They weren’t angels to begin with, which blunts our ability to feel particularly bad for the three dudes and no doubt animated the prosecution to believe they were guilty and pursue them with unrelenting vigor. But even guys who aren’t angels don’t deserve to go through hell for a crime that never happened.
Three men accused of raping a 9-year-old girl near Vernal more than two years ago were found not guilty on all charges Wednesday.
Larson RonDeau, 38, Randall Flatlip, 28, and Jerry Flatlip, 31, were visibly relieved as the verdicts were read, some hugging their attorneys and another leaning over and thanking his lawyer.
Under different circumstances, the names of three innocent men might be best concealed, but for these three, it’s far too late. Their names were smeared, tarred, tainted forever. And they were innocent. The names are now included so that the word innocent can be attached to their names. Larson RonDeau, 38, Randall Flatlip, 28, and Jerry Flatlip, 31, are, and always were, innocent of the horrific allegations of gang rape. They didn’t do it. It never happened.
“They spent more than two years out of their lives with their liberty removed from them, and they didn’t do it. The jury was pretty clear,” defense attorney Loni DeLand said after the verdicts were read.
Despite what you hear, certain crimes carry far more culpability, a level of disgust and hatred, then others. Rape is one. Child rape is even worse. While no mention is made of it, there is a strong likelihood that these three were not treated well by their fellow inmates during the two years of their life they will never get back.
On Easter Sunday 2016 in a rural area outside of Vernal, a young girl, now 11, claimed she was gang-raped by at least three men while her mother did drugs in another room.
Mom was doing drugs in another room, which means they weren’t there on a junior high field trip. The taint of a drug house, drug users, stinks up the fact pattern. It’s not that there is some inherent connection between drugs and gang rape of a child, but there’s an assumption that people who do bad things do all sort of bad things. And then there’s the assumption that if they’re bad dudes to begin with, there is no loss in taking them down anyway.
But as defense attorneys for each client pointed out to jurors, there was no DNA evidence. The entire case came down to a she-said/they-said situation.
“Not a shred of physical evidence. No DNA or anything,” DeLand noted.
“I’ve never thought from the beginning that they’ve had a likelihood of winning,” defense attorney Brian Sidwell added after the verdict. “There was no DNA. They found DNA but it didn’t match any of our clients. When we started getting doctor reports back (that said), ‘Hey, this is just not medically probable, that if everything she is saying is true (then) there would be some type of evidence or physical injury to her.”
This case was not a “she-said/they-said situation.” The characterization reflects a significant misapprehension. The evidence, and lack thereof, including DNA and lack of physical injury to the 9-year-old, isn’t merely a neutral factor. It’s evidence that shows two things, that there was no rape at all, no less gang rape, and that these three men were not guilty. It’s affirmative evidence that exonerates them.
Had the prosecution fairly evaluated the evidence in hand, they would have never prosecuted this case, never had these men held in custody for two years of their lives, a punishment for which there will be no recourse. But they did prosecute.
Uintah County Attorney Mark Thomas said he respected the jury’s decision.
“As prosecutors, we would like to have a case where we have an overwhelming amount of evidence. Sometimes we do just have to rely on what people tell us,” he said. “In this case, we have a young girl who I consider gave compelling testimony, a compelling statement. If the jury did not find it compelling, that’s, again, something the jury has to weigh.”
The physical evidence showed that there was no crime, but then there was the testimony of a young girl, “compelling testimony.” Ignore the facts, the hard evidence, and believe the victim? By now, this ought to ring a bell, as it has become the foundational mantra of the unduly passionate. Believe the victim. Ignore the evidence. Believe the victim. Ignore the facts. Believe the victim. Hey, maybe the jury will share the sensibilities of the woke and find a testimony compelling enough, sad enough, emotional enough, horrific enough, to allow their emotions to overwhelm their reason and convict.
So now they get to walk out of the courtroom and try to piece together the pieces of their lives? Not exactly.
The three men will now have to be transported back to Vernal before they are officially released from custody.
It’s one of the ironies of bureaucracy that an acquitted man must be “officially released” even though he’s not guilty. There’s paperwork to do, of course. But it’s not just paperwork.
Randall Flatlip, however, may remain in custody for another case. Following his arrest as part of the rape investigation, child pornography was allegedly discovered and he was charged with 74 counts of exploitation of a child, all second-degree felonies. He is scheduled to be back in court on that case on Tuesday.
Jerry Flatlip and RonDeau also face a charge of child abuse, a third-degree felony, and are scheduled to be back in court May 22. Sidwell, however, said it was all part of the same episode as the case they were just acquitted on, and attorneys will be moving for the charges to be dismissed based on double jeopardy.
But for the rape accusation and prosecution, none of this would be on the table. The kiddie porn, assuming it was lawfully seized even though it was the fruit of an investigation for a crime that never happened, will be the next nightmare. Then again, most of us are sufficiently disgusted by it that we won’t be bothered that it was obtained only because of an investigation into a non-existent crime.
As for the other two, maybe the nightmare will come to an end. Maybe the system will be satisfied with the two-year sacrifice they’ve already taken from their lives and the taint of being child gang-rapists that will follow them forever.