In October 1994, 16-year-year-old Dayna Christoph, a mentally disabled and emotionally disturbed girl who had been placed in foster homes and mental institutions 64 times, was placed at Tamarack Center Home, a $300-a-day treatment facility in Spokane, Washington.
She had been given up for adoption by her mother, an alcoholic bartender, at age eight. Her younger sister was also adopted by the same family.
Born with fetal alcohol syndrome, Christoph was the victim of serious and extended physical and sexual abuse. By the time she was five years old, state child welfare workers had documented more than two dozen complaints, including sexual abuse by an uncle, cousins and her mother’s boyfriends.
In April 1995, her adoptive mother became convinced that Christoph had sexually molested her younger sister over a period of two or three years, beginning when her sister was four years old.
Confronted by a counselor at Tamarack and her adoptive mother, Christoph admitted molesting her sister. After questioning by a police detective, Christoph admitted she had molested and raped her sister 100 times over nearly three years, using her hands and a doll.
On July 10, 1995, Christoph was charged by the Spokane County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office with one count of first-degree rape.
On August 2, 1995, Christoph pled guilty, signing a one-page confession in Spokane County Juvenile Court. She was in juvenile custody until she turned 18 on August 13, 1996.
In 1999, lawyers from the Center for Justice, a nonprofit law firm in Spokane, Washington, filed a motion to vacate the guilty plea, contending Christoph received ineffective assistance of counsel and that evidence of her innocence had been uncovered.
Christoph said she had falsely confessed because of the pressure of the interrogation and that the confession had been concocted from her own memories of her own childhood abuse.
On January 14, 2000, Spokane County Superior Court Judge Ellen Kalama Clark dismissed the conviction, finding the case a “manifest injustice.”
The court found that Christoph’s attorney had failed to investigate the case—in fact spent a total of 105 minutes on it, including the court appearance. The attorney did not review Christoph’s medical records, talk to her caregivers or attempt to talk to the alleged victim.
The court found that the alleged victim—Christoph’s sister—had never been interviewed by police. The judge ruled that there was no evidence that a crime had been committed, other than Christoph’s confession and that a conviction may not be obtained solely on the basis of an uncorroborated confession, with no other evidence that any crime occurred.
On December 19, 2000, the Washington Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of the case, saying that “a minimally adequate investigation would have discovered Ms. Christoph’s documented long-term mental and emotional difficulties and sufficient exculpatory evidence to warrant dismissal” of the charge.
– Maurice Possley