Charlotte-Mecklenburg police knew for more than seven weeks that 15-year-old Tiffany Wright might have been the victim of statutory rape, but they didn't charge her alleged assailant until the pregnant teen was shot dead Monday.This case should be a reminder that all sex crimes cases are serious and that the police should never assume that a suspect poses no danger to the victim. Victim testimony to the police is most often ruled inadmissible if that victim is murdered because the defendant has been denied the right to cross examine the witness granted by the sixth amendment of the US constitution. Alleged rape victim testimony has been allowed in at least 1 murder trial (I'll add the link when I find it) but with the stipulation that it is evidence of the defendant's motive which exists whether the original report was true or false.
Social workers reported to police on July 27 that Royce Mitchell might have sexually assaulted Tiffany, but police said they waited nearly four weeks to make any contact with Mitchell. A police official says a detective called Mitchell Aug. 20 and asked him to come in for an interview, but Mitchell declined.
Tiffany Wright was pregnant when she was murdered so the DNA testing on the baby, who so far has survived the shooting, may prove Mitchell guilty of statutory rape. However, what happened might have been more than statutory rape, it might have been flat out rape or Mitchell might not be the father so the case would depend on Wright's testimony.
While Mitchell is a person of interest in Wright's murder there is a chance he didn't commit this crime. All of the evidence, including the statutory rape investigation, needs to be evaluated to see if there is evidence which will prove Mitchell's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
This murder is also a reminder that victims who don't cooperate or who recant may be doing so out of very real and sensible fear. When I fail to automatically assume an alleged rape victim fabricated the original report of rape when that report is recanted I get falsely accused of refusing to believe that any girl or woman ever lies about rape.
When an alleged rape victim recants the only known fact is that that person recanted. It is not a given that recantation equals that person made a fraudulent police report. To treat these as synonymous is to guarantee false claims against some real rape victims. The same is true when someone confesses to committing a violent crime. Some confessions and some recantations happen when the person confessing is not guilty. To deny this in the name of protecting the innocent is nonsensical and counter to actually protecting those who are innocent.
The latest example where an alleged rape victim's recantation is being misused to make, so far, unfounded claims of fact is a gang rape case at Hofstra University. The DA is now doing a criminal investigation because of her statement that what she reported was true except that she consented to those sexual actions. Yet many people who claim to be against prematurely assuming guilt have done just that. They have become the very thing they claim to hate with a vengeance.
Besides getting threats, rape survivors can have their experiences invalidated by people they trust. "You only think you were raped," is far too common of a statement from those who claim to be knowledgeable allies. Then there is the practical ramifications of continuing to cooperate with a criminal prosecution while trying to continue with other commitments such as school work. The practical and immediate psychological cost might be less if a rape victim falsely recants a true allegation of rape.
From my time answering my local rape crisis line I know that real rape victims can be driven toward recanting by very real and harmful forces. These forces are one of the reasons that witness tampering is a crime and in some jurisdictions is a felony.
Here's more information on the murder of Tiffany Wright from WBTV:
The incident happened as the teen's foster mother said she went inside the house to get Wright a glass of water. The foster mother told police she later heard at least three gunshots. When she went outside, she discovered that Wright had been shot. When police officers arrived, they found Wright lying on the street suffering from a single gunshot wound to the head.
She was critically injured and transported to Carolinas Medical Center-Main where she later died. Doctors manage to save the unborn child's life and the baby remains in critical condition.
The CMPD said the shooting was no random act of violence and that it was the result of a domestic dispute. By 4:30 p.m., the CMPD said Mitchell walked into CMPD headquarters with his attorney and turned himself in.