have information or ideas that would help as Mr. Carpitcher seems to have exhausted his options with the courts in Virginia.

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