Posted by emmcgi09 on April 19, 2010
On October 16th 2009, at around 8:45 p.m., Paul Matott was walking home from work in Potsdam, as he does every day, when three men dressed in dark clothing attacked him. “One of the men appeared in front of me and attempted to spray me with mace. As I was trying to avoid the spray, someone hit me from behind with a piece of lumber. I turned to face that individual, and I was struck again in the head with the piece of lumber. That’s basically how it started.” His jaw was broken in two places and he fell to the ground.
“Those kids were trying to kill me. They never hit me in the body once. They just kept hitting me in the head,” Matott said. “Every time I tried to raise myself back up they would hit me in the head again.” The vicious attack initially suggested to police that this might have been a hate crime against Matott, who is covered in tattoos and once worked as the “Illustrated Man” at a sideshow on Coney Island. However, Matott said, “They definitely hated me, whoever it was. No doubt about that. But I don’t think it was the tattoos per se. Maybe it was some kind of dare.”
Robbery was also ruled out as a motive because neither the $1300 in Matott’s pocket nor the laptop he was holding was taken during the assault. Indeed, it was hard to see why Potsdam’s well known and universally liked “Tat2 Pauly” should be so mercilessly assaulted in a well-trafficked public area. Matott works as a body piercer at Sleepy Hollow Studios, a place popular with local college students with whom he has a great rapport and a solid reputation. The aftermath required extensive reconstructive jaw surgery at Fletcher Allen Hospital in Burlington, Vermont, and Matott was left with mounting medical bills and unanswered questions. A possible motive for the attack would soon emerge, when Matott was attacked again, this time by our own St. Lawrence County legal system.
Six weeks after his brutal beating, Matott was shocked to learn that the St. Lawrence County District Attorney had obtained a grand jury indictment charging him with crimes that could carry up to a 90-year sentence – without ever speaking to him. His 23 year old ex-girlfriend was now accusing him with three counts of first-degree rape. The incidents were said to have occurred in September of 2008, and again in February and June of 2009. This was a travesty, because Matott was in possession of a mountain of evidence suggesting strongly that he was innocent of these charges.
Matott’s accuser had never spoken to police about these alleged attacks when they supposedly occurred. Not until November of ’09, after Matott had broken off their relationship, and more than a year after the first alleged incident, did she decide to tell investigators that she had been raped. Indeed, Matott and his accuser had been dating throughout the period of the alleged rapes, and had lived together from April to June of 2009, months after two of the alleged rapes had supposedly occurred. The local papers were quick to obtain comments from Matott after his indictment, and publish the allegations of his accuser on the front page of the Potsdam Courier Observer. His initial comments were simply “I never did anything violent to that girl. Never… Not ever.”
That was the tip of the iceberg in the torrent of evidence suggesting Matott’s innocence. Matott retained Massena attorney David Haggard the day after his indictment and they began compiling the a 176 page omnibus motion cataloging hundreds of explicit text messages and pictures sent by his ex, proclaiming her love and devotion to him. These love notes, received through Matott’s phone, were sent throughout the time period of the alleged rapes. She sent more than 30 explicit photos to Matott in February, ’09 alone, the very month the second incidence of alleged rape was supposed to have occurred.
On December 16, 2009 Matott’s attorney, David Haggard, presented the evidence to the court arguing that the hundreds of text messages and explicit pictures were not covered by the state’s rape shield law. This New York State law does not allow a rape victim’s character or past sexual behavior to be put on trial because this could unfairly sway the jury. Haggard argued, “The purpose is to highlight the complainant’s state of mind on the issue of consent and the defendant’s state of mind regarding his own reasonable belief as to (her) intentions.” In an interview with these reporters, Matott stated, “Why would she move in with her rapist? It is just common sense.”
Along with the hundreds of text and picture messages, Matott had kept several hand-written letters from the complainant, as well as a cigar box commemorating their relationship that had been decorated by her and dated March 22, 2009, shortly after two of the three alleged incidents of rape had supposedly occurred and just before she began living with Matott.
The complainant only made her allegations to investigators months after Matott and the complainant had ended the relationship, ceased living together, and after Matott had been viciously attacked. Matott now believes the attack was an act of revenge motivated by his ex girl friend’s tales of his alleged crimes. Based upon the increasing evidence, he also believes that the attack on his life was made by friends of his accuser.
Reason Prevails in the Interest of Justice
On February 17th of this year, all the charges against Matott were dismissed by St. Lawrence County Judge Jerome J. Richards, in part because the District Attorney had brought the complainant’s sister and the complainant’s sister’s ex-boyfriend to testify against Matott in front of the Grand Jury, when they had no direct knowledge of these alleged crimes. Richards wrote, “The only apparent reason for such testimony was to create sympathy for the complainant, and to paint the defendant in an unfavorable light.” Matott and Haggard presented hard evidence to the Court while the District Attorney had relied on irrelevant character assassinations to make its case to the grand jury.
Matott was relieved to have the charges removed because he had gone from possibly serving a 90 year sentence to being a free man. However, the last few months have had an impact on the life Paul used to lead. He has been emotionally, physically, and economically affected by the traumatic event, and he will continue to suffer the repercussions of his relationship with the complainant for years to come. His medical costs totaled nearly $14,000, and his legal fees amounted to a year’s salary. His name and face have been dragged through the mud on local TV news and in local newspapers.
