In November 1990, 34-year-old David Lazzell’s 12-year-old daughter told authorities that from 1985 to 1987, her father had molested her and forced her to engage in oral sex with him in Iberia Parish, Louisiana.
Lazzell, who was embroiled in a contentious divorce with his wife, was arrested on February 23, 1991 in Morgantown, West Virginia, where he was then living.
On May 31, 1991, Lazzell pled guilty to molestation of a juvenile. He was given a five-year suspended prison sentence and placed on probation.
In about 1995, Lazzell’s daughter, who was then 18 years old, contacted prosecutors in Iberia Parish and told them that she had lied about being sexually assaulted because her mother said if the divorce went through, Lazzell would get custody and she would never see her mother again. But Lazzell’s daughter did not pursue her effort to clear her father’s name because prosecutors told her that if she did, it was possible her mother would be prosecuted.
In March 2007, Lazzell’s daughter wrote out a six page recantation, saying that her mother had committed suicide in 2005 and that she wanted to clear her father’s name.
She explained that after her mother began living with another man, Lazzell took her and her brother from their home in Iberia Parish to West Virginia. After they arrived there, however, relatives took the children back to Louisiana. There, she said in the letter, her mother “sat me down and told me that my dad wanted to take my brother and me away from her forever and that we would never get to see her again if that happened. She said that it was up to me to keep that from happening.”
“She said she just needed me to say these things so that she could keep custody of us and that it was ok to say them and he would not get in trouble,” the letter stated.
She said in the letter that her mother told her what to say and said that if she recanted after she had made the allegations, her mother would be jailed. She said that she repeated the allegations to prosecutors, a psychologist and relatives so many times that “after a while I made myself believe it happened as a survival mechanism.”
Based on this recantation, a motion for a new trial was filed. The motion was granted and the case was dismissed on August 31, 2007. The case was expunged from the records in 2008.
Despite the expungement, West Virginia continued to list Lazzell as a convicted sex offender on the state’s Sex Offender Registry. In 2012, law students from the West Virginia University Innocence Project worked with state officials and successfully removed Lazzell’s name from the list.
– Maurice Possley