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Bradley St. George

Other Wisconsin Exonerations
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Wisconsin_seal.jpg
On October 21, 1998, 28-year-old Bradley Alan St. George shared a bed with his girlfriend and her 5-year-old daughter, known as K.H., in Ashland, Wisconsin. The next day, K.H. told her mother that St. George had fondled her vagina during the night. K.H. repeated the allegations of the sexual assault to a doctor and an investigator with child-protective services.

Police arrested St. George on December 21, 1998 on a charge of first-degree sexual assault of a child.

St. George’s jury trial began in Ashland County Circuit Court on July 22, 1999. On the witness stand, K.H. recanted her accusations, testifying that St. George never inappropriately touched her and denying that she had made some of the earlier reports of abuse. Her mother testified that K.H. had told her about the recantation. In addition, the mother testified that she believed St. George was innocent and that she was continuing to date him. St. George also testified and denied any inappropriate behavior with the girl.

Ty Juoni, the child-protective services investigator, testified that he interviewed K.H. and that the girl told him that St. George had touched her “private parts.” Juoni described his technique as a “cognitive graphic interview” that was “a nationally accepted process” known to produce reliable results.

Maureen Rappley, a clinical social worker who had experience counseling child victims, testified for the state about recantations. Citing a research report, Rappley said that 20-24 percent of child victims recanted their reports of abuse, but 92 percent of those children who recanted later reaffirmed the abuse.

Prior to the trial’s start, the state moved to bar St. George from presenting any evidence that two other children had previous sexual contact with K.H.. Judge Robert Eaton granted the motion, citing Wisconsin’s “Rape Shield Statute,” which says that “a defendant may not offer evidence relating to a victim's past sexual history or reputation absent application of a statutory or judicially created exception.”

Separately, St. George sought to present expert testimony from Dr. Donald Stonefeld, a psychiatrist, to rebut the testimony of Juoni and Rappley. He would have testified that Juoni’s interview technique did not ensure reliable results and that Rappley’s statistics on recantations didn’t have any bearing on whether K.H.'s recantation was truthful. The state argued that Stonefeld was not sufficiently qualified to testify as an expert witness and that he would confuse the jury. Judge Eaton excluded this testimony.

In closing arguments, the prosecutor noted the lack of experts testifying on St. George’s behalf. “That common sense is aided in this case by the unrebutted testimony of Miss Mimi Rappley,” he said. “And Ty [Juoni] was going through the very particular questions using, using what is – the unrebutted testimony – a nationally recognized system for garnering accurate information about sexual assaults."

On July 23, 1999, the jury found St. George guilty. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

St. George appealed his conviction, arguing that Eaton’s rulings preventing him from presenting Stonefeld’s testimony and the evidence of K.H.’s sexual contacts violated his constitutional right to present a defense.

On June 6, 2001, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction. The court said K.H.’s previous sexual contact with two other children didn’t give her any more knowledge of her body than a 5-year-old girl already possessed. It also said that Eaton was correct in excluding Stonefeld’s testimony. “Defendants do not possess the constitutional right to present any and all evidence in support of a claim,” the court said. “A trial court has significant discretion in the admission of testimony and evidence and may serve as a gatekeeper to exclude evidence of questionable reliability.”

St. George then appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. On May 8, 2002, the court vacated St. George’s conviction and sent the case back to Ashland County Circuit Court.

Writing for the majority in a 5-2 decision, Chief Justice Shirley Abramson said that Judge Eaton properly excluded testimony of the girl’s other sexual contacts but that he erred in barring Stonefeld’s testimony.

“The case was shaping up as a battle of experts,” she wrote. “The state relied upon its experts. The defendant had none.”

Later, she wrote: “The purpose of the expert witness rule is to ensure that relevant evidence is presented to the trier of fact and that irrelevant, non-probative evidence is excluded. In the present case, the testimony of the expert witness was admissible as a proper exercise of a circuit court's discretion and was relevant, material, necessary, reliable, probative, and helpful.”

St. George was released from prison and then from the Ashland County Jail on $10,000 bond on June 12, 2002. Prosecutors dismissed the charge on February 19, 2003.

– Eduardo Mendoza

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Posting Date: 7/30/2021
Last Updated: 7/30/2021
State:Wisconsin
County:Ashland
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1998
Convicted:1999
Exonerated:2003
Sentence:20 years
Race/Ethnicity: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