Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Julie Werkheiser

Other New York Cases with Female Exonerees
On January 26, 2024, a judge in Tioga County, New York, dismissed the remaining charge against Julie Werkheiser, ending a 12-year fight by Werkheiser and her wife, Samantha Stone Werkheiser, to overturn their separate wrongful convictions based on claims that the women sexually abused Samantha’s daughters from her first marriage.

Samantha married Jason Haase in 1998, and they had two daughters, Scarlett, born in 1998, and Stella, born a year later. Both girls were diagnosed with Phenylketonuria (PKU), a rare disease that causes the buildup of the amino acid phenylalanine and requires a strict diet.

Shortly after Stella’s birth, Samantha began having an affair with Julie. She divorced Haase in 2002 and later married Werkheiser.

In 2000, Haase pled guilty to criminal sexual abuse and unlawful imprisonment, after Samantha said he sexually assaulted her.

At his sentencing hearing in early 2001, Haase said: “I feel that the prosecution has maliciously prosecuted me without having all the facts and taking for granted my relationship with my wife, her affair, and the initial police report. I would furthermore like to state that it’s a tragedy in the legal system, that this legal system does not acknowledge adultery as a crime.”

Haase was given five years on probation. He moved to Syracuse and remarried. He and Samantha—and their spouses—battled over custody for the two girls.

Initially, Stella and Scarlett lived with the Werkheisers, who ran a dance studio in Binghamton and then later in Waverly, a small town in Tioga County. But in July 2008, a court awarded custody to the Haases, based on a finding of medical neglect of the girls by Samantha.

According to Samantha, her ex-husband then severely limited her visitation rights, barring her from calling her daughters and requiring her to use a P.O. Box to send them mail. She petitioned the court in April 2011 for joint custody.

Four months later, the girls told an investigator with the Binghamton Police Department that Samantha had sexually abused them. Samantha was arrested on August 29, 2011, and later indicted on two counts of predatory sexual assault against a child. On May 8, 2013, a jury in Broome County Supreme Court convicted her on the count involving Scarlett and acquitted her on the count involving Stella. On November 15, 2013, Samantha was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

At the time of her trial, Samantha was pregnant. (Her son was born on November 11, 2013.) In August 2013, Kristy Haase had reported to the Onondaga Department of Social Services in Syracuse that Stella had told her in December 2012 that Julie had sexually abused her. According to Department of Social Services (DSS) records, Kristy Haase said her stepdaughter came forward after Samantha became pregnant and became concerned about who would care for the baby.

During a DSS interview on September 25, 2013, Stella said the abuse had happened at their house in Binghamton, before the Werkheisers moved to Waverly. She said she had no knowledge of Julie abusing anybody at the dance studio. Scarlett was interviewed separately, and, according to notes from the interview, said that she “thinks Julie once did something to her but she doesn’t remember what it was.”

The Onondaga officials reported this information to the Broome County District Attorney’s office in Binghamton, which declined to pursue charges based in part on the jury in Samantha Werkheiser’s trial not finding Stella to be a credible witness.

On the day Samantha Werkheiser was sentenced, the Tioga County DSS filed a petition against Julie, seeking to remove her infant son from the house, based on Samantha’s conviction and the report from Onondaga County.

Julie regained custody of her son on February 18, 2014. A month later, a new DSS petition was filed in Tioga County that included allegations from Scarlett that Julie had sexually abused her in a closet at the dance studio.

On April 16, 2014, Stella was interviewed at a residential treatment center in Westchester County. She now said that Julie had abused her at the dance studio, in the room where the party supplies were kept. Stella said that she thought Julie was also abusing Scarlett at the time, but she didn’t see this abuse happen because Julie took Scarlett to another room.

The DSS investigation continued into the fall of 2014. At a DSS hearing on October 14, 2014, Scarlett testified that she had blocked out the abuse, which she said had happened eight years earlier. Scarlett said her memory was triggered by her ninth-grade English teacher, because of her resemblance to Julie Werkheiser.

On November 8, 2014, Julie Werkheiser was arrested and charged with two counts of course of sexual conduct against a child and two counts of predatory sexual assault against a child.

According to the indictment by a Tioga County grand jury, the alleged assaults took place between 2004-2007 at the Werkheisers’s dance studio in Waverly. In November 2007, the latest time period on the indictment, Scarlett would have been nine years old, and Stella would have been eight. The course of sexual conduct charges were later dismissed.

Julie Werkheiser’s trial in Tioga County Supreme Court began on November 10, 2015. Prior to the trial, Julie’s attorney, Thomas Saitta, moved for a so-called “taint” hearing in order to explore whether the allegations by Scarlett and Stella were the result of manipulation by Jason and/or his wife. Justice Gerald Keene judge denied the motion.

