A judge on Monday dismissed all charges and vacated the sentence of a man who has spent more than 20 years in prison on convictions of multiple sex crimes against three children.
Michael Alan Parker dropped his head and wept as Judge Marvin Pope announced his decision in Buncombe County Superior Court. Parker's lawyer, Sean Devereux, expects him to be released Tuesday from Craggy Correctional Center
"I'm elated that justice has been finally served," said Parker's brother, Larry Wayne Parker Sr.
Devereux said Parker, 57, was convicted during the satanic ritual abuse frenzy of the late 1980s and early '90s and not a single accusation of satanic ritual sexual abuse has proven to be true. All of the defendants originally imprisoned have had their convictions overturned, and Parker may be the last one, Devereux said.
"There is absolutely no doubt in my mind as to Michael's innocence," Devereux said.
Henderson County District Attorney Greg Newman objected to Parker's release but respected Pope's decision.
"We believe that this defendant did something to this kid," Newman said. "I think the question of what he did has been raised, and I think there's a legitimate issue there. So we may never know for sure. This happened a long time ago."
On Feb. 8, 1993, at a specially called term, a Henderson County grand jury returned true bills of indictment, charging Parker and eight others with the ritual abuse of Parker's three children. Parker was charged with eight counts of first-degree sex offense and four counts of taking indecent liberties with a minor. He was convicted on all 12 charges in January 1994 and sentenced to eight consecutive terms of life imprisonment for the first-degree sex offenses and an additional 40 years on the indecent liberties convictions.
Devereux made a motion for appropriate belief based on numerous grounds, including: the ineffective assistance of trial counsel; newly discovered medical evidence; new evidence from Parker's former co-defendant; newly discovered evidence regarding child testimony; recantation of one of his children's testimony; the state failed to disclose exculpatory evidence regarding a bomb scare during Parker's trial; ineffective assistance of appellate counsel; and cumulative error.
"From the shape-shifting stories of the Parker children — stories encouraged and manipulated by adults with a variety of interests in the outcome — to the inaccurate and unchallenged expert testimony, to the illusory 'bomb scare,' to the evangelistic rantings of the prosecution, the trial of Michael Alan Parker was an affront to everything North Carolinians want to believe about our criminal justice system," Devereux's motion stated. "The outcome remains a stain on that system."
Newman acknowledged that advancements have been made in the medical profession, specifically in forensic interviewing and medical examination on sexual assault cases. Dr. Cynthia Brown of Mission Children's Center was one of the expert opinions involved, Newman said. She reviewed medical testimony that happened in the trial.
"There were procedures and opinions from these doctors a number of years ago that were the trial held today, the medical findings then would not indicate abuse if given today," Newman said.
Theresa Newman, a Duke law professor (and no relation to Greg Newman), worked with Devereux on the case, which the attorney said he has been handling for about 12 years.
Pope was assigned to handle the case and the hearing was in Buncombe County on Monday, although it was a Henderson County case. Neither Devereux nor Newman was involved with the case initially, and Newman said he became familiar with the case after he started as district attorney last year.
"I feel that a Henderson County jury, 21-plus years ago, reached a verdict, and I don't know — no one knows — what evidence they found to be significant. We don't know whether it was medical proof, we don't know whether it was the testimony of the kid. We don't know exactly. Only those 12 people know," Newman said.
"My position has been that they reached that verdict. The Court of Appeals has said the trial was conducted properly and they upheld the conviction. And I saw nothing that would cause me to take a different position."
Parker Sr., of Spartanburg, S.C., and his son, Larry Wayne Parker Jr., have visited Michael Parker over the years. Parker Sr. said he always told his brother to "Keep the faith."
A year ago, Devereux said Parker was offered a deal that would've vacated the convictions and allowed him to leave prison based on time served if he pleaded guilty to some of the offenses.
"He wouldn't do that," Devereux said. "He stayed in another year — and potentially stayed in forever. He's a pretty courageous guy."