On June 4, 2007, the mother of a 14-year-old girl in Acquia Harbor, Virginia, came home to find a 15-year-old neighborhood youth leaving the home. Upstairs, she found her daughter pulling up her pants. The girl’s mother immediately called police and said there was a boy in her house and that her daughter, who was mentally challenged, was unable to consent to sex.
The police told the mother to take the girl to a hospital for a rape examination and while enroute, the girl said that the boy, Edgar Coker, had broken into the house and raped her.
A detective found Coker at a park and tape-recorded an interview during which Coker said that he and the girl, whom he knew from the neighborhood, had gone into the house together. There, Coker said, the girl had initiated sexual contact and that they did have sexual intercourse, but it was not forced and he stopped because he decided it was wrong. He said he did not ejaculate.
Two days later, on June 6, the detective interviewed the girl and she said that Coker had walked into the house and raped her vaginally and anally and forced her to perform oral sex.
On June 7, 2007, Coker was charged in juvenile court with rape, abduction and breaking and entering to commit rape. After the Commonwealth’s attorney notified Coker’s attorney that he intended to transfer the case to adult court, Coker’s lawyer began negotiating a plea deal in juvenile court.
Coker pled guilty in juvenile court on August 22, 2007 to rape and breaking and entering to commit rape. The abduction charge was dismissed. He was ordered confined in a juvenile facility for an undetermined period of time and to register as sex offender for the rest of his life.
Three months later, in November 2007, the girl admitted to her mother that she was not raped and that she had lied to avoid getting into trouble. She admitted she and Coker had sex, but said it was consensual. The girl’s mother notified Coker’s family and in February 2008, Coker’s attorney appeared before the juvenile court judge and asked that the conviction be vacated due to the recantation. The judge denied the motion, saying it was filed too late.
A similar motion then was filed in Stafford County Circuit Court, but that motion also was denied.
In January 2009, the Innocence Project at the University of Virginia Law School and JustChildren Legal Aid Center began working on Coker’s case. Coker was released on parole on February 25, 2009.
In August 2009, Coker’s lawyers filed a state petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The petition claimed that Coker had received a constitutionally inadequate defense because his defense attorney failed to listen to Coker’s taped interview, during which Coker denied raping the girl and said she had initiated the sexual contact. Further, his defense lawyer also failed to interview Coker’s younger brother, who went into the girl’s house with Coker and the girl and could have testified that Coker did not break into the house. The petition also claimed that the defense lawyer failed to obtain Coker’s school records which would have shown that he had a low IQ and, like his accuser, had cognitive deficits.
A hearing on the petition was held in July 2013 and on February 10, 2014, a judge ruled that Coker’s defense attorney had provided a constitutionally deficient defense. The judge vacated Coker’s convictions and ordered his name removed from the Virginia Sex Offender Registry. The judge set a deadline of March 3, 2014 for attorneys to decide whether to appeal her decision.
On March 1, 2014, Stafford County Commonwealth Attorney Eric Olsen notified Coker’s lawyers that the state would not appeal the decision and he would not retry Coker.
– Maurice Possley