The Ohio Observer
March 1996

Jennifer Wilcox
Free 
at Last

Robert Aldridge
 The evidence that caused a judge to vacate the Montgomery County convictions of a couple freed March 8, 1996 after serving 11 years in prison on child sex-abuse charges was first disclosed in The Observer in January 1994.

 Judge Richard Parrott ordered a new trial for Robert Aldridge, 31, and Jennifer Wilcox, 35, because they didn't receive a fair proceeding in 1985.

 Parrott, a visiting Common Pleas judge from Union County, based his ruling on two key findings of fact:  

  •  Favorable evidence obtained from the Montgomery County prosecutor's Office by Observer editor Martin Yant through a public records request had not been turned over to defense attorneys in the couple's 1985 trial.
  •  
  •  Recantations obtained by Yant of three of the six children who testified against the couple.  John, Jason and Justin Chronopoulos said they were coerced into giving false testimony against Wilcox and Aldridge.
  •  John, then 12 and now 23, said he was charged with rape, hand-cuffed and taken to the county's youth detention center, where he stayed overnight.  He said he told Detective Jennifer Bazell (now Vaught) of the Huber Heights Police Department the next morning that he was willing to tell her "the truth" she demanded about being molested by Wilcox and Aldridge even though it was a lie.

     Jason, then 10 and now 21, said he also agreed to tell Bazell "the truth" after he was placed in a holding cell at the Huber Heights police station.

     Justin, 8 then and now 19, said he followed the lead of his brothers because he was told he would also be thrown in jail if he didn't.

     The boys' statements ended up being similar to rumors running rampant in the Glenburn Green apartment complex.

     All three of the brothers said they didn't even know who Wilcox and Aldridge were until they saw them in the courtroom, and they were told where to point when asked to identify them.

     In his ruling, Parrott said evidence suggested that prosecutors had received a 29 page report from police on the case but only provided defense attorneys with a sanitized eight page report that left out details of the Chronopoulos boys' coerced statements, wildly varying statements by other children and denials by others that they had been raped or witnessed rapes, as those who testified claimed.

     One such child was Tya Sheppard, who was named in Bazell's report as having been raped, stripped and/or photographed, and being present on multiple occasions of adults raping children.  Sheppard testified that she was never sexually molested, was not present when sexual molestation took place and told Bazell that when interrogated.  Her denials were not made available to the defense by prosecutors.

     Parrott said the defense also did not receive the results of medical exams obtained by Yant that showed that none of the children allegedly molested showed any signs of sexual abuse.

     Dr. John J. Peterangelo, who examined Valerie Picklesimer, one of two girls to testify against Wilcox and Aldridge, testified that he found no evidence of sexual activity.

    Counsel got edited report
     Richard Dodge, Thomas Hanna and Lawrence Rab, who served as defense counsel for the couple at or prior to trial, said they received only the eight page version of Bazell's report.  Each said they were assured by prosecutors that the discovery packet they were provided contained all of the material discoverable under the Montgomery County Court Criminal Management Plan.

     In his ruling, Parrott said he could not say the recantations of the Chronopoulos brothers alone would warrant setting aside the convictions and granting Aldridge and Wilcox a new trial.  He noted, however, that "not only did the court receive proof to back up the recantation by each of the Chronopoulos boys, but the testimony of Darcel white saying she has no recollection of sexual abuse or seeing others sexually abused, three defense attorneys testifying that they did not receive from the State of Ohio and were unaware of material facts in the cases, Tya Sheppard's testimony regarding the state's driving her by certain apartments four or five times and asking her each time "if this was where the sexual abuse happened," in the face of her denial, and Lawrence J. Rab testifying that he was unaware of hand-written children victim statements and that none had been provided him by the assistant prosecuting attorneys on the case.

     "Based upon the recantation of the various important victim witnesses, coupled with the additional evidence adduced which confirms that the witnesses are now telling the truth, the court finds that the witnesses are now truthful, and that there is a strong probability of a different result at trial," Parrott wrote.

     "As to the last issue raised, the court finds that the undisclosed facts and evidence retained by the government, Brady material, are both exculpatory and material to the defense and the respondent's failure to disclose same deprived petitioners of a fair trial and is violative of due process under both the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Section 10, Article I of the Ohio Constitution.  It is further found that the government's actions in failing to disclose these material matters to the defense seriously undermines this court's confidence in the outcome of the trial.

     "This court further finds that the violation of the petitioners' constitutional rights, as set forth above, so pervaded the original prosecution and trial ... that the convictions of each of the petitioners, on all counts tried at the original trial, should be vacated and set aside."

     Parrott did not refer to two affidavits obtained after the hearing and attached t the defense attorneys' post hearing brief.

     One, signed by Jerry Rawlins Jr., said that – contrary to testimony at the 1985 trial – he was neither a victim of nor witness to sexual abuse by Wilcox and Aldridge.

     the other affidavit was from Jim Payne, who was living at the apartment of Wilcox and his friend Aldridge until the time of their arrest while he looked for an apartment. 

     If the judge did consider Payne's brief it would leave little doubt about the depth of the prosecution's obsession with convicting Wilcox and Aldridge.

     In the affidavit, Payne says he was approached on several occasions by Ralph Beutle, an investigator for the prosecutor's office, about sex-abuse allegations against Wilcox and Aldridge.

     Payne says he told Beutle that he saw no evidence of sexual abuse, nor did he think the couple was capable of such activity.

     Payne adds that he was interrogated by Assistant Prosecutor Angela Frydman on several occasions and he told her the same thing each time. 

     "Neither Ms. Frydman nor investigator Beutle were prepared to believe me," Payne's affidavit continues.  "They attempted to get me to change my statement.  They threatened to revoke my probation unless I changed my statement and agreed to present testimony in favor of the prosecution against Ms. Wilcox and Mr. Aldridge.  This threat was made to me several times.  I refused to change my statement and commit perjury. 

    Probation revoked
     "I was offered immunity and a guarantee that my probation would not be revoked on five separate occasions.  On each of these occasions ... I declined.  I advised on each occasion that ... nothing had occurred. 

     "My probation was in fact revoked ...  However, the charges wee brought against me because I refused to cooperate with Ms. Frydman.  My probation would not have been revoked if I had testified the way Ms. Frydman wanted me to testify.  My probation officer refused to institute a revocation proceeding.  Ms. Frydman had to do this herself.

     "It is my belief that a drug test was fabricated and used as evidence to cause my probation to be revoked.  I never took a drug test during this period of time.

     "Both investigator Beutle and assistant prosecutor Frydman accused me of sexually abusing children ...  This was and is absolutely and totally false ...  However, there was no evidence against me to support the allegations and they were not used to revoke my probation.  (I was revoked for the alleged use of marijuana.)

     "Despite the lack of evidence, Ms. Frydman wrote the parole board, made the same unfounded allegations against me and, as a result of these slanderous and defamatory comments, I was denied parole by the parole board on five consecutive occasions when I was otherwise eligible.

     "The chairman of the Ohio Parole Board, Ray Capots, told me that he would write Ms. Frydman and demand that she produce evidence that I had sexually abused children, and that if she did not produce such evidence, that I would be paroled.

     "He did write Frydman, she could produce no evidence and I was released on parole on April 22, 1990."

     Payne says that he spent several days after the arrest of Wilcox and Aldridge at the apartment of Jill Barnett.

     He says he witnessed Barnett questioning her son, Chris, the fourth boy to testify at the trial, about whether he had been abused by anyone. 

     "Chris denied that he had been abused and he told his mother that he did not know of anyone being abused," Payne says.
     


     
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