Archive for Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Plea deal for rapist prompts outrage

June 17, 2009

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— A plea deal that sent an ex-convict accused of raping a 4-year-old girl to jail for only a year has prompted outrage across Oklahoma, where lawmakers are calling for the removal of the judge who approved the deal and the attorney general is investigating a new set of abuse allegations.

Under the deal, David Harold Earls, 64, of the southeastern Oklahoma town of McAlester, pleaded no contest last month to first-degree rape and forcible sodomy. Normally, the rape charge carries a sentence of between five years to life in prison, but the deal he struck with prosecutors called for 19 years of his 20-year sentence to be suspended.

Residents have since peppered the local newspaper with e-mails and letters questioning why the sentence wasn’t harsher.

“I think they should have dropped the hammer on him,” said Chris Lenardo, 35, who works at a local barber shop in McAlester, a town of about 18,000 people about 120 miles southwest of Oklahoma City. “I’m still trying to figure out why he’s only getting a year.”

Prosecutors said they only agreed to the plea bargain because the case rested largely on the testimony of the girl, now 5, who made contradictory statements during pretrial hearings. After initially testifying about the assault, she later said she couldn’t remember the rape. At one point, the girl ran out of the room and down the hallway.

The case has generated more outrage as new accusations have surfaced. After Earls entered his plea, an estranged relative came forward to make a new allegation of a past rape. Although the statute of limitations likely has expired, it’s possible the allegations could be used in another case against Earls if another victim comes forward, Attorney General Drew Edmondson said.

Edmondson said his office is looking at reviving a case against Earls involving the girl’s brother. Those charges were dropped when the 5-year-old boy changed his story and said he couldn’t recall the incident.

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