In November 2001, 24-year-old Barry Byars was charged with sexually assaulting his 11-year-old niece in May 2001 in Beaumont, Texas.
In June, the girl’s father had reported to authorities that his daughter said Byars had raped her. The girl’s father said he had confronted the girl’s mother—from whom he was divorced and who had custody of the girl—but the mother said the girl was lying. The girl’s mother said that Byars, who was her brother and who had two prior convictions for drug possession, was not going to go back to prison.
The girl’s father took her to police and in interviews with child abuse investigators, she detailed two occasions of sexual abuse. On one occasion Byars touched her genitals with his penis, she said, and on the second occasion, she said Byars penetrated her and ejaculated. The girl’s grandmother said she believed the girl was lying because she had made a similar allegation once before against her five-year-old brother.
Byars decided to plead guilty in 2004, fearing a jury would not believe his denials and knowing he would face a lengthy prison term because of his prior convictions. As a result he was re-indicted on a lesser charge of injury to a child, pled guilty and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
In January 2005, the girl, by then a teenager, recanted her allegations and Byars filed a state petition for a writ of habeas corpus.
The girl testified at a hearing in Jefferson County Criminal District Court that at the time of the allegation, her parents were divorced and she was living with her mother. When she was interviewed by child abuse investigators, she said that her father was waiting outside the interview room. “I knew he was watching me,” she said. “I felt that if I didn’t say these things, that he would get real mad and at that time, I wanted to live with my father and no longer live with my mother. So without really thinking, I was willing to say just about anything.”
“Barry Byars has never done anything to me that you would call either physical or sexual abuse,” the girl said. The girl said she had been sexually abused years earlier by her grandfather and that on the day of the alleged assault, she stayed home sick from school and that Byars sat down on the couch in his boxer shorts and she saw his penis. “As I look back on it now, I know that I simply over-reacted because I really had been sexually abused by my grandfather when I was younger and I guess I was just paranoid that it would happen to me again.”
After hearing the girl’s testimony, the trial court recommended that the conviction be vacated and the case dismissed. On November 9, 2005, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed and ordered the conviction vacated. The case was then dismissed by Jefferson County prosecutors and Byars was released from prison.
– Maurice Possley