A Houston appellate court has granted a new trial for a convicted child rapist because he was blocked from presenting character witnesses at his 2012 trial.
In a Nov. 20 opinion, a majority panel of the First Court of Appeals ruled that Harris County District Judge Michael McSpadden should have allowed Gary Wayne Wilson''s friends and family to testify to his "moral and safe conduct around children."
Wilson was sentenced to life in prison for raping a six-year-old boy, but had also been charged with sexually assaulting another child -- that charge was dropped when Wilson was convicted in the first case. (However, court records indicate that Wilson was accused of "illegal sexual behavior" with three children).
Prosecutors at trial objected to the planned testimony of Wilson's daughters, son, brother, friend, and others, calling it "improper bolstering" and irrelevant, according to the First Court's majority ruling.
Citing an earlier Houston case, the four justices ruled that excluding "good character" testimony in an aggravated sexual assault case is "an abuse of discretion."
The witnesses' testimony "did not only go to the heart of [Wilson's] defense; it was the sum total of his defense," according to the opinion, which also noted that "trials concerning allegations of sexual assault depend heavily on credibility determinations between two competing claims of what happened."
To that end, the opinion referred to the victim's "history of lying and of being manipulative." The boy, who was 15 by the time he testified, had been diagnosed with ADHD, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and "suffered hallucinations, including voices telling him to hurt his mother."
The opinion, without citing any evidence from the trial record, also questioned the testimony of the victim's sister, who testified that she witnessed one of the assaults.
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"We cannot exclude the possibility that she could have motivations to testify other than to give an unaltered account of what she observed," according to the opinion. "....Other than the testimony of [the victim] and his sister, there is little evidence in the record identifying [Wilson] as the perpetrator...."
But in his dissenting opinion, Judge Jim Sharp wrote of "extremely strong" direct and circumstantial evidence pointing to guilt, including a pediatrician's finding that the boy had injuries that "are not only uncommon, but consistent with repeated anal sexual assault over a number of years."
Sharp also cited the victim's "specific and graphic" testimony, corroborated by the boy's sister. The justice also cited testimony from the boy's elementary school counselor, who said she contacted Child Protective Services in 2005, "after she saw bruises on [the boy's] back and legs, and scratches on his neck and earlobes." Six months after that call, the boy told a therapist about the abuse.
Wilson's attorney, Charles Hinton, did not respond to requests for comment.