Saitta also sought to introduce Scarlett’s medical and therapy records, which included notes from a therapist she saw at the Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse. The therapist said in those notes that Scarlett had never mentioned being triggered into remembering abuse by Julie. Separately, the state sought to introduce expert testimony on PKU and its effect on cognitive function. Justice Keene granted both motions.

At trial, Scarlett testified that Julie Werkheiser abused her inside a storage room and mat closet at the dance studio in Waverly. She said that she saw Werkheiser sexually abuse Stella and that Werkheiser also abused the two girls at the same time.

On direct examination, Scarlett was asked why she delayed coming forward. She did not mention being triggered but said she had been ashamed and scared. On cross-examination, she backtracked and said she had been triggered by her English teacher, first in the fall of 2013 and then more strongly in the spring of 2014. Scarlett testified the first triggering episode, around the time of her interview with DSS, allowed her to remember being abused in the mat closet, and the second episode enabled her to remember the abuse in the storage room.

Scarlett also testified that her therapist had helped her recover these memories. Saitta had the notes from the therapist that said Scarlett had never discussed alleged abuse by Julie Werkheiser, but he didn’t challenge the girl on this inconsistency.

Stella testified that Julie abused her in several rooms of the dance studio. She testified that she and her sister were never abused by Julie at the same time. “I had a feeling she was being abused, but that didn’t mean I saw it,” Stella said. “I never saw her being abused.”

This contradicted her sister’s testimony. Stella’s testimony was also inconsistent with her previous statements to investigators. She testified that Werkheiser sometimes took her clothes off, but had told DSS investigators that Werkheiser remained clothed. Under cross-examination, she asked, “Does it matter how the clothes got off?”

The state presented expert testimony from two witnesses. Stefan Perkowski, a clinical social worker, testified about Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome (CSAAS). He said that child victims of sex abuse frequently delay disclosure and can provide inconsistent accounts of what occurred.

“No child wants to be called a liar,” Perkowski said. “And that is what investigators do, they are looking for inconsistencies or things along these lines. That entire process is very painful for them to go through. So you will see delayed disclosure. And there may be memories that flood back at a point and new material comes up.”

Dr. Kevin Antshel, a psychology professor at Syracuse University, testified about PKU and how it might affect cognitive functions. He testified that the disorder does not affect long-term memory or make some children suggestible to influence from others.

Julie Werkheiser testified and said she did not abuse the children. Saitta had wanted to present testimony from two other girls who said that—contrary to Scarlett’s statements to DSS investigators—they had not been abused by Julie, but Justice Keene denied the request.

In his closing argument, Saitta said Stella and Scarlett’s testimony was inconsistent and unsupported by other records. “Scarlett talked about the trigger, [but] there was no medical evidence present to show she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder or any psychological condition that creates this trigger,” Saitta said. “All you heard is Scarlett’s explanation as to why she didn’t tell her story for some six years.”

But the prosecutor said the inconsistencies were what made the testimony so convincing. “They are exactly what you would expect from a seven, eight nine-year old.”

On November 17, 2015, the jury convicted Julie Werkheiser on the sexual assault charges. She was later sentenced to 11 years to life in prison.

Separately, the New York Supreme Court’s Appellate Division, Third Department, granted Samantha Werkheiser a new trial on November 12, 2015, ruling that her indictment had been deficient. The alleged offenses had occurred from 2004-2007, but the New York State Legislature hadn’t created the crime until 2006. Samantha was then charged with a lesser offense, course of sexual conduct, reconvicted on February 9, 2017, and sentenced to 15 years in prison. The Third Department tossed out her conviction and terminated her case on February 21, 2019, ruling that the state had failed to get a new indictment, as required by law.

Julie had appealed her conviction in August 2017, after learning of videotaped statements made in 2011 by Scarlett and Stella, where the girls told investigators with the Binghamton Police Department that Julie never abused them.

Justice Keene denied the motion in 2018, ruling that the statements wouldn’t have made a difference because the girls testified they didn’t remember the abuse until several years later. Because the videotapes were not in the possession of the law-enforcement agencies involved in Julie’s prosecution, there was no disclosure obligation, the judge said.

After Samantha’s second conviction was vacated and she was released from prison, she returned to Binghamton. Stella, then homeless, sent her mother a friend request on Facebook, and they began talking and texting. Later, Stella stayed with Samantha for around a month. Samantha would later say in an affidavit that during this visit, she told her daughter that she wanted to talk about “the elephant in the room.”

