Innocent Man Released After 20 Years
Sexual assault accusations made by small children are often uncritically accepted -- by social workers, police officers, prosecutors, and juries. The conventional wisdom is that young kids lack a sufficient knowledge base from which to invent a story about sexual activity, and that they never have a motive to lie.
That unfortunate attitude deprived Sylvester Smith of twenty years of his life. Only now is the truth being told.
The victims, who were 4 and 6 when they made the charges, testified that they falsely accused Smith, 53, who was the boyfriend of one of the girls' mothers. One victim said that the real abuser was a cousin who was 9 at the time. She said their grandmother, who has since died, pressured them to accuse Smith rather than the boy, [District Attorney Rex] Gore said.
The younger woman said she concealed the truth for the last two decades because she was afraid she wouldn't be believed. The other woman said she decided to recant now because "I wanted to get something off my chest."
Credit the current district attorney for admitting that his office made a mistake twenty years ago, and for asking the court to dismiss the charges and to set Smith free. Smith had been serving two consecutive life sentences.
The case was prosecuted in 1984 by Mike Easley, who was just reelected as the Governor of North Carolina.
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