February 2, 2012

Witness recants evidence that would exonerate Missoula man of rape

2-2-2012 Missouri:

The Innocence Project-assisted efforts of a Missoula man to overturn his 2002 rape conviction should be rejected, prosecutors said Wednesday, for the alleged victim said last week under oath that the jailhouse rape occurred and that a statement he signed to the contrary is false.

The victim - a 23-year-old man now in prison on an unrelated rape charge - also said last week that Montana Innocence Project officials "badgered" him into signing a statement in July 2010 recanting his 2002 trial testimony that he'd been raped by Cody Marble.

"Because they didn't believe me, (they) kept calling back, talking to me, calling me a liar when I told them the truth," he said during a deposition last Thursday at the Missoula County Detention Facility, according to a transcript. "So I just told them what they wanted to hear. ... They just kept coming to me until they heard what they wanted to hear."

Chief Deputy Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst LaCroix said the victim's sworn statements last Thursday make his July 2010 unsworn recantation statement inadmissible as evidence, and undercut any argument Marble must make to show his innocence and earn a new trial.

"In short, (Marble) has no witness and lacks reliable evidence to substantiate his claim," LaCroix wrote, saying his year-old petition for a new trial should be dismissed.

The victim's about-face led to cancellation of a District Court hearing scheduled Wednesday in Missoula on whether Marble should be granted a new trial on the rape charge.

Marble, 27, was convicted in November 2002 of raping a fellow inmate at Missoula County's juvenile jail, when he was 17 and the alleged victim was 13.

Marble has maintained his innocence from the beginning, saying the victim and other juvenile inmates concocted the story about a sexual assault to get back at him for perceived slights, or to attempt to get more favorable treatment in their own criminal cases.

Marble's attorney, Colin Stephens of Missoula, who also attended the victim's deposition last week, will file a response in two weeks to LaCroix's motion to dismiss Marble's petition for a new trial.

Stephens said Wednesday he'll argue that Marble should still get a new trial, because the victim's ever-changing statements make it likely a new jury would doubt his credibility and come to a different verdict on the rape charge.

"Ultimately, a new trial is appropriate, and a jury should get to sort out whether (the victim) is a reformed liar or still a liar," Stephens said.

Marble's earlier attempts to overturn his conviction on various grounds have been rejected by Montana courts.

In late 2009, the Montana Innocence Project - a group that attempts to exonerate inmates it believes are wrongly convicted - got involved with Marble's case.

Innocence Project officials, including its clinical director, Larry Mansch, met with the victim in prison once in 2009 and twice in 2010, attempting to get him to sign a sworn statement that the rape never occurred and that he lied at the 2002 trial, LaCroix wrote in her motion Wednesday.

LaCroix said the victim initially thought Mansch and the Innocence Project were there to help him overturn his own rape conviction, and that they didn't mention Marble's case until later, and that the victim refused to sign a sworn statement or any statement initially.

He finally agreed to write out a "recantation letter" in July 2010, but wouldn't make it a sworn statement, and the letter was attached to Marble's petition for a new trial, filed in December 2010, she said.

LaCroix said Innocence Project staff also contacted some of the other juvenile inmates who testified against Marble at the 2002 trial, but have refused to provide documentation of those interviews - and that Mansch said the other inmates stood by their original testimony.

The prosecution also attached as an exhibit a Jan. 21 letter from the victim's aunt, Susan Vardakis of Danville, Calif.

Vardakis, writing to a Missoula County sheriff's detective investigating the case, said she believes her nephew was raped by Marble, that he signed the recantation statement "under duress and/or deceit," and that he believed the Innocence Project initially contacted him to help him with his own case. ..Source.. by MIKE DENNISON Missoulian State Burea

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