“I then asked Stella, ‘Number one, did I ever sexually abuse you?’ and Stella answered, ‘No.’ I then asked her, ‘Number two, did Julie ever sexually abuse you?’ and again she answered, ‘No.’ After that, Stella and I had a huge hug, and I said, ‘Thank God, it is so good to hear you say that.’ We were both crying.”

According to the affidavit, Stella said that Scarlett had convinced her that Samantha and Julie didn’t love them anymore and that Scarlett plotted to get Julie after Samantha’s initial conviction. The affidavit said that Scarlett made her sister watch episodes of Law & Order SVU to learn how to testify at trial.

Five other women submitted affidavits that said Stella had also recanted. Stella didn’t file an affidavit. According to the women and Samantha, her family learned of her reconciliation with her mother and successfully pressured her to break off contact with Samantha.

Now represented by Arthur Larkin, Julie Werkheiser moved for a new trial on June 3, 2020.

Along with these affidavits, the motion also presented new evidence that contradicted the testimony of the state’s expert witnesses. Mark Schacter, a psychologist, wrote in a report included in the motion that the testimony about CSAAS was theoretical and only partially correct. The delayed disclosure by the girls didn’t fit with other facts of the case, because they had been in the father’s custody for years and weren’t under threat from their mother or Julie.

Schacter also said that Antshel testified incorrectly when he said that PKU had no impact on long-term memory. Schacter said that no clinical studies had been done in this area, particularly with persons with PKU who weren’t on a strictly controlled diet. Schacter also noted that Stella’s neuropsychological deficits made her especially susceptible to “misinformation, impulsivity, and suggestion,” making her testimony unreliable.

“The allegations made by the sisters were cross-contaminated, inconsistent with one another, and often inconsistent with their individual recollections,” Schacter wrote. “These inconsistencies may have been caused by pressure exerted by their father and paternal stepmother within the context of memory deficits and other neuropsychological impairments related to PKU, or other factors.”

The motion for new trial also said that Saitta had been ineffective in his representation. He didn’t present his own witnesses to rebut the state’s experts, and he didn’t adequately challenge Stella and Scarlett on the inconsistencies in their testimony, both with each other and with the previous statements they had made to the police and DSS investigators.

He also failed to introduce a series of emails that Kristy Haase had sent to Scarlett’s therapist that appeared to recount several instances where she said her stepdaughter had lied.

Equally important, the motion said, Saitta hadn’t attempted to exclude Scarlett’s testimony based on a 1997 New York appellate ruling that said recovered memories must be corroborated to be admissible. Stella’s account didn’t corroborate her sister’s, the motion said, because they were inconsistent and often contradictory.

“In sum, because counsel did not apprise the court of the [appellate] decision, the People were not required to show corroboration for Scarlett’s purported claims of abuse, and in closing arguments the prosecutor was able to bypass the difficult questions of triggers, recovered memories and corroboration, all of which severely prejudiced Julie’s defense,” the motion said. On March 31, 2021, Justice Keene, without holding a hearing, denied the motion for a new trial. Werkheiser appealed, and the Appellate Division, Third Department, said that she had presented sufficient evidence of innocence and ineffective representation to merit a hearing on these issues. It sent the case back to Tioga County.

Justice Joseph Cassidy took over the case and held four days of hearings, with testimony from nine witnesses, including Scarlett. Stella did not testify. Five of the witnesses testified consistent with their affidavits that Stella had recanted to them. Scarlett testified that she knew about Stella’s recantation, but that her sister only did it because Samantha promised to pay her $500,000.

On August 22, 2023, Justice Cassidy granted Julie Werkheiser’s motion for a new trial. He said that the testimony that Stella had recanted was credible, newly discovered evidence. He said Scarlett’s testimony at the hearing was not convincing. The ruling also said that Saitta had been ineffective in not presenting expert testimony on CSAAS and in not moving to object to Scarlett’s uncorroborated testimony based on a recovered memory.

Justice Cassidy did not grant Werkheiser relief based on actual innocence.

Werkheiser was released from prison on September 1, 2023. Although the state planned to retry the case, Larkin moved to dismiss the indictment that charged Julie with abusing Scarlett, based on Justice Cassidy’s ruling that her testimony was uncorroborated. Justice Adam Schumacher granted the motion on January 2, 2024, dismissing that indictment.

The state dismissed the remaining charge involving Stella on January 26, 2024.

– Ken Otterbourg

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date: 2/8/2024
Last Updated: 2/8/2024
State:New York
Most Serious Crime:Child Sex Abuse
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2007
Sentence:11 to Life
Age at the date of reported crime:31
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No