Archive for Thursday, October 18, 2012

Victim disappointed in dismissal of rape charges in 1985 case

October 18, 2012


Joel Russell, 46, already incarcerated for a sexual assualt, was identified earlier this year as a suspect in a 1985 rape and kidnapping of a Topeka woman. Joe Jones, a Topeka man, had been convicted of the crime, but was released when DNA evidence showed he was innocent.

Joel Russell, 46, already incarcerated for a sexual assualt, was identified earlier this year as a suspect in a 1985 rape and kidnapping of a Topeka woman. Joe Jones, a Topeka man, had been convicted of the crime, but was released when DNA evidence showed he was innocent.

Intersecting lives: A serial rapist and an innocent man

Joe Jones, a Topeka man wrongfully convicted of a 1985 rape, and others involved with the case, talk about learning the true suspect's identity almost 27 years later. Enlarge video

Shawnee County prosecutors have decided to drop a rape charge against Joel Russell, 46, who was identified earlier this year by DNA evidence as a suspect in a 1985 Topeka kidnapping and rape for which another man was wrongfully convicted.

“It’s a total shame,” said Shawnee County Assistant District Attorney Jacque Spradling, who was handling the case.

Despite a 2001 Kansas law that allows prosecutors to charge sexual assault suspects up to one year after they’re identified as a suspect by DNA evidence, a United States Supreme Court decision prevents prosecution if the statute of limitations had run out prior to the 2001 law, Spradling explained.

For Russell, who is in prison on several other sex crime convictions, the statute of limitations — seven years in sexual assault cases — had expired by 1992 on the Topeka rape.

At the time they charged Russell, Spradling said they believed they’d be able to prosecute Russell, but learned otherwise through further legal research.

“We filed the case in good faith,” she said.

The charges against Russell were spurred by a 2011 Journal-World feature on Topeka resident Joe Jones, who was wrongfully convicted in the rape. In 1992, with the help of lawyers from Kansas University, Jones became just the seventh person in the country to be exonerated by DNA evidence.

The DNA evidence in the case, however, had not been retested and entered into the national DNA database until earlier this year. As part of the feature on Jones, the Journal-World discovered that the DNA evidence was still available and testable. Topeka police then located the evidence and retested it in late 2011. The DNA profile matched that of Russell, and he was charged in April with the 1985 rape.

The victim in the case — who was kidnapped at knife point outside of a Topeka nightclub and raped on Aug. 24, 1985 — has been in regular contact with the Journal-World and had hopes she’d finally get justice in the case.

“I’m so mad I can’t see straight,” said the woman, who was notified Tuesday that the case would be dropped.

Though prosecutors have dropped the charge, it’s possible Russell will never leave prison.

Shortly after the 1985 rape, Russell was arrested for three other crimes in which he used a knife and attempted to kidnap a woman in the downtown Topeka area. Russell was convicted on numerous charges in that case, but was released from prison in 1990. In 1993, Russell was convicted of sexually assaulting two girls in Reno County the previous year.

For those crimes, he’s serving up to a life sentence, but has been eligible for parole periodically since 1998. Russell was up for parole this year, but last week the Kansas Department of Corrections announced that Russell had been denied parole until at least June 2015.

Both Jones and the victim in the case said they’d continue to urge the Kansas Prison Review Board to keep Russell behind bars.

The victim said she’d also pursue some form of legal advocacy in the case.

“This can’t happen,” she said. “Something’s got to change.”

Jones and the woman had not spoken until late last year, when the woman sent Jones a Christmas card, apologizing for the injustice he suffered in the case.

Jones, who battled drug addiction and mental health problems in the decades since his release from prison, had been closely following the Russell case.

“Wow,” said Jones, notified Thursday that the charges would be dropped. “Wow.”


Clint Church 5 years, 5 months ago

Does anyone know the purpose of statute of limitations.

ebyrdstarr 5 years, 5 months ago

Evidence disappears. Witnesses die. Memories degrade. Imagine someone accused you of doing something on Oct. 15, 1992. How on earth would you even begin to prove where you'd really been that day? It's just too hard to try to defend oneself against charges that are so remote in time.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 5 months ago

That's very true about memory degrading. There's an excellent book that discusses the problems with human memory, 'The Seven Sins of Memory', by Daniel Schacter.

A bit about what the book discusses, clipped from the webpage of the American Psychological Association:

1) Transience--the decreasing accessibility of memory over time. While a degree of this is normal with aging, decay of or damage to the hippocampus and temporal lobe can cause extreme forms of it. Schacter cited as a somewhat facetious example former President Bill Clinton's "convenient lapses of memory" during the Monica Lewinsky investigation. Clinton claimed in the hearings that he sometimes couldn't remember what had happened the previous week.

2) Absent-mindedness--lapses of attention and forgetting to do things. This sin operates both when a memory is formed (the encoding stage) and when a memory is accessed (the retrieval stage). Examples, said Schacter, are forgetting where you put your keys or glasses. He noted a particularly famous instance in which cellist Yo-Yo Ma forgot to retrieve his $2.5 million cello from the trunk of a New York City cab.

3) Blocking--temporary inaccessibility of stored information, such as tip-of-the-tongue syndrome. Schacter recounted the embarrassment of John Prescott, British deputy prime minister, when a reporter asked him how the government was paying for the expensive Millennium Dome. Prescott struggled to find the word "lottery," trying "raffles" instead.

4) Suggestibility--incorporation of misinformation into memory due to leading questions, deception and other causes. Psychologists Elizabeth Loftus, PhD, and Stephen Ceci, PhD, are among those well-known in this research (see sidebar).

5) Bias--retrospective distortions produced by current knowledge and beliefs. Psychologist Michael Ross, PhD, and others have shown that present knowledge, beliefs and feelings skew our memory for past events, said Schacter. For example, research indicates that people currently displeased with a romantic relationship tend to have a disproportionately negative take on past states of the relationship.

6) Persistence--unwanted recollections that people can't forget, such as the unrelenting, intrusive memories of post-traumatic stress disorder. An example, said Schacter, is the case of Donnie Moore of the California Angels, who threw the pitch that lost his team the 1986 American League Championship against the Boston Red Sox. Moore fixated on the bad play, said Schacter, "became a tragic prisoner of memory," and eventually committed suicide.

Shelley Bock 5 years, 5 months ago

There are times when one can actually learn reading the comments of others. Excellent post.

Thank you.

Now, can you tell me where my glasses are?

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 5 months ago

7) Misattribution--attribution of memories to incorrect sources or believing that you have seen or heard something you haven't. Prominent researchers in this area include Henry L. Roediger III, PhD, and Kathleen McDermott, PhD. An illustration of it, said Schacter, is the rental shop mechanic who thought that an accomplice, known as "John Doe No. 2," had worked with Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing; he thought he'd seen the two of them together in his shop. In fact, the mechanic had encountered John Doe No. 2 alone on a different day.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 5 months ago

Man, I need Hepburn's glasses. I misread the first word after 7).

Paula Kissinger 5 years, 5 months ago

She may not see individual justice for her own attack but she can always write the board or go to his upcoming parole hearings to have her voice heard and keep him incarcerated.

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