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Timothy Britt

Other North Carolina Child Sex Abuse Exonerations
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On August 20, 2011, 37-year-old Timothy Britt was arrested on charges of sexually molesting a relative’s 10-year-old stepdaughter in Robeson County, North Carolina.

Britt was charged with first-degree sexual offense with a child, taking indecent liberties with a minor, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Robeson County Sheriff’s detectives said that Britt confessed to touching the girl’s vagina and breasts, and to kissing the girl on her breasts while she was on a sleepover at the home where Britt lived with his mother, Diane Britt.

Britt went to trial in Robeson County Superior Court in July 2013. Prior to the girl’s testimony, the trial judge granted Robeson County assistant district attorney Joe Osman’s motion to close the courtroom to all spectators. When Osman then began questioning the girl, she said Britt had not touched her at all.

Asked about the night she spent at Britt’s home in August 2011, the girl said she didn’t remember.

“Has there ever been a time that you remember the defendant ever touching you in a way that you didn’t like?” Osman asked.

“No, sir,” the girl said.

“I’m sorry?” Osman asked.

“No, sir,” the girl repeated.

Osman asked again: “Has there ever been a time that you remember the defendant ever touching you in a way that you didn’t like?”

“No, sir,” the girl again replied.

“Has he ever put his hands down your pants and rubbed you?” Osman asked.

“No, sir,” the girl said.

At that point, the girl’s father, who had been allowed to remain in the courtroom and was sitting directly behind the prosecutor, shook his head from side to side at the girl, Britt later recalled.

When Osman began questioning her again, the girl said that the night that she slept over at the Britt home, Timothy Britt gave her some beer and half a cigarette. She said he asked her if he could touch her private parts, put his hand inside her pants to touch the outside of vagina, and put her hand on his penis. She said he asked to have oral sex with her (which she refused), licked her breasts, and rubbed her buttocks.

Robeson County Sheriff’s Detective Kevin Hickman testified that he interviewed the girl and her mother on August 19, 2011. Hickman said the girl told her mother that Britt had molested her three days earlier. The following day, August 20, 2011, Hickman picked up Britt and took him to the police station.

Hickman said Britt signed a typed statement confessing to molesting the girl. Hickman testified that he read the statement to Britt before he signed it because Britt did not want to read it.

There was no physical or forensic evidence introduced at the trial.

Britt, who dropped out of school in the ninth grade after testing in the first percentile in reading and math, testified on his own behalf. He denied giving the girl a beer and cigarette or molesting her.

Britt said that on the day of the sleepover, he attended a funeral. He drove there in the truck of a friend, whose 10-year-old son came along. At the funeral, Britt saw the girl and her stepmother, who was one of his relatives. As it happened, the girl was a friend of the boy and she was granted permission to stay overnight at Britt’s home so she could spend the rest of the day playing with the boy. The girl had spent the night at the Britt home several times in the past.

Britt testified that he drove the girl to his friend’s house, where he and his friend drank two beers while the girl and boy played. His friend then dropped Britt and the girl off at Britt’s home. Britt said he spent the evening doing yard work. When Britt’s mother called the girl inside to get ready for bed, he went inside to put on a movie (The Wizard of Oz) for the girl, and went back outside to finish his work.

Britt said that when he came inside, the girl was asleep on the sofa. He said he watched some of the movie and fell asleep on the loveseat.

He denied ever confessing to the crime. He said that police told him that if he signed the papers they gave him, they would let him go home. Britt said he didn’t read the papers and that the detectives did not read the contents to him.

Britt’s mother, Diane, testified that during the night, she arose and came into the living room where she saw the girl asleep on the sofa and Britt asleep on the love seat. The following morning, she said, the girl did not complain that anything had happened.

On July 17, 2013, the jury convicted Britt of first-degree sexual offense with a child, taking indecent liberties with a minor, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He was sentenced to 25 to 30 years and nine months in prison.

In December 2014, the North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld the convictions.

