The McAllister “trial” was a disgrace

Mad as Hell, boys and girls.

That’ll do for a start.

Today, the prosecution threw in the towel on the first of two cases against accused rapist Norm McAllister. And absolutely threw their star witness under the bus.

Disgraceful.

There is much more to say, but let’s start there. The accuser did not step forward of her own accord; the authorities encouraged her to do so, and actively solicited her testimony.

She was a reluctant witness from the start. Until the last moment, there were doubts about whether she would show up.

As it turned out, she shouldn’t have. She was subjected to hours of raw, hurtful questioning about every little detail of a series of intimate assaults. And what was her reward?

Less than 24 hours later, the prosecution threw up its hands and said, “Never mind.” Her compliance, her assistance, her exposure in the media, her dutiful effort to testify accuately to events that happened several years ago — all flushed down the toilet.

The lawyers, the judge, the media — their lives go on. She is left clutching whatever remains of her dignity, sanity, and self-esteem. If there was any justice in the world, she would be eligible for reparations.

This came after a trial in which she was basically a human McGuffin, “an object that serves merely as the trigger for the plot.”

Was there any hint of consideration for her at any point in this proceeding? Her image and the shreds of her privacy were avidly sought by clickbait-hungry media. Her own experience was not honored on its own terms; it was tossed on one side of a scale and found wanting.

Her testimony was deemed unreliable. Well, what the fuck did they expect — that she kept a Rape Diary with dates, times, locations, and details? No! She did her best to forget what had happened to her. This is a coping mechanism for survivors of trauma: softening the harsh edges of unbearable experience, burying the injury deep and hoping it never emerges again.

And this is a fundamental inequity in how we conduct sexual assault prosecutions. The accuser gets the short end of the stick at every point along the way. The defendant and his* attorney have an open license to attack the accuser at every step along the way, poking holes in her story and her reputation however they can, adding a mental and emotional assault to the physical assault previously endured.

*Yes, it’s almost always a male assailant attacking a female. 

The deck is stacked. The dice are loaded. Do you wonder why the vast majority of sex crimes go unreported? Because when you do come forward, this is the thanks you get.

Even worse in this case, the accuser comes from the fringes of society and the defendant is a respected citizen holding high office. The defendant had a crackerjack lawyer who did his job to the best of his ability and to the lasting detriment of his eternal soul.

I would never be a lawyer. I couldn’t stand the strain of defending people accused of horrible crimes and doing my level best to eviscerate their accusers. McAllister’s lawyer did a great job: he eviscerated the accuser, a 21-year-old woman who stands less than five feet tall, weighs less than a hundred pounds, and is trying to scratch out a life on the margins of society, weighed down by a years-long experience she described as being “in Hell.”

Congratulations, Brooks McArthur. You “won.” Buy yourself a nice tailored suit with your takings from the McAllister defense.

I know I’ll get some blowback from the legal community. We have an adversarial system; two sides contend, and in doing so, the truth is distilled.

That might be true in a lot of cases. But there are substantial inherent imbalances when it comes to sex crimes.

Which reflects the larger social imbalance. The vast majority of sex crimes involve a male perpetrator assaulting a female. In the aftermath, the female is the damaged party, shamed into silence, struggling to come to terms with a trauma that men cannot even imagine. (The hardest part of my heart thinks things would be better if there was a lot more male-on-male rape. At least we’d know how it feels.)

And if the female gets up the courage to report, she gets put through the wringer all over again. She has to stand up to her assailant. She has to relive one of the worst moments of her life, over and over again, in depositions and in open court.

And if she goes through all of that, chances are the defendant will get off scot-free or with a minimal sentence.

I don’t know how to fix this. But it’s wrong, and women bear the brunt of it.

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28 thoughts on “The McAllister “trial” was a disgrace

  1. Acarn

    I simply cannot believe it, this is just an absolute disgrace to our legal system. My only hope is that the public does not let this slide, shame these disgusting excuses for human beings. Let them know we will not forget this. Rape culture is here and it is real. And this trial shows that Vermont is certainly not above it.

    Reply
    1. gglavoie

      You are correct, Acarn. i hope that you are also expressing the same sentiments to law enforcement, the courts, and the State’s Attorneys who are responsible for changing the system.

      Reply
  2. Al Walskey

    John W.,

    Is the audio or transcript of that allegedly incriminating call recorded by the police available for us mere mortals to hear/read? I, for one, would like to be able to judge for myself just how incriminating this call was. Most of the reports have been negative on McAllister without any hint that the case might be shaky or weak. Some made it sound like a slam dunk for conviction.

    Reply
      1. JG

        This gives me real hope that the next trial will be completed and the real N. McAllister will be revealed.

      2. gglavoie

        Public attention and pressure will be key. It’s too easy for the State to make excuses why prosecution is giving up.

