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Derrick Walden

Other Michigan Exonerations
On September 3, 2014, 36-year-old Derrick Walden was charged with two counts of first-degree criminal assault of an eight-year-old girl in Berrien County, Michigan.

He went to trial in Berrien County Circuit Court in March 2015. The victim, an eight-year-old girl, testified that she, her mother, her mother’s boyfriend, and the boyfriend’s brother spent the July 4th holiday with Walden, his wife, their four-year-old daughter, and Walden’s 10-year-old stepson.

After the fireworks on the evening of the 4th, the victim and the brother of her mother’s boyfriend remained at the Walden home while the rest of her family left.

The victim testified she was in Walden’s daughter’s bedroom, where they were playing on a cell phone. She said Walden came in and pushed her onto his lap. He then pulled her pants and underwear aside and digitally penetrated her vagina. She said Walden did the same thing a second time right afterward in the bathroom.

The victim’s mother said that when she came to Walden’s home at 8 p.m. on the night of July 5, her daughter reported the assault when she got into the car.

The prosecution presented evidence that a physical examination showed the girl had a torn hymen and there was blood in her underwear. Tests also revealed the presence of male DNA, but forensic analysts were unable to develop a DNA profile for comparison.

The brother of the girl’s mother’s boyfriend testified that on the morning of July 5, he and the victim remained at the Walden’s home while Walden, his wife, and their two children went to an air show. He said he tried to call the girl’s mother to pick them up earlier in the day, but the telephone did not work. He denied that he molested the girl.

Defense lawyer Jason Engram contended that the true perpetrator was the boyfriend’s brother.

Walden testified and denied molesting the girl. He testified that the brother had suggested remaining at the home alone with the victim while the Walden family went to the air show. It was uncontested that the brother and the victim were alone from mid-morning on July 5 until that evening. Walden testified that their phone was working that day.

He told the jury that both his daughter and the victim sat on his lap. He said that he had one arm around his daughter and the other arm was by his side.

Walden said that not long after, he told the girls to go to sleep and left the room. The victim came out sometime later and complained that Walden’s daughter was being mean to her. Walden said he told his daughter to behave and then went to bed with his wife.

Walden’s stepson testified that he recalled his sister and the victim sitting on Walden’s lap, and that he had his arms around both of them as they played a game on the phone. He said he did not see Walden do anything except play the game with the girls.

Walden’s four-year-old daughter testified that she remembered playing on the phone with the victim while they were both sitting on Walden’s lap, but she did not remember where Walden’s hands were. She testified that she did not see Walden take the girl out of the room and into the bathroom, and she did not remember if the girl left the room by herself.

During cross-examination, the prosecutor asked the four-year-old if she recalled being interviewed by Amelia Harper, a forensic interviewer with Children’s Assessment Center who had conducted interviews with the victim and the four-year-old. The girl said she did not recall talking to Harper.

She was repeatedly asked if she remember talking to anyone about “touches on private parts” and whether she ever told anyone what being “safe” meant.

After the defense rested, the prosecution called Harper as a rebuttal witness to testify about the interview with the four-year-old. Harper testified that the girl said her definition of “safe” meant “when you touch kids and you don’t get caught.”

Harper also said, “At one point she said that touching went on between her and dad.”

Walden’s defense lawyer, Jason Engram, objected and asked for a mistrial, which was denied. When Engram cross-examined Harper, she admitted that the girl also insisted that Walden never touched her.

Engram then sought to call a witness from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services who had conducted an investigation of the Walden family. After the victim made her allegations against Walden, his daughter and stepson were removed from the home and an investigation was opened. The investigation was closed after investigators determined that neither of the children had been abused or molested, and the children were reunited with Walden and his wife.

The judge barred the testimony, saying, “I don’t believe that is allowed under the rules in criminal testimony.”

On March 6, 2015, after nearly four hours of deliberation, the jury convicted Walden of one count of first-degree criminal assault of a child under the age of 13. The jury acquitted him of the other count. Walden was sentenced to 25 to 75 years in prison.

In October 2016, the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial. The court held that the trial judge erred in allowing the prosecution to present Harper’s testimony of the contents of her interview with Walden’s four-year-old daughter because it was inadmissible hearsay.

The court noted that the prosecution, through Harper’s testimony, “sought to cast the defendant as the type of individual who had the propensity to molest young girls.” The court held that because the case was “a credibility contest” between Walden and his family on one side, and the victim and her mother’s boyfriend’s brother on the other, the jury likely improperly considered Harper’s testimony as direct evidence of Walden’s guilt.

On May 8, 2017, the prosecution dismissed the case and Walden was released.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 1/25/2018
Most Serious Crime:Child Sex Abuse
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2014
Sentence:25 to 75 years
Age at the date of reported crime:36
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No