DA drops sexual assault charges against Texas CME bishop, cites insufficient evidence

Associated Press - September 26, 2008 4:25 AM ET

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) - The Tarrant County district attorney's office says it doesn't have enough evidence for a conviction and is dropping sexual assault charges against Christian Methodist Episcopal Bishop Kenneth Wayne Carter.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports Assistant Tarrant County District Attorney Betty Arvin told the newspaper that the office dropped the case Wednesday after reviewing all of the evidence.

The attorney representing the alleged victim in a civil lawsuit, Tony Owens, said his client is disappointed and feels -- in his words -- "victimized again by the system."

Owens said the outcome doesn't affect the civil case.

Carter -- who's 51 -- was indicted by a Tarrant County grand jury in June after a licensed minister at a Dallas CME church said Carter in March 2007 tried to force him to have sex when the man applied for a job.

A month after the indictment, the Christian Methodist Episcopal College of Bishops said it was suspending Carter with pay until his criminal case was resolved.

In depositions, Carter admitted to having a consensual sexual encounter with the man, in depositions.

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EDITORIAL COMMENT: This is yet another example of a District Attorney (DA) taking the decision out of the jury's hands after already investing significant resources into the investigation. The DA dropped the charges despite the fact that a grand JURY returned an indictment which suggests that there was evidence. Whether or not it was sufficient is up to the jury to decide. It is far more likely that the DA made the decision to drop charges because it's arguably not an ideal case to try, much less win. It involves a high profile defendant (bishop) and an arguably not so credible victim (a man who the jury will view as capable of defending himself). Furthermore, the victim filed a civil case shortly after the indictment. Even so, this case SHOULD BE TRIED and the aforementioned challenges should NOT dissuade the prosecution. How else will progress be made? The criminality of unlawful sexual conduct should be punished by the State regardless of the defendant's status or the victim's gender. It should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law even if the victim is pursuing a civil case. After all, the victim is merely enforcing his legal rights and should not be persecuted for doing so. Instead, he should be applauded for his courage.

All to often, DAs are intimidated by the defense's delay tactics or if a civil suit is pending, by the defense's trial strategy to destroy the complaining witness's credibility during cross examination by bringing up the civil lawsuit. The result? The defense plants a seed that the victim was not really assaulted and is instead exploiting a consensual encounter for money. This bias is based on the jury's or society's misperception that victims (complaining witness) file criminal charges. They don't.

DAs file criminal charges after a grand jury returns an indictment for those charges. A grand jury that reviews evidence the police has collected and hears the testimony of witnesses. (Whether or not the trial judge admits the evidence pre-trial is a whole other issue). Despite the grand jury's indictment, it is the DA that drives the case from there. The victim in the case testifies as "complaining witness" and does not dictate how the case is prosecuted. True, their testimony is central to a case but if you have a witness who is willing to testify, then let them. It becomes a his word against his word. Even if he refuses to testify, the State's case is not shot because the State can rely on other evidence. The State can subpoena the witness, charge the witness if he refuses to appear, and most importantly, encourage the witness to file his civil suit after trial to combat the defense and strengthen the witness's credibility.

The solution is to try the case, let the jury decide if this was a sexual assault or a consensual encounter. Otherwise, what is the message being sent to victims of such crimes? If prosecutors do not try cases, victims will stop reporting. That can't happen. It is the duty of public officials such as DAs to try cases in which the grand jury finds that there is enough to indict. Victims must report so that they can enforce their civil rights in a civil suit, deter the perpetrator from committing more crimes, and at the very least, try the defendant in the court of public opinion.