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Sentencing/Post Conviction

Texas Man Imprisoned on Child Sex Abuse Charge to Be Resentenced Over False Expert Testimony

Posted May 22, 2012 12:50 PM CDT
By Mark Hansen

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A Texas man who has served almost 13 years of a 20-year prison sentence for sexually assaulting a young relative should be resentenced because of false testimony by a prosecution expert, the Texas Supreme Court has held.

The court said in a unanimous ruling that the expert's false testimony undoubtedly contributed to the length of defendant Michael Arena's sentence, the Austin American-Statesman reports.

Arena, then 16, was convicted in 1999 of molesting his 7-year-old cousin based on testimony by her and her 5-year-old brother, who have since recanted.

He was sentenced to 20 years in prison on the basis of testimony by Frederick Willoughby, a licensed psychologist and registered sex offender treatment provider, who labeled Arena a pedophile who was likely to reoffend.

Willoughby based his assessment on a test that required Arena to click through images of swimsuit-clad people of various ages and genders while a computer allegedly measured his sexual interest in the subjects.

The Texas court, in an opinion (PDF) by Justice Eva Guzman, said that much of Willoughby's testimony was false

Willoughby had testified that the test was 85 percent accurate, when in reality, its accuracy rate was only 65 percent, Guzman wrote. He also testified that the reliability of the test had been independently verified, when in fact it had not.

Prosecutors compounded the error by repeatedly referring to Willoughby's testimony in their closing remarks, the court wrote, making more references to it in their closing than to any other testimony in the case.

The court stopped short of reversing Arena's conviction on his claims of actual innocence and ineffective assistance of counsel. But defense lawyers said they were confident that Arena would be resentenced to less time than he has already served.

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