For the second time in as many years, lawmakers are considering changing the way officials prosecute sexual assault cases.
A bill in the Oregon Senate would create an exception to the 12-year statute of limitations for the most serious sex crimes — including rape, sodomy and child abuse — allowing prosecutors to bring charges if new concrete evidence emerges.
For example, they could reopen the case if multiple victims come forward with similar allegations or if new written evidence is discovered.
Senate Bill 1553 was inspired by high-profile rape cases, including the one involving Brenda Tracy, who reported being raped by four football players in Corvallis in 1998, and the one involving Bill Cosby, the former comedian facing a barrage of sexual assault allegations.
Under the bill, new victims coming forward could be used as evidence to reopen a case, said Aaron Knott, the legislative director for Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. Cosby was charged last year with drugging and groping a former Temple University employee at his home in 2004.
“While Bill Cosby is a celebrity, it’s not unique to him,” Knott told lawmakers at a committee hearing Monday.
Bill Cosby (center) arrives for a court appearance Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, in Norristown, Pennsylvania. Cosby was charged with drugging and sexually assaulting a woman at his home in January 2004. (Clem Murray/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)
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And, he said, newer technology such as emails and text messages leave evidence trails that weren’t there decades ago.
“If [an] email is still there 15 years later — which Google has given us every indication may be the future — then it would be treated the same as the day it was sent,” Knott said.
Tracy spoke in favor of the bill alongside Danielle Tudor, a survivor advocate who was attacked by serial “jogger rapist” Richard Gillmore in 1979.
Both women led a push to eliminate the statute of limitations for sexual assault in the 2015 session, saying the law had failed them multiple times. Lawmakers agreed to double the limit from six to 12 years and said they’d consider more changes later.
Tudor helped police draw a composite sketch of Gillmore that led to his arrest 1986. By then, most of the nine sexual assault cases were too old to prosecute.
Tracy says she was failed by twice by the law, first in 1986 when she reported being raped by a man in her neighborhood, then in 1998 after she says she was raped by four football players in Corvallis.
In the first case, police didn’t press charges because the statute of limitations, at that time three years, had expired. In the second, she faltered under pressure and didn’t pursue charges. She lost the chance to change her mind when the six-year limit expired.
“Five men have raped me in my lifetime, and no one has ever been held accountable,” Tracy said. “The only person that has ever suffered for their crimes is me.”
Those in favor of statutes of limitations argue that evidence and memories fade with time, making it more difficult for those accused of sex crimes to get a fair shake.
Tracy told lawmakers Monday the new bill gives justice to victims while protecting the rights of the accused.
The bill would not apply retroactively, meaning Tracy and Tudor will never be able to press charges.
“It is deeply hurtful and painful that the law doesn’t protect me and people like Danielle,” Tracy said. “Everything that is in this bill now could have helped me.”
Knott told lawmakers the law would be used sparingly.
“I anticipate if this bill is passed it will be used rarely,” he said. “That’s the nature of prosecuting a 20-year-old case.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee could vote to send the bill to the floor as soon as Tuesday.
Full article with links here: http://www.oregonlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2016/02/after_bill_cosby_and_brenda_tr.html