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Skippy Woolson

Other New York Child Sex Abuse Exonerations
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In April 2011, a 14-year old boy accused his mother’s live-in boyfriend of sexually assaulting him on an almost daily basis for the prior five months, beginning in December 2010 in Oswego County, New York.

A series of events that culminated in the sexual assault claim began on April 11, 2011, when the boy stole a bicycle from a developmentally disabled youth after holding a knife to the youth’s throat. Not long after that, the boy, who had a history of mental illness, was taken to a psychiatric facility, but he ran away. His mother and her boyfriend, 34-year-old Skippy Woolson, found him in some woods and brought him back.

The boy then alleged that Woolson had punched him. On April 15, the boy was sent to a different psychiatric facility for another evaluation. While there, on April 16, the boy repeated his claim that Woolson had punched him. It was not until April 18, when he was told he was going to be sent home that the boy said that Woolson had forced him to engage in oral and anal sex almost daily in the family home beginning in December 2010. The boy claimed that the assaults took place while his mother was at the home of Woolson’s aunt, who needed nursing care.

Woolson was arrested and charged with four counts of criminal sexual act in the second degree and endangering a child. Woolson denied the charges and refused a pretrial offer to plead guilty to a misdemeanor sex offense. That offer was made after the prosecution cited “issues with the proof in our case” and “some serious mental health issues on the part of the victim.”

On January 17, 2013, five days before Woolson’s trial was to begin, his attorney became ill with the flu. He called the court to seek a continuance because he had been expecting to spend the next five days preparing for trial by contacting witnesses, meeting with Woolson, and sending out subpoenas. He called again on January 18, reporting that he was very ill.

On January 22, the date scheduled for trial, Woolson’s lawyer arrived after fighting through a snowstorm. He reported that he had lost 12 pounds during the illness, was still sick with strep throat, and couldn’t concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time. The judge at first refused to continue the trial and forced the lawyer to argue several pretrial motions. The judge demanded a witness list, which the lawyer had not prepared. The judge ordered him to write it up on the spot. The lawyer protested, saying that he had vomited in the bathroom before coming into the courtroom. “I can’t put together a thought right now,” the lawyer said. “I am very concerned.”

Ultimately, the trial was delayed, but only for two days and only after the prosecution expressed concern that unless a continuance was granted, any conviction that resulted would be overturned on appeal due to the lawyer’s lack of preparation.

The lawyer returned to court on January 24 and a jury was selected. During his opening statement, Woolson’s lawyer said that the boy had similarly alleged in 2005 that he had been sexually assaulted in front of his brother, but the claim had been found to be false when the brother said it never happened. The lawyer also told the jury the boy’s mother would testify that she did not believe Woolson had sexually assaulted the boy, and that a physical examination of the boy showed no evidence of assault.

The boy gave testimony that was wildly inconsistent. At first, he testified that the assaults took place in the trailer where the family lived and that afterward, Woolson would clean himself with tissue or baby wipes. He said that Woolson would then take the boy for a ride in his mother’s Chevrolet Tahoe and Woolson would throw the tissues or wipes out of the window.

When he was confronted with evidence that the family only had one vehicle, which the mother drove to work, the boy changed his story to say that his mother had a Chevrolet Cavalier that she used. When informed that she did not own that car until March 2011—three months after the boy claimed the assaults began—he said that until then, Woolson drove his mother to work and then assaulted him in the Tahoe. The boy claimed he got home from school in time to take his mother to Woolson’s aunt’s house by 3:45 p.m.

The defense presented evidence that the boy had a long history of psychiatric problems, including bipolar disorder, Tourette Syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and attention deficit with hyperactivity disorder. After he made the allegations against Woolson, the boy had been accused of physically assaulting his mother and violating a restraining order that she had gotten against him.

