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William Busby

Other Tennessee exonerations
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On July 14, 2002, after months of quarrels over finances and other issues boiled over, 28-year-old William Darryn Busby decided to take some time away from his live-in girlfriend, Skipper Townsend, and her nine-year-old son in Hohenwald, Tennessee.

Six days later, on July 20, Townsend called police to report that her son, C.T. told her that Busby had sexually assaulted him on at least four occasions beginning in July 2001. Police interviewed C.T., who said that Busby had forced him to engage in oral sex and had anally raped him.

Busby was arrested and indicted on five counts of rape of a child. In August 2003, he went to trial in Lewis County Circuit Court.

C.T. testified that Busby had showed him photographs of naked women on his computer and then performed oral sex on him in his bedroom. C.T. also said that on another occasion, Busby forced him to perform oral sex on Busby. On another occasion, C.T. said, Busby performed anal sex on him.

Cross-examination revealed that C.T. was experiencing problems in school, and that Busby and Townsend were at odds. C.T., who was in the third grade, had repeated second grade and had been disciplined for lying on prior occasions. At one point, C.T. was asked, “How many times have you talked to your mother…about what you were going to say when you came here?”

C.T. replied, “She told me what to say, yes…but I didn’t practice it.”

When confronted about inconsistencies between his testimony at a preliminary hearing and at trial—particularly about the timing of the alleged assaults—C.T. said, “My mom and (the prosecutor) said that it don’t matter when it happened; it happened and that’s all that matters.” C.T. added, “That’s what (the prosecutor) and my mom told me to say.”

C.T. said he didn’t like Busby because he spanked him and grounded him for misbehaving, including once when he stole jewelry from a Wal-Mart. C.T. also admitted that when he was asked during a forensic examination to relate what happened, he said, “Just talk to my mother.”

Townsend testified that her son told her of the assaults only after Busby moved out and she assured C.T. that he was not coming back. She said C.T. told her that Busby had threatened to beat him if he revealed what happened.

She admitted that after police were notified, she made a phone call to Busby that police secretly recorded and that Busby denied the allegations. She claimed that in another non-recorded call, however, he admitted the assaults.

Julie Rosof-Williams, a nurse practitioner from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine who worked as a sexual abuse nurse, testified that there was no medical proof that C.T. was sexually penetrated. However, she told the jury, “It is entirely possible that this child has been anally penetrated, orally penetrated, without any sort of medical evidence, so this examination is consistent with the history of penetration.” During cross-examination, Rosof-Williams said, “It’s just as possible that he wasn’t abused based on the physical findings alone.”

Busby testified and denied sexually assaulting C.T. He denied that he admitted anything to Townsend. He told the jury that he had moved to Hohenwald because of a job transfer in September 2000. He met Townsend in January 2001. At that time, she was pregnant and was raising C.T. alone after she divorced her husband because of a drinking problem.

Busby said he moved in with the family and turned over his finances to Townsend. He said he and Townsend had disagreed over C.T.’s schooling. School officials diagnosed C.T. as severely emotionally disturbed and wanted to place him in a special program to assist in behavior management and attention control. Busby supported the school’s recommendation, but Townsend refused. Busby admitted they had a very intense argument over this issue.

In late 2001, Busby lost his job, causing further strain on the family. Ultimately, in 2002, Busby got a new job in Fayetteville, which was about a 90-minute drive from Hohenwald. This further cut down on the amount of time Busby was present. By that time, they had moved from a rental house into a trailer to save on expenses, and Busby had borrowed $3,000 from his father to keep the family financially afloat. Because of the drive and long hours, Busby decided to rent an apartment in Fayetteville for occasional use. This, a judge would later note, “fanned the flame into a heated argument” between Busby and Townsend. After this quarrel, Busby said they needed to take a break and he left to live full-time in Fayetteville.

The day after this argument, according to Townsend, C.T. made his disclosure. One week later, Busby was arrested. The case was assigned to General Sessions Judge Billy Townsend. Judge Townsend removed himself from the case because Skipper was his daughter. Another judge presided over the preliminary hearing and found the evidence sufficient to proceed.

On August 7, 2003, the jury convicted Busby of four counts of rape of a child (a fifth count had been dismissed prior to jury deliberation due to C.T.’s inconsistent testimony). Busby was sentenced to four terms of 20 years to be served concurrently.

In 2005, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals upheld his convictions. In 2014, Busby, acting without a lawyer, filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus. He was appointed a lawyer from the federal defender’s office. In the spring of 2016, an investigator for Busby interviewed Johnny Lay, who had begun dating Townsend after Busby was indicted and before Busby’s trial.

Lay told the investigator that he saw C.T. studying a “sort of cheat sheet” on a yellow legal pad, on which Townsend highlighted the key details of the sexual assault allegations and included phrases that C.T. repeated word for word at the trial.

Lay gave a sworn statement saying that he expressed his concern to Townsend that she was sending an innocent man to prison, but she essentially told him it was none of his business. Lay told the investigator he was concerned because Townsend admonished C.T. for failing to spend enough time to memorize what she had written down. Lay said he told his former girlfriend, Darla Sisco, at the time about his concerns.

The investigator interviewed Sisco, who confirmed Lay’s account. In February 2017, Busby returned to state court and filed a petition for a writ of error coram nobis. Two months later, the petition was denied without a hearing by a judge who ruled the petition was filed too late. In July 2018, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the denial and sent the case back to Lewis County Circuit Court for a hearing on the petition.

In January 2019, Lewis County Circuit Court Judge Michael Spitzer granted Busby a new trial after hearing testimony from Lay, Sisco, and Townsend. Judge Spitzer found Lay and Sisco to be credible witnesses. The judge said that the testimony of Townsend (who had by then accused Lay of domestic assault), denying the existence of any “cheat sheet,” was not believable.

“The Court is reasonably well satisfied that a yellow legal pad did exist,” Judge Spitzer ruled. “While (C.T.’s) testimony was not consistent, it did seem to have a wisp of order like the cadence of a well-trained battalion.” The judge said the new evidence provided ample support for the claim that Townsend “fabricated the allegations against Busby out of retaliation.”

On March 5, 2019, Busby was released on bond pending a new trial. On November 21, 2019, the prosecution dismissed the charges.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 12/13/2019
State:Tennessee
County:Lewis
Most Serious Crime:Child Sex Abuse
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2002
Convicted:2003
Exonerated:2019
Sentence:20 years
Race:White
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:28
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No