Conviction Vacated: New California Law, New Evidence, and Advocacy Prevail

After twenty-seven years of wearing the label “sex offender,” Darwin Crabtree was relieved of his child molestation conviction yesterday, January 17, by a Butte County Superior Court. Northern California Innocence Project Attorney (NCIP) Paige Kaneb made the motion to vacate Crabtree’s conviction based on new evidence of innocence and bolstered by a newly enacted California law.

The law (Penal Code section 1473.7) allows persons no longer convicted or restrained to pursue a motion to vacate their convictions and stipulates the state’s response: When that person provides “newly discovered evidence of actual innocence…that requires vacation of the conviction or sentence as a matter of law or in the interest of justice.”

The District Attorney’s office conducted its own investigation, supported vacating, and apologized for its role in Crabtree’s conviction. It took nearly three decades but justice finally found Darwin Crabtree.

Crabtree was convicted in 1991 of sexually molesting his two sons, ages 8 and 12 at the time of the trial. Crabtree was undergoing a difficult divorce when his sons made false statements about him. The boys had been in the care of an unlicensed therapist in training when they “remembered” several incidents under what is now understood to be suggestive and improper questioning.

More than nine years ago, both sons recanted their accusations and said their father never molested them. Crabtree had completed his sentence but continued to struggle as a lifetime sex offender registrant, with all its consequences, restrictions, and stigma.

The sons contacted the NCIP and provided written statements supporting their father’s innocence. Linda Starr, NCIP executive director and co-founder credited the new law with enabling the NCIP to proceed with their motion to vacate this conviction. With its adoption, “California has recognized that innocent people are entitled to have their names – and records – cleared regardless of when new evidence is discovered,” she said.

In spite of many hurdles, Crabtree rebuilt his life, marrying again and, for the past ten years, working as a contractor. The family managed to achieve a loving and close relationship over these many years even before the NCIP could clear Crabtree’s name. Yesterday’s validation of his innocence by the court and the state was a healing milestone for both father and sons.

“The new law gave my boys the opportunity to right the wrong, to alleviate the burden they’ve carried for all these years,” Crabtree said. “This allows them to be good with the world.”

4 responses to “Conviction Vacated: New California Law, New Evidence, and Advocacy Prevail

  1. This an important step forward. I have a very similar case in Ohio in which two brothers came forward separately to recant their coerced accusations against their parents even though they had had no contact with them for more than 30 years. The courts wouldn’t even give the parents a hearing.

  2. I agree this law and this case represent progress. In too many cases, prosecutors and judges refuse to take recantations seriously, choosing instead to believe the original testimony, not the recantation. Yet in retrospect there were often more incentives or reasons for the original testimony to be false than the later recantation. Recanting often requires admitting contributing to a grave injustice and has risks of repercussions.

    • Dutch Van Alstin

      I think they take recantations seriously, they just simply don’t care. The ego is a big problem, plus it opens them up to liability.

  3. Dutch Van Alstin

    I don’t have any moral objection to the death penalty. Frankly, there are actions that people take that denies them a right to exist on earth with the rest of us. The problem is, the criminal justice system is so corrupt, that the real threat of implementing the death penalty on an innocent person exists. That alone makes me a opponent of the death penalty.

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