Man found innocent of child rape
By John W. Goodwin Jr.
YOUNGSTOWN — Attorneys for a man recently found innocent of rape involving a minor say their client stood accused longer than necessary because of undisclosed information from prosecutors, but prosecutors say that is not true.
Tony Brown, 27, of West Delason Avenue, was found innocent this week of two counts of rape with life-sentence specifications. The verdict was handed down by Judge John M. Durkin of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court after a one-day bench trial Monday.
Brown was indicted in February 2007 on two counts of having sexual contact with a minor girl over a two-year span between 2005 and 2006 when the girl was age 8 and 9.
Attorneys Damian Billak and Rhys Cartwright-Jones said Brown stood accused of the crime two years longer than necessary because prosecutors failed to disclose information that the girl recanted a statement claiming Brown had molested her.
Cartwright-Jones said the fact the information was not disclosed meant dire consequences for his client.
“She recanted to prosecutors in 2007, and prosecutors withheld that from us for two years,” Cartwright-Jones said. “This means [Brown] went two years potentially being tried for a rape case without all the facts.”
Dawn Cantalamessa, an assistant county prosecutor, said the victim did come to prosecutors and recant an earlier statement she made concerning Brown, but she said the victim also had recanted the statement to Brown’s lawyers. She said prosecutors believe coercion may have been at play in the girl’s decision to recant her statement.
County Prosecutor Paul Gains said it is also important to note that Brown had been offered an unstipulated polygraph test in August. He said the test meant that if Brown failed, the results could not be used against him in court, but if he passed, all charges against him would be dismissed.
Gains said Brown declined to take the test.
Oral arguments before Judge Durkin in June show that prosecutors learned the girl began to recant her statement as early as December 2007, but they told the judge the defense attorneys knew of the girl’s changed statement before prosecutors learned of that information, so there was no need to disclose something the defense already knew.
Billak and Cartwright-Jones, however, told the court they did not learn of the girl’s decision to change her statement until May 2009. The attorneys filed a motion asking that the case be dismissed.
The court did find that a violation occurred in the disclosure, but the motion to dismiss was denied.
Gabriel Wildman, an assistant county prosecutor, said the disclosure of the recanted statement had no affect on the trial. He said defense attorneys had the information at least six months before trial and in plenty of time to prepare their defense.
“The judge would not have allowed this case to proceed unless the defense, or both sides, had all the information they are entitled to by law,” Wildman added.