Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wrongful conviction in VA case (based on a child's accusation) reminds me of a past controversy with web content


The Washington Post, on Wednesday November 14, 2012,has an editorial with some ramifications for Internet users and, well, everybody.  In print, it is titled “In Va., a travesty of justice: Gov. McDonnell must act – immediately – to release a wrongfully imprisoned man”, and online it is called “a wrongly imprisoned man in Virginia”, with link here.

The history concerns Jonathan Montgomery, now 26, serving a 7-1.2 year sentence in prison in Virginia since 2008. In 2007, a 16-year-old girl Elizabeth Paige accused him of having had  inappropriate contact with her in 2001, when he was 14 and she was 10. 

Apparently she made the story up as a diversion when her parents caught her looking at explicit materials on the Internet.  (In this  case, active parental supervision, so widely touted on my COPA blog, with the court opinion in 2007, backfired.)  She chose Montgomery because he had moved out of state, and thought nothing would happen. That was wrong.  He, having no idea of what could happen to him out of the blue, was extradited back to Virginia after a surprise arrest. 

I once went through a voir dire for a jury case in Dallas in 1980 regarding abuse, and was asked if, as a juror, I could believe the testimony of a minor.  I said OK.  But here it’s hard to believe that the testimony of a child was accepted as proof with no physical or corroborating evidence.  It could shed some light on the whole Sandusky affair – except that there were so many witnesses in that case.  There was a movie made in 2001 about this problem – “Just Ask the Children”.

I know about another such case in Texas, from rumors and bits of information; an incarceration resulted, and I can only say that it sounds like there is a need for more hard facts.

It’s chilling that this case was triggered indirectly by Internet “porn”.  But the case also calls to mind an incident back in 2005 regarding my own web content (detailed July 27, 2007).  In that case, I had posted a fictitious screenplay (on my own site, with my own capital) where a male substitute teacher is “tricked” by a precocious high school student and later imprisoned.  Apparently, at one school where I had often subbed, there was a fear that the protagonist resembled me too much and that it could incite someone into actually imitating the scenario of the screenplay.  It became perceived, as I noted then, as a kind of “self-libel” and brought up the issue of implicit content.  There has actually been an unrelated incident at that school while I was there, and sometimes it is hard to see that coincidence really does happen.  But the prevalence of incidents and false prosecutions makes something like this nothing to play with.

I’m actually using this incident in another script now – but it is safely layered into the back-story in a manner similar to that of “Cloud Atlas”.  I guess the concept of a “cloud” has a double meaning now.  

Update, Nov. 17:  The Washington Post is reporting on the arrest of an elderly man (now a substitute teacher in Maryland) based on accusations made by a former student about his conduct in the late 1960s!.  Can such accusations be proven?  Testimony under oath is considered proof.  But the Fairfax County police did investigate for over a year before making an arrest.  

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