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William Nakano

Other Washington State Exonerations
On September 2, 1981, the sheriff’s office in Lewis County, Washington opened an investigation into 21-year-old William Nakano, after his mother-in-law, Joyce Hammers, told Child Protective Services that Nakano had sexually abused his two stepdaughters, D.G., who was then 5 years old, and A.G., who was then 3 years old. The girls’ mother was Hammers’s daughter.

A sheriff’s detective interviewed Hammers and the two girls. At the time of the report, Hammers and her husband had custody of the children; the Department of Health and Social Services had removed the girls after a report of malnutrition involving one of Nakano’s biological children.

Hammers told the detective that she had first learned of the alleged abuse in April 1981, but she did not report it because she believed the children were safe with her and Nakano was out-of-state. It was only later, when he returned and wanted his stepdaughters back, that she decided to make a formal complaint, she said.

The detective interviewed both girls. D.G. said Nakano sexually molested her and her sister numerous times. A.G. said that Nakano had taken off his clothes and touched her vagina, but she could not remember if he performed any other sexual acts on her.

On September 9, 1981, Nakano was arrested and charged with first-degree statutory rape and indecent liberties. The criminal information filed in the case said the alleged abuse took place between August 1, 1980 and September 7, 1980.

Nakano’s case went to trial in Lewis County Superior Court on November 19, 1981. Dr. James Henderson, a pediatrician, testified that he examined D.G. and that she told him about the alleged sexual abuse committed by Nakano. Dr. Henderson said he was unable to find any physical evidence of abuse but it was his opinion that the girl was telling the truth, because “children just don’t make up this kind of story.”

D.G. testified and described Nakano’s sexual abuse to the jury. When asked about whether Nakano ever did anything to her sister, D.G. said, “the same thing he done to me.”

Hammers and her husband both testified about what they said the girls had told them.

After the state rested, Judge David Draper struck Dr. Henderson’s testimony and instructed the jury to disregard it. Nakano’s attorney, who had not objected at the time Dr. Henderson testified, now moved for a mistrial, but Judge Draper denied the motion.

Nakano did not testify, but he presented several alibi witnesses who testified that he was working out-of-state at the time the girls said the abuse happened.

The jury convicted Nakano on November 20, 1981 of first-degree statutory rape of D.G. and indecent liberties with A.G. In an interview with a corrections official prior to sentencing, Nakano said he was innocent and framed by the Hammers, who had “brainwashed” the two girls. He said he believed the Hammers were pressing charges against him because they wanted to adopt A.G. and D.G. Draper sentenced Nakano to 25 years on the rape conviction and a concurrent sentence of 10 years on the indecent liberties conviction.

Nakano appealed his conviction, arguing that Judge Draper should not have allowed D.G. to testify, because she was too young to be a competent witness. He also argued that D.G.’s testimony describing Nakano’s alleged sexual abuse of A.G. was insufficient to sustain a conviction for indecent liberties.

Division II of the Washington Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction on April 20, 1984. In an unpublished opinion, the court said that “Although [D.G.] did not answer appropriately all questions put to her at the pretrial competency hearing and at the trial, none of her answers demonstrates lack of understanding of the truth, lack of intelligence, or inability to remember and respond to simple questions. Any inconsistency in her testimony goes to credibility, not admissibility.” The court also said that D.G.’s testimony about her sister, when combined with other evidence, was sufficient.

Nakano was released from prison on October 3, 1988.

On October 24, 2019, Sarah Beigh, a deputy prosecuting attorney in Lewis County, received a text message from D.G., whom Beigh had known for approximately 15 years. D.G. said she needed to talk with Beigh about something important. Beigh reported that she met D.G. on November 9, 2019, and D.G. told her that she had been coached and coerced by Hammers to testify falsely against Nakano.

According to an interoffice memo Beigh wrote on November 13, 2019: “[D.G] expressed extreme guilt and distress that she was used by her grandmother [to] convict her stepfather and wanted to do whatever she could to make the situation ‘right.’”

A sheriff’s detective interviewed D.G. on November 25, 2019. The woman, now 43 years old, said that her grandmother had caught D.G. and her sister touching each other sexually when they were supposed to be asleep. Hammers wanted to know where D.G. had learned such behavior. D.G. told her grandmother that she had been molested by a neighborhood boy, who was between 12 and 15 years old.

According to the detective’s report, Hammers would not accept D.G.’s statements of who had abused her. “Every time she would tell her grandmother it was the neighborhood boy, her grandmother would press her, asking if it was her stepfather, William Nakano,” the report said. This lasted for two hours, “and each time her grandmother circled back until the focus was on William Nakano. Eventually [D.G.] agreed with her grandmother and the questioning stopped.”

D.G. told the investigator that she had recanted her testimony to her brother in the mid-1990s and to Nakano around 2001. Nakano was unable to afford an attorney to properly pursue the matter, D.G. said. She tried to take matters into her own hands, but those efforts failed until she contacted Beigh.

The investigator also spoke with A.G., who now lived out of state. She said she had no recollection of the events surrounding Nakano’s conviction, although through the years she had heard various family members say that Nakano had not sexually abused her or D.G.

On December 18, 2019, Jonathan Meyer, the prosecuting attorney for Lewis County, wrote Nakano and told him about D.G.’s recantation and the subsequent investigation. The letter noted that the original police file was no longer available. Meyer sent a similar letter to Presiding Judge James Lawler of Lewis County Superior Court.

Meyer filed a motion for a relief from judgment on December 27, 2019. The motion said that D.G.’s recantation was new evidence of innocence and was not available to Nakano at the time of his trial. The motion said further, “Based upon the disclosure of the main witnesses for the state at trial that she was coached/coerced into committing the crime of perjury nearly 40 years ago and the fact that, absent her testimony, the defendant would not have been convicted, there is a substantial likelihood the defendant’s position will prevail at a hearing.”

Judge Lawler held a hearing on January 6, 2020, where he heard testimony from D.G. and Beigh. Nakano attended, but he did not testify. On January 8, 2020, Judge Lawler granted the state’s motion to vacate Nakano’s conviction and a separate motion to dismiss the charge.

After his release from prison, Nakano had worked as an electrician for more than 30 years. He died on April 28, 2021, and his estate later filed a claim for compensation from the state of Washington. Nakano’s obituary said, “We are thankful that Bill was recently exonerated for a crime he didn’t commit, so that he died a truly free man and can rest in peace.”

In May 2023, the compensation was denied.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 8/25/2022
Last Updated: 4/15/2024
Most Serious Crime:Child Sex Abuse
Additional Convictions:Child Sex Abuse
Reported Crime Date:1980
Sentence:25 years
Age at the date of reported crime:21
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No