Accuser’s word alone not enough to sink Kavanaugh

September 28, 2018

The name Gary Dotson used to stand for something. His tormented life was a cautionary tale.

It still should be. But in these times, with politics being as brutal as an alley fight, an accusation of sexual misconduct is trumpeted by partisans as solid evidence.

Reviewing Dotson’s life is especially important now that various women have made accusations against Brett Kavanaugh, nominated by President Donald Trump to be an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Kavanaugh’s opponents insist the women must be believed. I disagree with them. Nobody, not man, woman or child, is entitled to credibility based on a mere allegation. A standard of proof has to apply, though Kavanaugh’s battle is being waged in the court of public opinion and not a court of law.

Due process, thorough investigations and evidence should be part of Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing. The latter two are missing.

He says he never sexually assaulted or sexually preyed upon anyone. I don’t know if he’s lying. All of us might know more if Trump authorized a federal investigation of the women’s allegations.

Kavanaugh is a high achiever with plenty of clout. He can fight the accusations. Dotson was the ne’er-do-well everybody assumed was guilty.

Dotson entered adulthood as a high school dropout and a petty thief. Police knew him on sight, which is always a bad sign.

He was 20 years old when they arrested him for a reported rape that initially received little attention, despite its harrowing details.

A 16-year-old girl said she left her job at a Long John Silver’s Seafood Shoppe in suburban Chicago and began the short walk to her house. It was dark, about 9 p.m., as she window shopped.

Then a car swerved at her, causing her to fall. She said two men got out of the car and forced her into the back seat.

She provided a clear description of one of her three assailants. He was young with greasy blond hair and high cheekbones. The girl said he raped her while the passenger in the front seat held down one of her legs. Then the rapist used a broken beer bottle to carve letters into her belly.

Days later, the girl looked through a pile of police mug shots. She picked Dotson as the rapist.

At his trial in 1979, the girl was the prosecution’s star witness. She was steadfast and persuasive.

It took the jury 95 minutes to convict Dotson. The judge sentenced him to 25 to 50 years in prison.

This was before DNA science was prevalent. If Dotson was innocent, as he claimed to be, he had no evidence to help his cause.

Six years went by. Then his accuser, having had a religious conversion, said she had fabricated the entire story of being raped. Afraid that she was pregnant by her boyfriend, and that her foster parents would be angry with her, she inflicted the injuries on herself and described a fictional rapist.

Police never located the car she’d said was used in the attack on her. Nor did they find sufficient evidence to charge anybody except Dotson. They still believed she had been raped, but for some inexplicable reason was trying to set Dotson free.

Prosecutors found Dotson’s accuser to be smooth and sure of her recantation in appearances on the network television shows. But she was vague, halting and prone to memory lapses when they questioned her.

One point was certain: Dotson’s accuser was a liar. Either she lied to wrongly convict Dotson, or she lied in reversing herself by saying she was never raped.

Dotson spent eight years in prison before DNA science became part of the case. It revealed that a semen stain on the panties of his accuser matched her boyfriend’s DNA. No scientific evidence connected Dotson to the girl.

A judge dismissed the rape charge against Dotson in 1989. That was 12 years after her allegation.

Dotson’s case is far from being one of a kind. It was just the first of its kind.

A woman in Tustin, Calif., said her husband, Kevin Green, raped her and then beat her into a semiconscious state. She, too, was a strong witness. A jury convicted Green. He spent 16 years in prison before DNA tests connected the attack on his wife to a serial rapist.

And in Santa Fe, a woman dressed only in her panties ran through downtown streets late one night in November. Once a centerfold in a famous men’s magazine, the woman said an acquaintance had attacked her.

She later called me and retracted the story she had given to police. She said a night of heavy drinking and her post-traumatic stress disorder dating back decades, to when an obsessed fan almost killed her, had caused her to make up the story about her acquaintance.

Prosecutors eventually dropped the charges against the man she accused, but not, he said, until his real estate business had been damaged.

As for Kavanaugh, what little evidence we have shows he drank to excess as a teenager and could have been prone to aggression.

His accusers vary in credibility.

Christine Blasey Ford seemed persuasive in her statements Thursday to the Senate Judiciary Committee. She said Kavanaugh climbed on top of her, touching and groping her at a party in the early 1980s, when both were high school students.

But the informal account of another accuser, a Deborah Ramirez, seems suspect, even flimsy. She says Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during a party at Yale, also in the ’80s. Ramirez initially told the New Yorker she was drunk, had gaps in her memory and was unclear whether it was Kavanaugh.

Then she became more definitive in her allegations. Even with her inconsistencies, those intent on stopping Kavanaugh’s nomination say she deserves to be believed.

Another remedy is in order. Kavanaugh, on the cusp of receiving a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, should be investigated further. The Judiciary Committee, for instance, could subpoena the man Blasey Ford has identified as being present during the attack on her.

History tells us that believing anyone without corroborating evidence is dangerous.

Gary Dotson is 61 years old now, a mostly forgotten man after the flurry of publicity he and his accuser received in the 1980s.

The woman whose testimony sent him to prison died of breast cancer 10 years ago. She took to the grave the conflicting stories about whether Dotson raped her or if she made it all up.

There might be a way to find the truth about Kavanaugh and Blasey Ford. President Trump, though, doesn’t want the FBI looking into the times when Kavanaugh was a hard-charging, hard-drinking teenager.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

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