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Brian Neirynck

Other Indiana Exonerations
In October 2001, 35-year-old Brian Neirynck was indicted by a St. Joseph County, Indiana grand jury on two counts of sexually assaulting his three-year-old son more than a year earlier.

Neirynck and the boy’s mother, Roberta Smedley, separated in May 1999 and a contentious custody battle ensued. Smedley filed a paternity action and in December 1999, Neirynck was found to be the boy’s father and a visitation schedule that was already in place was continued.

Six months later, in June 2000, Smedley reported to police that the boy told her that he had been molested by Neirynck—that Neirynck had put his penis in the boy’s mouth and his finger in his anus.

The boy was taken for a physical examination and a physician said there was redness on the boy’s buttocks that could not be explained. The boy was interviewed on videotape at a child abuse center and said that he liked to visit his father. He did not answer a question about whether his father did anything he did not like.

In October 2000, South Bend police suspended the investigation of the case based on the lack of physical findings and the boy’s failure to implicate his father in the initial interview. The boy then began undergoing therapy and had at least 20 sessions with a therapist by the end of November 2000. A second videotaped interview at the child abuse center was conducted in November 2000 and the boy’s responses were contradictory and inconclusive.

The boy continued therapy until October 2001, when Neirynck was indicted.

Neirynck went to trial in January 2003 in St. Joseph County Superior Court. The boy’s mother testified to his initial outcry and the boy’s play therapist testified that after many sessions, he finally admitted that his father had molested him. The boy—by then six years old—testified that Neirynck had molested him.

Neirynck testified in his own defense, but his lawyer failed to ask him whether he committed the crime. The defense lawyer also did not consult an expert on child molestation or request any notes from the therapist.

On January 15, 2003, the jury convicted Neirynck of sexually assaulting his son. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the conviction in 2004. Neirynck filed a post-conviction petition for a new trial in 2005 on the ground that his defense lawyer had provided a constitutionally inadequate defense.

In 2010, a hearing was held on the petition. In preparation for the hearing, Neirynck’s post-conviction attorney, Cynthia Carter, was able to obtain the notes taken by the therapist. The notes strongly suggested that the boy had been groomed by suggestive comments from the therapist to testify that his father had molested him.

In May 2011, Superior Court Judge Jerome Frese vacated Neirynck’s conviction. The judge said Neirynck’s defense attorney at trial had failed to obtain evidence from the therapist that showed that the boy may have been “groomed specifically to testify against his father.” The judge cited an instance where the boy was given a  special ring to provide him with “power” when he talked to detectives.
The judge ruled that the notes showed a pattern of the therapist "introducing the specific subject of molestation by asking leading questions of what the father did that was bad, where did the father touch..." Moreover, the judge noted that the therapist suggested the boy have a "power badge" to help him speak the truth and told him that he was being "a powerful crime fighter and helping the police so Dady won't hurt him or any other kids again."

“This condition of the state’s only direct witness—a child just turned six, who testified (more than two years) after the charged acts—constitutes a powerful basis for a defense theory,” the judge said in a 13-page ruling. “None of this was presented to the jury.”
The judge also noted that Neirynck’s lawyer had failed to ask him if he committed the crime.

Neirynck was released on bond on June 10, 2011. The prosecution filed a notice of appeal of Judge Frese’s decision, but later withdrew it and dismissed the charge against Neirynck on June 8, 2012.

In 2012 Neirynck filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against St. Joseph County. The lawsuit was settled for $100,000 in October 2014.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/11/2015
County:St. Joseph
Most Serious Crime:Child Sex Abuse
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2000
Sentence:30 years
Age at the date of reported crime:33
Contributing Factors:Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No