Nearly three years later, in October 2017, attorney L. Allyn Sharp filed an 88-page motion seeking to vacate Britt’s convictions. The motion said that after Britt was convicted, the girl had admitted to a friend that she had lied and that Britt had never molested her.

The motion also recited a litany of evidence that the prosecution had not disclosed and that Britt’s trial defense lawyer, Knox Chavis, had not pursued. The evidence included:

• The girl had a lengthy medical history of urinary tract infections beginning at the age of 5, which were indicative of being sexually abused.

• The girl had a history of violent behavior, including attempting to drown a younger relative and killing a kitten with a board.

• The girl came from a fractured family. She was her father’s third of four children—all of whom had different mothers. One of her half-siblings’ mothers was killed in a car crash. One of her father’s wives went to prison for murder. The father accumulated nearly 40 convictions for a variety of violent and non-violent offenses.

• The girl had a criminal record and was on juvenile probation at the time she accused Britt of molesting her.

• The girl had been taken away from her father and placed in group homes, but had been kicked out for violent behavior and making false allegations. On at least one occasion, she falsely claimed she was sexually assaulted.

• The girl had been involuntarily committed to a hospital on several occasions for violent behavior and making false claims. She had taken psychotropic drugs since the age of five and had been treated for a variety of issues, including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, mood disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, attention deficit disorder, anxiety, depression, aggression, assaultive behavior, cruelty to animals, property destruction, lying, stealing, self-injurious behaviors, suicidal ideations, suicide attempts, and homicidal ideations.

• One month before she accused Britt, the girl’s doctor had concluded that the girl lacked an understanding of right and wrong. During that same time period, the girl’s father asked if she could be prescribed birth control pills.

• After the girl accused Britt, she accused her father of sexually molesting her, prompting him to surrender his custody rights because he did not want to go to prison.

The motion said much of the information was contained in thousands of pages of reports on the girl and her family assembled by the North Carolina Division of Social Services (DSS), documenting prior allegations of abuse by the girl, none of which had been substantiated.

“Each time a DSS report was filed and investigated by DSS, the District Attorney’s office was notified in writing by DSS of the allegations as well as the names of the alleged victim and the alleged perpetrator,” the motion said. “Therefore, the State was on actual notice regarding the prior allegations of abuse of (the girl) by her father and stepmother. Still, no information regarding the numerous reports was ever disclosed…to the defense.”

The motion said that the evidence the prosecutor had failed to disclose “supports an entirely different theory of the case: that (the girl’s father) had actually been sexually abusing (the girl) prior to the allegations (she) made against Timothy.”

The motion also said that Chavis, Britt’s trial defense attorney, had failed to conduct any investigation, even though a family member of the girl sent Chavis a note outlining some of the girl’s medical and psychological history and urging him to get the girl’s records.

“Had Mr. Chavis interviewed (the girl’s) family, he would have found that (her father and stepmother) had histories of drug abuse, that they were known to lie, steal, and cheat, and that they were constantly threatening others with false criminal charges and frivolous lawsuits in order to get what they wanted. Mr. Chavis would also have found that according to her own family members, (the girl) had a reputation for lying and making false sexual allegations against others.”

At the time he defended Britt, Chavis was under investigation by the North Carolina State Bar. In 2015, he was disbarred for engaging in conduct “involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit” and misrepresentations, including converting client funds to personal use.

On November 15, 2017, deputy district attorney Osman, who had announced in September that he was running for election as Robeson County District Attorney, agreed to vacate Britt’s convictions on the ground that Chavis had provided a constitutionally ineffective legal defense.

Superior Court Judge John Floyd signed an order vacating Britt’s convictions. Osman dismissed the charges, stating that the girl’s credibility had been called into question by the disclosure of the prior allegations that she made false accusations of sexual assault. Britt was then released.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 12/3/2017
State:North Carolina
County:Robeson
Most Serious Crime:Child Sex Abuse
Additional Convictions:Child Abuse
Reported Crime Date:2011
Convicted:2013
Exonerated:2017
Sentence:25 to 30 years and 9 months
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:37
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No