In 1987, John Michael Harvey’s old girlfriend had financial troubles and contacted Harvey for help. Harvey let the woman and her children move into his Bedford, Texas home. In February 1989, Harvey’s girlfriend sent her then 3-year-old daughter to live with her grandmother in New York. Soon after, the grandmother reported that the girl had accused Harvey of sexually abusing her.
Harvey was arrested in 1989, and released shortly thereafter to await trial. Nothing happened on the case for several years, and Harvey had trouble keeping his job while the charges were still pending.
In 1991, Harvey became engaged, and wanted to clear his name before he married, so he voluntarily pursued a trial. The girl’s mother said that the grandmother was fabricating the abuse allegations because she had never liked Harvey.
At trial, the doctor who examined the girl in New York testified that he saw no evidence of abuse. However, Becky Wendt, a counselor purporting to be an expert in sexual abuse, testified that she had met with the victim a number of times, and the girl had described the abuse in detail.
Harvey testified in his own defense, and vehemently maintained his innocence, saying the girl’s mother had never confronted him about the abuse, and he didn’t know about the allegations until he was arrested. The prosecution, however, implied during Harvey’s cross examination that he had physically abused the girl’s mother as well.
After Harvey denied the abuse, the prosecution called a surprise witness, a friend of his girlfriend’s. This friend testified that she had picked up Harvey’s girlfriend one day in 1990, after the woman had called her, and had seen red marks on her face. Harvey’s girlfriend had told her that Harvey beat her up after she confronted him about molesting her daughter.
The victim also testified. She initially denied that anyone had ever touched her inappropriately. However, after the prosecution repeated the questions using Harvey’s name, the girl answered yes to questions about whether she was abused. In October 1992, a jury convicted Harvey of rape, and he was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
After his conviction, Harvey’s appellate attorney discovered notes in the prosecution’s files indicating that the victim had originally described her abuser as a large man with a tattoo. Harvey was skinny and had no tattoos. It was also discovered that Wendt had no real training in sexual abuse and had obtained her counseling education, such as it was, from unaccredited courses.
Further, the friend who testified that she had picked up Harvey’s girlfriend after he beat her had been facing criminal charges for writing bad checks – charges that were dismissed after she testified at Harvey’s trial – and phone records did not support her story. None of this information had been disclosed to Harvey’s trial attorney. Nonetheless, Harvey’s appeals failed.
In 2003, when the victim was 17, she came forward and said that Harvey was not the man who molested her. She later said she could not remember being molested at all. In 2004, a Texas State District Court agreed to release Harvey without overturning his conviction, but he refused because he would be required to register as a sex offender.
In December 2004, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted his habeas corpus petition and reversed his conviction. Prosecutors did not seek a retrial. As of 2012, Harvey had received $778,000 in state compensation.
Wendt, the counselor who testified that the girl had told her about being molested, was involved in a similar case in New York involving Richard Knupp
, who was convicted in 1989 of raping three of his daughters. Knupp obtained a new trial because some of Wendt's testimony was erroneously allowed into evidence. He was acquitted at a retrial in 1992.
- Stephanie Denzel