False reporting of rape is not common. Only 39% of rapes are reported annually and less than 6% of these rape cases are determined to be false accusations. Nor are we suggesting that victims who report being raped should be looked at askance. It takes courage to report this crime, and rape victims should be supported in their efforts to bring their assailants to justice. What we are suggesting is that when false reports do occur, and we think one may have occurred here, they do a grave disservice to all the real victims of rape, because a false report may make prosecutors and jurors skeptical of such reports generally.
Why would the D.A. pursue this case without at least speaking to the alleged perpetrator or other potential witnesses? Paul’s case can be compared to the Duke Lacrosse rape scandal because there too the district attorney refused to consider the hard evidence showing the innocence of the accused. In that case, Prosecutor Mike Nifong was eventually disbarred by the North Carolina State Bar Association for his “tragic rush to accuse.” Why would our own District Attorney commit such a travesty?
Rape is a very serious allegation and in New York State corroborating evidence is not needed to charge a person with this crime. The current state of the law in NYS coupled with the seriousness of any allegation of rape should give a prosecutor the motivation to see that both sides of the alleged crime are thoroughly investigated before charges are filed or indictments are sought. Was this DA’s office attempting to rely on the jury’s prejudices, as they had at grand jury, at trial? Did the timing of the indictment cause the investigation into the attack on Matott to lose all of its momentum?
Our investigation into this case has led us to other “strange cases” that the DA’s office has recently pursued – a series of procedural mistakes, dismissed cases, failures to show up at trial – that seem to raise questions about the competence of the St. Lawrence County DA’s office. For example:
The case of Raymond Miller. A high risk sex offender, Miller was charged with failing to register as a sex offender, as he is required to by law. The DA’s Grand Jury indictment of Miller was dismissed from St. Lawrence County Court. Among other things, the DA took evidence, without permission, from a transcript that had been sealed by the court and presented it to the Grand Jury. We spoke with a local defense attorney who called this “unethical, even criminal contempt” of the court. In his decision dismissing the prosecution’s case, Judge Jerome Richards slammed the DA’s presentation for use of “inadmissible hearsay” in front of the Grand Jury, which was “unfair and improper, and cannot be condoned.”
The case of Anthony Stark. In our judicial system, prosecutors present their cases first, then the defense rejoins. In the case of Mr. Stark, accused of sex abuse, the judge dismissed the case, and Mr. Stark walked free, before the defense presented its case. In other words, the prosecution’s case was deemed to have no merit even before rebuttal witnesses were presented.
The case of Harold Petke. In another case that cried out for competent prosecution, Mr. Petke was charged with three counts of “promoting a sexual performance by a child,” on a photograph or video. But once again, the Grand Jury indictment of Mr. Petke was tossed out by Judge Richards, who wrote that the prosecution’s instructions to the Grand Jury were “confusing, contradictory and just plain wrong.” For one thing, the prosecutor cited a rule of evidence to the Grand Jury that does not exist. “There is no such rule of evidence,” Richards wrote.
The case of Terry Derouchie. Mr. D. emerged from Family Court an angry man, and began a confrontation in the parking lot of the Courthouse with a friend of his ex-wife’s. When one of the court’s security guards tried to calm the situation, Mr. D. punched the officer, breaking his cheekbone. Derouchie was charged with Felony Assault, which carries a mandatory prison sentence. But due to a bonehead procedural error by the DA’s office, he was allowed to plead guilty to the minor charge of harassment, and then walk free.
The case of Michael Shaw. Mr. Shaw had signed a confession admitting that he had sexually abused a little girl. But again, procedural errors by the DA forced the court to dismiss the case. At that point, under the rule of “timely prosecution,” the DA’s office had four weeks to obtain a new indictment. Somehow, appallingly, they missed the deadline, and Shaw walked free.
UPDATE: THIS WEEK: ANOTHER WASTE OF TAXPAYERS’ MONEY: On Tuesday, April 20, Judge Richards again dismissed a DA case without waiting for the defense to present its case. Rachael Patterson, an employee at the commissary of Gouverneur Correctional Facility, was charged with having sex with prisoners at the prison in 2007 and 2008. Judge Richards concluded that the prosecutor had failed to show that Ms. Patterson’s actions were illegal. “We’re extremely disappointed in the outcome,” said DA Nicole Duve. To which the voters who elected her might say, “Amen.”
What’s going on here? Time and time again, cases that should never be prosecuted, are; while cases that should be vigorously prosecuted are passed over, or dismissed for procedural failures, or for lack of timely prosecution, or because an ADA failed to appear at a preliminary hearing. The time of Grand Juries and courts is wasted, as is the taxpayers’ money.
Who, if anyone, is training the ADAs making these mistakes?
And where is the DA herself? While previous DA’s have done important trials, the current DA, Nicole Duve, has not been much in the courtroom. In fact, in the very important upcoming murder trial of Wayne Oxley, the county will hire a “special prosecutor” to try the case. Taxpayers will bear this cost, in addition to the six-figure salary already being paid to the DA. Why?