A state Court of Appeals Judge ordered a new trial for the man Fayette County prosecutors accused of raping a woman with Down Syndrome.
William Jeffrey Dumas was convicted by a Fayette County jury of aggravated sodomy and two counts of rape against the 24 year-old victim. The judge presiding over the trial? The same Court of Appeals judge-Christopher McFadden- who ordered a new trial. McFadden handed down the minimum applicable sentence for convicted rapist William Jeffrey Dumas: 25 years in prison with a chance of parole, followed by life on probation.
McFadden was allowed to take leave to preside over the trial as a Fayette Superior Court judge.
Dumas had appealed for a new trial on the basis of ineffective counsel.
In McFadden’s order, he stated that ‘while the evidence was sufficient to sustain his convictions, those convictions are contrary to the principles of justice and equity and decidedly and strongly against the weight of the evidence.’
“Even when the evidence is legally sufficient to sustain a conviction, a trial judge may grant a new trial if the verdict of the jury is contrary to the principles of justice and equity,” he noted. “When properly raised in a timely motion, these grounds for a new trial- commonly known as the ‘general grounds’- require the trial judge to exercise a ‘broad discretion to sit as a 13th juror.”
McFadden’s explanation for the new trial order was based on the fact that evidence at the trial left the court in doubt. He said that when the young woman first mentioned being attacked, the day after the rape was alleged to happen, she did not “behave like a victim.” Additionally, he said that Dumas did not “behave like someone who had recently perpetrated a series of violent crimes against her.”
“It is true, as the state pointed out in closing argument, that there is no manual dictating how one must behave in such circumstances. But it requires more than that bald argument to satisfy this court that it should ignore the fact that, until the outcry, neither of them showed any fear, guilt or inclination to retreat to a place of safety.”
McFadden also noted that there were discrepancies in the witness testimony.
At the trial, expert testimony established that the accused’s semen was found on the bed sheets where the woman alleged she had been attacked on at least one occasion. Additionally, doctors testified that her physical exam’s findings were consistent with her contention that she had been forcibly raped. The E.R. doctor that had administered the test testified that the victim was crying during the examination.
The victim was 24 at the time, and staying in the care of her mother's relative and that woman's boyfriend, while her mother and stepfather were out of town working. The arrangement was apparently typical, the mother testified, as her work required her to travel every week. She said her relative had helped care for her daughter for over two years.
Since the order in January, Griffin Judicial Circuit District Attorney Scott Ballard has filed a motion to have McFadden-who had never presided as a trial judge- to recuse himself from the case.
Ballard’s motion noted that the ‘trial judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned due to personal bias against the victim. The trial court expressed disbelief that the victim could have been raped in a chair. Unable to visualize the act occurring as she testified it did, the judge dismissed the sworn testimony as inaccurate [at best] or untruthful.
“Would the judge disbelieve a similar claim made by someone as educated or intelligent as he is?”
More than that, noted Ballard, McFaddens ruling noted that the woman “didn’t act like a rape victim would act.”
“Ignoring, based on his stated lack of knowledge, the multiple responses and reactions of rape victims, the trial judge found it more plausible to believe that a lady with Down Syndrome lied about being raped than to accept that she delayed her outcry and, in the meantime, coped silently with her dilemma by trying to cling to usual practices until she could leave the house where she was raped. In a world where her reaction is commonplace, the judge’s disbelief of the victim displays a bias that the Canons address by suggesting recusal.”
Ballard said he had to go to the young woman and tell her that she might have to go through the trial again.
“I had to tell her that even after she testified and he was convicted and she thought she was safe, the system was going to make her go through it again.”
McFadden denied the motion to recuse himself, but Ballard is going to appeal again- to the same Appeals Court.