Penned In

Almost nobody -- not even the trial judge or the victim -- thinks John Michael Harvey molested a child. So why's he still serving 40 years in prison?

Harvey contends that the ex-neighbor had been doing crank with Karen in 1988, and that the neighbor was angry with him after he rebuffed her advances.

Jury foreman Marty Marion says that what convinced him of Harvey's guilt was the testimony of Becky Wendt. But while Wendt was testifying in Texas, she was under fire in New York for a case somewhat similar to Harvey's.

Wendt had interviewed two children involved in allegations that led to more than 2,000 counts of sexual assault against their father, Richard Knupp, in 1988. His wife was charged with 600 counts, all later dismissed.

Harvey demanded dismissal or a trial on the charges 
that later sent him to prison.
Daniel Kramer
Harvey demanded dismissal or a trial on the charges that later sent him to prison.
Better times: Harvey and his mother in 1991.
Daniel Kramer
Better times: Harvey and his mother in 1991.

Knupp was convicted of 11 counts, largely on the basis of testimony elicited by Wendt. The children sat in her lap when they testified via closed-circuit television. They later recanted, and Knupp passed a polygraph examination.

Spurred by a series of articles in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Knupp was granted appellate hearings that revealed the charges were initiated by a vindictive and abusive grandmother who wanted custody of the kids. Knupp's convictions were overturned. After serving four years, he was acquitted at a second trial.

Wendt still believes Knupp was guilty. "He got away with it," she says. She also stands by her testimony against Harvey.

Harvey says his trial lawyer, Hatcher, was aware of the controversy surrounding Wendt but believed it would be better not to get into that subject in testimony.

As with the Knupp children, Wendt's interviews with Melissa were not videotaped -- now standard procedure in both New York and Texas. Experts also question Wendt's serving as both the forensic, or fact-finding, investigator, as well as the children's therapist in those cases.

Standards now advise against such dual roles if impartiality is to be maintained, says Lisa Bourgoyne, a forensic interviewer for the Children's Assessment Center in Houston. But ten years ago, she says, "It was a new field, and it was wide open."

Moore, the Bedford police investigator, appears to have had a close working relationship with Wendt. She even asked Wendt to interview Karen and her mother, a job normally reserved for law enforcement agencies.

Bourgoyne says her Houston agency investigates more than 300 cases of sexual abuse a year, and about a third of them turn out to be groundless. She says child custody issues are the top warning sign about potentially false statements.

Karen's mother, Anna Martinez, was involved in custody issues herself. She had a 1981 misdemeanor conviction for welfare fraud for claiming too many dependent children to authorities.

Eleven years later, while Martinez was in Texas testifying, welfare agencies were investigating her again for fraud, for allegedly not reporting a settlement from a car accident while she was receiving benefits for herself, her youngest child and Melissa. That led to a conviction of grand larceny in 1994, when she was ordered to pay back more than $26,000 to the state of New York. None of that information came out at Harvey's trial.

Father Gabriel White, the Harveys' priest at Geneva's Greek Orthodox church for more than 30 years, accuses Melissa's grandmother of wanting the girl in her custody so she could collect more welfare payments.

White contends that after Harvey's conviction, the grandmother told him, "It's good for him to be in prison. He won't be in there long, anyway." The priest says, "She's an evil bitch -- be sure to write that."

Harvey's appellate lawyer, David Chapman, raised several issues in a 1997 challenge of the conviction. The same polygraph examiner used by Tarrant County administered a lie detector test to Harvey -- he passed impressively. Chapman alleged that Hatcher botched the case, and that Lisa Mullen committed misconduct.

At the core of his complaints is a note that he discovered in the prosecutors' files that Chapman received as part of the 1997 appeal. Done in Mullen's handwriting, the note includes Melissa's name at the top, with an arrow drawn from there to the notation, "Tattoo on his butt -- Eagle."

Melissa says she remembers telling Mullen before the trial that the man who assaulted her was a big man with a tattoo, which she now recalls as being the image of some kind of animal. Melissa says that before the trial, "She started asking me what kind of tattoo it was and I kept saying, 'Lady, I don't know.' "

Harvey, a small man, has no tattoos.

Karen says Mullen asked her before the trial if Harvey had any tattoos. She says she also told Mullen that she thought the molester may have been a South Carolina man with multiple tattoos who was particularly fond of Melissa while she was staying there. Karen says Mullen told her not to mention the tattoos, or the man.

Mullen hotly denies the versions from the girl and her mother: "I swear to you, that child did not tell me that." No mention of tattoos was ever made at Harvey's trial.

In a rare appellate hearing granted in 1999, the trial attorney for Harvey testified he had never seen the note. If it had been written before the trial, it would have been required to be handed over to the defense.

Mullen testified that maybe she wrote the note during the trial, maybe about another case. She said she didn't remember when she wrote it, but she was sure it wasn't during her pretrial interview with Melissa.

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