I will never forget the panic in Barbara's voice on the phone. Her husband, Larry Orr, had just been arrested at their home. A few hours later, he went before a magistrate to be arraigned. This is the first court proceeding in a criminal case -- where Larry would find out the charges lodged against him and how much bail his family would need to post so that he could be released from jail.
As if Larry's arrest wasn't stressful enough, what came next was like a punch to the gut. Although pretrial services recommended Larry be released on a cash bond, the magistrate ordered him held in jail with no bond. On top of this, he was charged with horrific crimes he did not commit - two counts of sexual assault on his seven year old granddaughter, dating back to when she was four years old.
Larry and Barbara knew there must be some kind of mistake. A complete oversight and misunderstanding by the prosecution and police. You see, this was not the first time Larry was accused by this child. There was a long and complicated history involving a vicious child custody dispute that drove the false allegations. Barbara's son, Sean, had been fighting with his ex-wife, Johanna, for years. Back in 2016, just when Sean was set to get more parenting time with his then four-year old daughter, Johanna told authorities that she believed he sexually abused their child. A full investigation by the Oakland Sheriff's department and Child Protective Services followed.
The child was forensically interviewed by CARE House, a facility designed to properly interview children to make sure to yield the most reliable statement possible. Sean's daughter did not make allegations. She also saw at least three medical doctors who determined there was no physical evidence to support the claims. Sean passed three polygraphs including a polygraph given to him by law enforcement. Finally, Johanna made her motive clear. She met with Sean at a McDonald's right after the investigation began, and luckily, Sean was smart enough to audio record the conversation. Johanna proceeded to make an offer to Sean -- if he agreed to terminate his parental rights to their daughter, she would give him a "gift" and stop the criminal investigation.
It was sickening.
After the Prosecutor’s office reviewed the investigation file and denied the issuance of charges against Sean, law enforcement and CPS closed their cases. When the lead detective called Johanna to let her know the outcome, Johanna dropped another bomb from the sky. She claimed that her daughter made more claims over the past few days. Not only was she saying her dad molested her, but she was also saying her grandmother and grandfather were a part of it too. CPS and the Sheriff’s Department launched a second full investigation. Again, the child did not corroborate what her mother said. There were no physical findings to support the new claims. And Larry and Barbara both passed three polygraphs. The Prosecutor’s Office denied the issuance of charges. The case was closed. Again.
But that was not acceptable to Johanna. She took her false allegations to another law enforcement agency located in a different county who, once realizing that the allegations had been fully investigated – twice – by a law enforcement agency, refused to investigate noting that the allegations had already been fully investigated.
Back in divorce court, Sean continued to fight for time with his daughter. The Court appointed a psychologist to assess the family and a reunification therapist to work with the family. Things seemed to be back on track. The professionals involved found evidence to support that the child had been coached and led.
During this time, no one was aware that Johanna was continuing her pursuit against Sean and Larry. Although it violated court orders in the divorce, Johanna took the child to be interviewed again -- actually six more times. Johanna also went to police -- this time avoiding the Oakland Sheriff's department and helping the case find its way to the Michigan State Police. Despite the Oakland County Prosecutors Office previously declining to charge Larry and Sean twice, now Johanna had the Attorney General’s office looking at the case instead. And much to Larry and Sean's surprise, they were arrested, charged, and in jail with no bond.
After more than three months in jail, the court was going to reconsider setting bond. The information that came from the three-day bond hearing was deeply disturbing. The officer in charge of the new investigation purposefully did not concern himself with the history in the nasty divorce case. He testified that he did not read the numerous transcripts of professionals who had evaluated the child and the parents -- transcripts that clearly showed this little girl had been led and clearly showed Sean and Larry were innocent. A special agent testified that she took Johanna at her word -- she never attempted once to verify any of the information that she was provided from any other source than Johanna, a mother who was desperate to remove the child's father from her life. It was clear that through cross-examination by the defense, the prosecution was learning new information it had never known. It was clear that the very biased investigation was shoddy and replete with problems.
Ultimately, Larry and Sean were granted bond that could be paid by the family after both spent more than five months in jail. Thankfully, the case was dismissed last week by the prosecution.
Of course, our office is thrilled at the result for Larry. He was innocent, falsely accused, and had become the victim of Johanna's skillful strategy to take Sean down. While justice was served in one way -- it certainly was not served in another. Larry should have never spent five months in jail. Those are five months of his life that he can never get back. Five months of sleepless nights on a paper-thin mattress, confined to the walls of a small cell filled with other prisoners, and nonstop, constant noise at all hours of the day and night. Sounds of chains rattling, metal doors slamming, inmates arguing with one another, guards yelling back and forth with prisoners. Five months of being searched every time he entered and exited his cell and having no more than an hour of outside time a day -- if he was even lucky enough to get that. Five months of having an audience of cell mates every time he used the toilet in the small, crowded, dirty cell. Five months of his nostrils being filled with the smells that are unique to jail -- body odor, filth, and random wafts of disgusting food. Circumstances and an environment that undoubtedly take its toll on even the strongest people.
Hindsight is always 20/20. I'll admit that. But I'll also say that in our experience at Smith Blythe, the cases where we have had the most success are the ones where we got involved the soonest -- during the investigation phase and before clients were arrested. I often say that when I walk into a court with a client, they tend to walk out the door with me. When I find my client already in handcuffs and locked up, they tend to stay that way longer.
Larry and his family were faced with a complete surprise attack that caught them completely off guard. Sadly, this is true for almost everyone we represent. When the accused knows they have not done anything wrong, it almost makes it worse....the falsely accused clients almost always underestimate how easy it is to be falsely accused, arrested, and have their life turned completely upside down. People who have never been in trouble are frequently naive to believe that justice will be the end result. I do not mean to criticize Larry in any way for not hiring my office sooner, however, I do hope that others can learn from this information. The sooner we are hired, the sooner we can help. When your life and liberty are at stake, nothing is more important than protecting that.