Even drunk, John Kinsel knew what to expect the night he was arrested for driving a tow truck into a ditch in West Monroe, Louisiana. He'd go to jail, make bond and pay a fine. By his early twenties, the blond-haired, blue-eyed Texan already had a knack for getting into trouble. He'd been in jail once before for stealing a car in Dallas.
Kinsel served a month in jail in 1996 and decided to pay his fine to get out. The prison guard checked to see how much Kinsel owed, and when he pulled up Kinsel's records, he found something alarming. Kinsel had a warrant for his arrest in Jefferson Parish. In disbelief, Kinsel told them they'd better check again; they had the wrong guy. "No," Kinsel remembers the guard telling him. "They're coming to get you."
That's when Kinsel learned his girlfriend's nine-year-old daughter Alyssa Medlin had accused him of raping, choking, and threatening her for nearly three years, from the time she was six to eight and a half. (The Houston Press made several attempts to reach Medlin for this story, all of which went ignored.) Kinsel almost passed out when he was told the charges. He'd beaten men up for the same acts. Kinsel waived extradition from West Monroe to Jefferson Parish, confident he'd be able to straighten out the situation in a few hours. "I'm no angel," he said. "I've raised hell all my life. But shit like this? No, never."
Come December 1999, Kinsel began his life sentence in Louisiana's notorious Angola prison. His sisters Mary and Alice nearly went broke hiring lawyers, but nothing could undo the accusations the little girl had made.
Not even Medlin herself, who would come forward at age 19 and say she made the whole story up. Not even a judge who ordered Kinsel a new trial.
While a federal court tries to decide at what point they should believe the girl, a proven courtroom liar, Kinsel is going on his twelfth year behind bars in the largest maximum-security prison in the country with no hope of parole. Ever.
Trinity, Texas, is a speck of a town 80 miles north of Houston, with one high school and two stoplights. Kinsel grew up in Trinity, the youngest child of seven. There was little else to do but grow up fast. When Kinsel was eight years old, his father shot himself in the head. His older sister Mary found him in a pool of his blood, painkillers and a .22 scattered across his bed. A year later, Kinsel's mother died of breast cancer. The orphaned son went to live with another sister's in-laws, who sold all of his parents' possessions in a garage sale and put Kinsel to work tarring roofs. Mary, who was 18 at the time, took her brother away to live with her.
Kinsel dropped out of high school freshman year and moved to Dallas, where he got a job hanging drywall. Then, at 19, he got arrested for stealing an Oldsmobile. He was convicted of auto theft, but didn't show up for his probation; instead, he skipped town for a few years and moved to South Carolina.
When he turned 22, Kinsel moved to Monroe, Louisiana. He was hired as a tow truck operator at a local wrecking service, and every day after work, he'd unwind at a neighborhood bar. He fell in love with Adrienne Alberts, the 28-year-old brunette bartender. Kinsel would drink beer and flirt with Alberts until the end of the shift, when he'd take her out for breakfast. By that point, Kinsel had fathered two children with two different women, and Alberts had three kids of her own and a husband she was in the process of divorcing. But they started dating in January 1992 and soon fell madly in love, according to both of them.
In November, Kinsel, Alberts and her three kids moved to Gretna, a tightly knit town just across the river from New Orleans. For a few weeks, they stayed with Alberts's older sister, Stacy Plaisance, who quickly adopted Kinsel as her brother. "My sister was always a goody two-shoes," Plaisance said with a laugh. "He seemed like somebody that would probably run in my crowd...me and him just clicked instantly, like good buddies." Plaisance introduced him to her brother-in-law Mark Plaisance, who liked Kinsel and got him a job at his towing company. Then, they found a place of their own, where Kinsel, Alberts and her three children would live for the next year.
It was no storybook relationship. The couple broke up in November 1993 because Alberts discovered Kinsel was smoking crack. Alberts moved back in with her father, and Kinsel moved out. But while they were broken up, she found out she was pregnant with his baby. Swearing he'd get clean, Kinsel went to rehab, and Alberts took him back when the child was born in June 1994. The next year, Kinsel moved in with Alberts, her parents and her kids.