2 national groups seek judge’s ouster for overturning rape verdict
Two representatives of national Down syndrome organizations are urging the removal of a judge who overturned a guilty verdict in a 2012 rape case involving a Fayetteville victim who suffers from the genetic condition, which is tied to cognitive delays. (See Letters here and here.)
In early January, Georgia Appeals Court Judge Christopher J. McFadden ordered a new trial for defendant William Jeffrey Dumas, who was convicted of two counts of rape and one count of sodomy.
In a joint letter submitted to The Citizen, Sara Hart Weir of the National Down Syndrome Society and Susan Goodman of the National Down Syndrome Congress advocate a Change.org petition calling for McFadden to be removed from the bench.
McFadden wrote in a lengthy order that the decision to grant a new trial was justified based on his assessments of inconsistencies in the victim’s testimony and the lack of evidence that she “exhibited visible distress” in being around the defendant immediately following the alleged rape incidents.
Dumas was sentenced to the minimum of 25 years in prison, but is now free on bond wearing an ankle monitor pending a new trial.
In the meantime, Weir and Goodman point out that trauma affects people differently. As such the duo condemned McFadden’s actions.
“We’d like to ask the question ‘how should a rape victim act – disability or non-disability?’” the letter stated. “... The trial testimony established evidence that Dumas’ semen was found on the bed on which the woman slept the night of the attack. Additionally, the doctor who examined the woman had made findings that were consistent with a woman who had been forcibly raped. Does someone’s behavior trump hard evidence in court?
“A judge’s personal, ignorant and ill-informed believes should not be part of deciding a case.”
McFadden’s decision was also targeted by a letter from Jennifer Bivins, the President of the Georgia Network to End Sexual Assault.
“Because reactions to trauma are so broad, there is no way to narrowly define what is and what is not considered appropriate victim behavior,” Bivins wrote. “Some victims may be very vocal. Others will remain silent. Some are visibly distraught. Others will try to go on with regular life as if nothing occurred.”
“And no one, including a disabled victim, should be boxed into what someone else defines as behaving like a victim should.”
Bivins cited statistics showing that an estimated 15,000 to 19,000 people with developmental disabilities will be raped in the U.S.
“The developmentally disabled are often more prone to such abuse because of emotional and social vulnerabilities, as well as a reliance on caregivers,” Bivins said. “... Sexual violence is devastating and can have long-term effects on a victim’s sense of well-being.
“Every individual deserves to be safe from sexual violence. Every victim deserves justice. As such, perpetrators must be held accountable, and as a community we must hold each other accountable.”
Under pressure from the Fayette County District Attorney’s Office, McFadden recused himself from the case, though he initially declined to do so.
McFadden presided over the case as a guest judge here in Fayette County. It was the first-ever criminal trial he had administered.
Fayette County DA Scott Ballard said he plans to proceed with a new trial based on the victim’s wishes.
“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,” Ballard said.
McFadden’s new trial order specifically notes that the victim during her initial outcry about the alleged rapes first said she was kidding and then claimed she wasn’t.
McFadden also writes that he doubts one of the rapes could have been committed, as the victim alleged, on an elevated bar chair or on a rolling task chair.
McFadden also criticized Ballard’s closing argument for mischaracterizing the findings of a medical doctor who examined the victim and said her findings were consistent with forcible rape, but not necessarily proof of it.
“On the contrary, she readily acknowledged on cross examination that her findings were also consistent with other explanations which could exclude forcible intercourse,” McFadden wrote. “So, while it is fair to say that this evidence corroborated the testimony that penetration occurred during the 12-hour period in question, the state’s argument greatly overstated the significance of Dr. Louman’s testimony.”