Gary Dotson Adjusting to Life on the Outside
CHICAGO (AP) _ A year after Gary Dotson was granted his freedom on Mother’s Day, he has put aside the fight to clear his name of charges that he raped Cathleen Crowell Webb and slipped comfortably into a life of relative anonymity.
Gov. James R. Thompson commuted Dotson’s sentence for rape a day after Dotson’s tearful mother, Barbara, insisted her son was innocent and said, ″I think a mother senses when a child is lying.″
Strangers still stop Dotson, now 29, on the street, but less frequently than they did when the woman whose testimony sent him to prison came forward after six years and insisted she had lied.
″We’re out and somebody looks and says, ’Aren’t you Gary Dotson?‴ said Dotson’s wife of six months, Camille, 23. ″He just brushes it off and smiles.″
Dotson did not return repeated phone calls to his home requesting an interview.
But those close to him say he now works as a construction laborer, takes in an occasional movie or dance, and tries to adjust to life away from the glare of publicity that accompanied commutation of his prison term last May.
Dotson had been sentenced to 25-50 years in prison after he was convicted in 1979 of raping the teen-age Cathleen Crowell two years earlier. She took the stand to identify him as her assailant, but early last year came forward to say she had lied, never was raped, and concocted the story to cover up an affair with another teen-ager.
Thompson presided over three days of hearings before the Illinois Prisoner Review Board which concluded with Mrs. Dotson’s plea for her son’s freedom.
The hearings, televised live in Chicago and carried nationally by Cable News Network, were compelling drama as a score of witnesses testified, sometimes with sexual explicitness, as to whether Mrs. Webb likely had been raped.
After the hearings, Thompson granted the commutation but refused Dotson the full pardon that would have cleared his name.
The governor made clear he felt the evidence presented at the hearing, at Dotson’s first trial and at two court hearings following Mrs. Webb’s recantation supported the conclusion that she had been raped on a July 1977 night and Dotson was her attacker.
But Thompson said he was commuting Dotson’s sentence out of a sense of mercy.
″I think the attention was too much for (Dotson) early on,″ said attorney Warren Lupel, who worked without pay to win Dotson’s freedom and began court filings for a new trial and an appeal before the two went their separate ways.
″I also think he suffered from the fact that people stopped believing in his innocence, particularly the media, because he derived a lot of strength from public support,″ said Lupel.
Lupel said he and Dotson parted ways because Dotson increasingly refused his legal advice as book publishers and movie producers swooped in to buy a piece of Dotson’s story.
Mrs. Webb wrote a book titled ″Forgive Me,″ and Dotson signed away his rights to sue her in exchange for about $10,000 in royalties, Lupel said. Lupel also estimated Dotson’s family and friends split another $15,000 for selling the rights to a television movie that has not progressed beyond the planning stage.
″When I withdrew from the appeals, no one took my place,″ said Lupel. ″Some briefs never got filed and apparently Gary hasn’t found anyone to do it for him.″
″He doesn’t talk about that much,″ said Camille Dotson. ″I don’t think he’s given it up. He just doesn’t seem up to taking that on right now.″
Mrs. Webb’s telephone number in Jaffrey, N.H., is unlisted and she did not to return telephone calls left with the Rev. Carl Nannini, pastor of the Pilgrim Baptist Church that she attends.
But Nannini said: ″I’m sure even though Cathy’s not completely satisfied with the events of the past year, she feels some vindication.
″She did everything possible.″