  3. jillm

    I don’t know how to fix this within the criminal justice system, or our culture generally, either. But I would suggest that what we could do for now would be to follow the example of the recent case at Stanford and raise holy hell about the process. It would also be really nice, if possible, to connect the victim from the McAllister case with the woman whose stirring letter was read to her accuser and then made public in the Stanford case.

    Reply
  4. newzjunqie

    Wondering if she refused to or even able to continue. Prosecution seemed to do a poor job protecting victim from heavy-handed cross examination. Yes lawyer a complete creep, also serves to further cement MCallister as the slimeball he is. Twitterverse members of Tweet-jury decrying Senate decision to suspend. Foolish b/c charges dropped is not innocence.

    Hopefully a lawyer will pro-bono a civil case which has a lower bar for damages.

    Fun fact: Hellary Clinton pursued ‘alleged’ female victims with the same gusto plus all or most of Bills ‘alleged’ victims report Hellary knew of his activity. Reported pursuit of them junkyard-doglike, threatening and intended to silence.

    Reply
  5. richard i rubin

    Nice rant. You make some good points, but maybe she was lying. Sure he is slime, but the State charged an offense that carried a life sentence. Wait until you or one of your kids is wrongfully accused you might be wrapping you head around the presumption of innocence and the obligation to prove the case. Maybe you might understand that rigorous cross examination is the best defense against a lying accuser. It is the prosecutor who put this young woman through this, apparently unprepared even if she was telling the truth. The state has the right to put on an expert to explain the behavior of rape victims. A real problem is that more criminal defendants don’t have access to a good defense and that prosecutors don’t prepare their cases and dismiss the bad ones. Trust the process, trust juries. Way more innocent people go to jail, especially poor ones, than guilty go free. Oliver Wendall Holmes said, “Better that 10 guilty go free than one innocent person be convicted. The system works best with smart experienced prosecutors, zealous defenders, fair judges, and educated juries. 98 percent of people charged are convicted. Lighten up, be happy. Richard Rubin, Barre

    Reply
    1. John S. Walters Post author

      You may notice that I put a hefty amount of blame on the prosecution. Otherwise, yes, maybe she was lying, but there are powerful reasons to think not. After all, she was the very model of a reluctant witness. She never wanted to testify. Even on the day she was scheduled to take the stand, there were doubts about whether she would show up.

      That doesn’t sound like someone who’s making up a story. That sounds like someone who suffered a severe trauma and doesn’t want to relive it. The system failed her, as it has failed so many in her position.

      Reply
      1. Dave Katz

        Exactly right, though it’s hard to imagine what the reward for giving up on an ambitious prosecution like VT v. McAllister would have been. The case appears to have been too ill-prepared to have even notionally served as an example for sexual assault trials going forward, and that the prosecution threw in the towel at this stage of the trial is just baffling. Unless–big unless–there was some colossal procedural or evidentiary error on the part of the State that the judge revealed in a sidebar, accompanied by a strong suggestion the State withdraw its case. Either way, a travesty and probably a career ender for whomever. But in Bennington, that black guy in the cab got 14 years, even though SSC overturned the conviction on Constitutional grounds later. Hmmm. You don’t suppose….naah. Can’t be.

    2. infantsage

      Yes Richard Rubin, thank you for making this point, which needs to be made every time people are (understandably) incensed about the dismissal of charges or an acquittal.

      Reply
    3. gglavoie

      You make excellent points, but i disagree with the statement that 98% of people are charged are convicted. That’s certainly not the case in Franklin County. Additionally, for a multitude of good reasons, people are offered plea deals in exchange for lesser charges. So while they might be “convicted,” it’s certainly not for the crimes they were initially charged.

      Reply
  6. Sash

    Hi John,

    I’m an avid reader of your blog, which I consider some of the best commentary we get in Vermont.

    One paragraph of your post hit on something I’ve been thinking about. Full disclosure, I’m an attorney, and my wife is a public defender, so my biases are pretty obvious.

    This is the paragraph: “Her testimony was deemed unreliable. Well, what the fuck did they expect — that she kept a Rape Diary with dates, times, locations, and details? No! She did her best to forget what had happened to her. This is a coping mechanism for survivors of trauma: softening the harsh edges of unbearable experience, burying the injury deep and hoping it never emerges again.”

    I think what you say is true. But it poses a real problem for the legal system. Since the jury at a rape trial is there to determine precisely the question whether a rape occurred, saying “rape survivors tend to develop faulty memories” begs the question – it assumes the key fact in dispute.

    So how do we balance what we know about the nature of the trauma caused by rape against the evidentiary and procedural protections we’ve developed (which exist for good reason)? You end your post saying you don’t know, but I’m curious what your thoughts are.

