In March 1990, 32-year-old Kevin Peterson was charged with sexually abusing his nine-year-old daughter and his 11-year old son in West Haven, Utah.
The Weber County Attorney alleged that had fondled the children’s genitals on August 1, 1989. At the time, Peterson was divorced and remarried and had custody of the children. Prosecutors alleged that medical examinations of the children found signs of sexual abuse.
On December 10, 1990, Peterson pleaded no contest to second degree sexual abuse. He was sentenced to one to 15 years in prison, but the sentence was stayed. He was ordered to spend one year in prison, to be followed by three years of probation and completion of a sex offender treatment program.
In February 1993, his probation was revoked for failing to complete the treatment program because he refused to admit to the crimes. He was sent back to prison on February 10, 1993 and served the entire 15-year term, again because he would not admit to committing the crimes.
In November 2007, Peterson was released from prison and sought to re-acquaint himself with his two children. During initial conversations, they told him they had been pressured to lie by their mother and stepfather, who wanted to get custody of the children.
In 2008, Peterson filed a petition under the Utah Factual Innocence Act seeking a declaration of innocence. The petition contained sworn affidavits from his two children describing how they attempted to tell police that they had not been sexually abused.
Peterson’s son said in his affidavit that after he repeatedly denied any abuse occurred to a Weber County sheriff’s investigator, he left the interview room and his stepfather, Harry Crawford Jr., stayed in the room.
Peterson’s son said that when he returned, Crawford told him, “You better tell the story the way I told it or I’m going to beat you to death.” The affidavit states, “So, I told the story the way they wanted me to tell it, that my dad had touched me sexually.”
In the affidavit, Peterson’s son said that Crawford regularly physically abused him—choking him, throwing him against the wall until he urinated on himself, punching him in the face and ribs, pulling his hair, and beating him with a belt.
When he was 17, the son said he tried writing a letter to the judge “to get my dad out of prison, to tell them that I had lied in court,” but the letter didn’t get sent because his mother found out and threatened to have him committed to a mental health hospital if he tried to recant.
Peterson’s daughter gave a sworn statement as well, saying she knew her father was in prison while she was growing up, but she didn’t realize it was because he was accused of molesting her. “I was never molested or touched inappropriately by my father,” she said.
She said she had no memory of saying that she had been abused. “I guess they just kept asking and asking and asking and asking,” she said in the statement. “They wouldn’t take no for an answer, so finally, we just said, ‘Yeah, he did.’”
As the case moved toward a hearing, Peterson’s lawyers retained a medical expert who examined the original medical reports of the examinations of the children and concluded that there was no evidence of sexual abuse.
In December 2012, Peterson received a certificate of innocence. The trial judge issued an order saying that Peterson was factually innocent.
– Maurice Possley