The prosecution presented a statement from a physician who examined the boy immediately after he first claimed he had been assaulted. The statement, which was admitted into evidence by agreement of Woolson’s lawyer, was that there was no evidence of sexual abuse. The prosecution then called a nurse to testify that no finding of physical injury meant “absolutely nothing” and that it was “extremely rare” for anal sexual assault to cause physical injury.

The defense called one witness, Tina Thurston—Woolson’s aunt—who testified that the boy’s mother had worked as a home health aide caring for her from the fall of 2010 until March 25, 2011. That testimony conflicted with the boy’s assertion that he had been assaulted daily until April 11, during which time his mother had still been going to the aunt’s home every day. Thurston also testified that sometimes the boy stayed with his mother when she came to care for her. She said that Woolson and the boy were not alone together because they did not get along. Although Woolson’s lawyer had promised the jury that he would call the boy’s mother to testify that she did not believe Woolson had ever assaulted the boy, he failed to call her to the witness stand.

On January 30, 2013, the jury convicted Woolson of all four counts of criminal sexual act in the second degree and endangering a child. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison.

On appeal, his lawyer noted that the defense had failed to call several witnesses including the boy’s mother; a police officer who had heard the boy admit that he lied frequently, but was trying to cut down; a case worker who would have testified that the boy admitted to her that he had falsely accused Woolson of hitting him; medical personnel who would have testified that the boy said he heard voices; a school official who would have said the boy was expelled after threatening staff; and a church member who would have testified that the boy said Woolson had not hit him.

The appeal also noted that Woolson’s trial lawyer had not consulted with or called as a witness any expert to contradict the prosecution witnesses.

In November 2014, the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court upheld Woolson’s convictions, although Justice Eugene Fahey dissented, saying he found the boy’s testimony “impossible” to believe.

A year later, in November 2015, Woolson’s mother hired private investigator Tom Wiers. Wiers had helped exonerate two other wrongfully convicted defendants—Dan Lackey and Daniel Gristwood. Wiers discovered that the Chevrolet Tahoe that the boy said was the scene of some of the assaults had been sold on February 28, 2011—weeks prior to when the boy said the assaults occurred in that vehicle. Wiers was also able to determine that the boy did not get home from school until much later than he testified at the trial—well past 4:30 p.m. The later time contradicted his testimony that he was home in time to leave at 3:45 p.m. to travel with Woolson to drop his mother off at Woolson’s aunt’s home.

By that time, the boy had been convicted of arson for burning down his sister’s trailer. Wiers visited the boy in prison twice. During the second visit, the boy admitted that he had testified falsely about what time he got home from school because he wanted his testimony to fit the time his mother went to work.

Wiers also interviewed the boy’s sister and her boyfriend, and both said that the boy had admitted to them that his accusations against Woolson were false.

In the summer of 2016, attorney Scott Porter filed a post-conviction petition for a new trial. Oswego County assistant district attorney Allison O’Neill, who had prosecuted Woolson at trial, met with Wiers, and agreed to re-investigate the case. During that investigation, the boy denied that he had talked to Wiers.

On September 6, 2016, O’Neill submitted a letter to the court asking that the convictions be vacated and that she found “credible” Wiers’s account of the boy’s recantation of portions of his testimony. Because “doubt has now been cast” on the boy’s testimony, O’Neill said the prosecution would not oppose the motion for a new trial and would dismiss the charges. “While it would be an injustice for Woolson’s conviction to be vacated if he in fact committed the crimes for which he was convicted, a greater injustice would result if his conviction(s) were maintained and he were actually innocent,” the letter said.

On September 8, 2016, Oswego County Supreme Court Judge Donald Todd vacated Woolson’s convictions, dismissed the charges, and Woolson was released.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/18/2017
State:New York
County:Oswego
Most Serious Crime:Child Sex Abuse
Additional Convictions:Child Abuse
Reported Crime Date:2011
Convicted:2013
Exonerated:2016
Sentence:13 years
Race:White
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:34
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No