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Ronald Tracy

Other Iowa Exonerations
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In March 1989, 37-year-old Ronald Tracy was accused of sexually assaulting his 16-year-old stepdaughter, identified as K.A., in rural Jackson County, Iowa.

K.A. first told a classmate named Deanna that Tracy sexually assaulted her. Deanna told her mother, who notified a school nurse, Jackie Crowley. Crowley then met with K.A. and Deanna. During the meeting, Deanna said that K.A. had complained about being touched in a “sexual manner” and “in a way she was upset about” by her stepfather.

As a result, on March 22, 1989, K.A. again met with Crowley. Ceatta Mann, a child abuse investigator, and Millie Kopp, an employee of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, were also present. During this meeting, K.A. signed a written statement that she had had sexual intercourse with her stepfather.

K.A. and her nine-year-old sister were removed from Tracy’s home and placed in foster care.

On March 23, 1989, Dr. Kathleen Obdebeeck, a pediatrician, performed a physical examination on K.A. and concluded that she had engaged in sexual intercourse.

On May 10, K.A. went to see Crowley again and recanted her accusation. She told Crowley she had lied.

Nonetheless, on October 2, 1989, the Jackson County District Attorney charged Tracy with third-degree sexual abuse.

On December 11, 1989, Tracy went to trial in Jackson County Circuit Court. K.A.’s sister told the jury that in June or July of 1988, she saw K.A. and Tracy on K.A.’s bed. They were partially undressed and engaging in sexual activity, she testified.

K.A. told the jury that she never had any sexual contact with Tracy. She said she made up the story because Tracy required her to get up at 4 a.m. and perform work on the family farm until it was time to leave for school. After school, she was required to work on the farm until 9 p.m., she said. K.A. said she was unhappy because she did not have time for social and school activities. She said her plan worked—after she was placed in foster care, she had plenty of time for school activities and dating.

The prosecution then called several witnesses to impeach K.A. Deanna testified that K.A. told her that she had had sex with Tracy. Crowley, Mann, Kopp, and K.A.’s mother, K.T., testified about K.A.’s statements.

Dr. Obdebeeck testified that, based on her physical examination, she concluded that K.A. was sexually active. She stated that K.A. told her she had been engaged in sexual activity with her stepfather for the past few years. During cross-examination, Dr. Obdebeeck conceded that her physical examination could not give her any indication of who K.A. had sex with.

Dr. Hunter Comly, a child psychiatrist, testified that he interviewed K.A. on July 17, 1989. He testified that K.A. was suffering from Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome and that her recantation was consistent with the syndrome. He told the jury that “there are probably no more than two or three children per thousand who come forth with such a serious allegation who are found later to be dishonest.” He also testified that in his opinion, K.A.’s original accusation was the truth.

On December 14, 1989, the jury convicted Tracy of third-degree sexual abuse. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

On September 21, 1990, the Iowa Supreme Court granted a motion for limited remand to consider the issue of inadequate legal defense. Tracy’s appellate lawyer, Kent Simmons, filed a motion for a new trial. However, that motion was denied and the ruling was upheld in September 1991 by the Iowa Court of Appeals.

On March 18, 1992, the Iowa Supreme Court reversed Tracy’s conviction and ordered a new trial. The court found that Comly’s testimony about the rate at which child sexual abuse allegations are false was improper. The court also held that Tracy’s right to a fair trial was violated because the prosecution called K.A. to testify knowing she would give evidence unfavorable to its case as a way of bringing in what otherwise would have been prohibited hearsay testimony.

To impeach K.A., the prosecution had introduced K.A.’s signed statement of March 22, 1989, and presented testimony from Deanna, Crowley, Mann, Kopp, K.T., and Comly to establish K.A.’s initial accusation.

The court said, “We have recently condemned this sort of prosecutorial maneuvering in which the State places a witness on the stand who it expects to give unfavorable testimony solely for the purpose of introducing otherwise inadmissible evidence.”

The court also held that Tracy’s trial defense attorney had provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to object to the testimony from K.T., Dr. Comly, and Deanna. Soon after, Tracy was released on bond while awaiting a retrial.

In June 1992, Tracy went to trial a second time in Jackson County Circuit Court. K.A.’s sister, by then 12 years old, again testified that she witnessed a sex act between K.A. and Tracy. However, during cross-examination by Simmons, she broke down in tears and admitted that was a lie. She told the jury that initially she had agreed to back up K.A. so that K.A. could escape from the farm. She testified that after K.A. recanted, she stuck to the lie because Iowa Family Services officials warned her she would get in trouble for making a false complaint.

K.A. did not testify.

On June 30, 1992, the jury acquitted Tracy and he was released.

– Kaitlyn Yeo

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Posting Date: 8/1/2019
State:Iowa
County:Jackson
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1989
Convicted:1989
Exonerated:1992
Sentence:10 years
Race:White
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:37
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No