    – Sash

    Reply
    1. John S. Walters Post author

      The problem reaches far beyond the legal system. Even in the 21st Century, women are far from equality. One of the most brutal expressions of men’s attempts to maintain control of women is sexual assault. (Others include domestic violence, murder, and murder/suicide, all of which are almost entirely perpetrated by men against women.)

      A woman who has been raped faces an uphill battle to restore her dignity, sanity, and personhood. Under the circumstances, many women never report being assaulted because they know they are more likely to be stigmatized than believed. If a woman does gin up the courage to contact authorities and they believe her, and the investigation results in an arrest and trial, she faces the additional burden of being a reliable witness AND the inevitable verbal assault from counsel for the defense, whose best option is to try to destroy the credibility of the accuser. Which seems like a horrible way for a legal system to operate, but hey, I’m not a lawyer and, as Ogden Nash put it, I never hope to be one.

      On top of all that, the defendant often has greater standing in the community than the accuser (see: Stanford swimmer) and greater resources (see: Owen Labrie). Smart assailants choose their victims wisely; Norm McAllister chose a girl existing on the edges of society whose memory and attention to detail were fuzzy enough to make her, well, an ideal victim. Smart move.

      The unbalanced power dynamic in sex crime is echoed and enhanced by the unintentional yet inevitable biases of the legal process. The result: at every step along the way, the deck is stacked against women. I still don’t know how to fix it. I just know it’s broken, and earnest appeals to due process or “innocent till proven guilty” or our august legal traditions don’t do anything to make it better.

      Reply
  7. Mark Trigo

    I have significant experience in the criminal justice system. I can tell you that this case was completely bungled by the prosecution, whether the alleged victim was telling the truth or not.

    The victim’s discrepancies were huge. For example, at deposition she stated that the first incident happened in his house on her first day of employment. At trial she stated that it was several weeks into her job and it happened in the barn. The prosecutor ought to have spoken at length with the victim prior to trial, and should have known exactly what she was going to say. And if these discrepancies existed, they should have had an expert witness ready to talk about the impact of sexual assault on the survivor’s memory.

    I’m not convinced that the victim was being completely truthful, to be frank. But if the prosecution had reason to believe that she wasn’t, they should never have let the case go this far. They have poisoned the next trial by allowing this to play out very publicly.

    I have never seen a high profile case botched this badly. It pains me to say that, but it’s the truth. No could go on and on with other examples of why, but it’s just too depressing.

    Reply
  8. JG

    Week never know if the prosecution could have come back from the scorching defense questioning of an Ill prepared witness. The state presecuters could have done so much better than they did. The witness clearly did not have any of her story prepared and almost seemed to be making it up as she went along. Very few details that could have helped pin him, ok NO details that could have helped. What we do know is he carted around a 16 year old little girl from Richford to Montpelier as a secretary that couldn’t even spell trailer let alone use punctuation. That’s mighty suspicious in my book.

    Reply
  9. Cofrisi

    “The hardest part of my heart thinks things would be better if there was a lot more male-on-male rape. At least we’d know how it feels.”

    I know very well how it feels. It’s the first thing I remember in the morning, and the last thing at night. And the thought that somebody else is retrospectively cheering on my rapist turns my stomach.

    Reply
    1. gglavoie

      Oh, Cofrisi. I’m so sorry.
      As I surveyed the courtroom over those few days i made several comments about the mostly male crowd – the judge, the jury, the attorneys, the media. And while i wish there was a better understanding of the impacts of rape, I would certainly never wish that on anyone.
      Thank you for confronting that comment.

      Reply
  10. pete

    “Was there any hint of consideration for her at any point in this proceeding? Her image and the shreds of her privacy were avidly sought by clickbait-hungry media.”

    I wish the John S. Walters Court had extended the same chivalry to Meg Hansen.

    Spare us the tortured outrage, Walters. Coming in on your white horse crying misogyny and championing yourself as the hero of the oppressed woman. You’re just a bully who, as far as I can see, cares only for women named Little Debbie.

    Reply
      1. odum

        I think the internet store accidentally gave you the Repellant Troll instead.

        How dare you be anti-rape!!!

  11. newzjunqie

    All who maintain an online presence are fair game. No one gets a pass for being female-I know this to be a fact. Nor is it clear, at least to me, that Ms Hansen is soliciting these “services”.

    All who have strong controversial or outspoken positions are routinely attacked. Done primarily by stalkers who lurk on bloggers’ site, seizing upon anything they can to slam said blogger, pouncing at opportune time with selfrighteous indignation, litany of insults & the obligatory poutrage. Clearly an attempt to silence, personally consider it an honor. There are even paid bloggers acting as command-attack dogs who troll opposing viewpoints. What an accomplishment.

    Ms. Hansen serves as proxy-war exploited by a posse of little nazis who are simply intolerant of anyones views but there own. May I suggest the shiny-boot brigade find a better hobby.

    Reply

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