Witness Accuses Prosecutor Of Raping Her During Trial

| by Kathryn Schroeder
Terry MitchellTerry Mitchell

A Utah woman has filed a new lawsuit against a former federal prosecutor, who later became a federal judge. She says he sexually assaulted and threatened her while she served as a witness in a high-profile murder case in 1981.

In 1980, Terry Mitchell was jogging with two friends when they were shot and killed by serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin,” KSTU reports. Mitchell, then 16, was the key witness in his murder trial.

In her lawsuit, Mitchell alleges federal Judge Richard Warren Roberts, who at the time was a civil rights attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice working on the case, took her to a hotel and repeatedly raped her.

“He preyed upon the 16 year old girl, and she was a witness in the very trial that he was prosecuting,” Mitchell’s attorney, Rocky Anderson said.

Mitchell said fear kept her quiet for more than 35 years.

“He said if anyone ever found out what was happening, that there would be a mistrial and Franklin would be allowed to be free and hurt more people, kill more people,” she said.

After Franklin was executed in 2013, Mitchell came forward.

“I really feel that other survivors need to know that it's OK to tell the truth and not feel like you have to be ashamed of what happened to you,” she said.

This is the second lawsuit Mitchell has filed against Roberts.

In March, she filed a $25 million civil rights lawsuit against him. He retired from the bench the same day.

“I think it's absolutely outrageous that Judge Roberts was allowed to retire, supposedly because of some disability that to this day remains undisclosed, and the circumstances are very suspicious,” Anderson said.

An investigation conducted before the March civil rights lawsuit was filed found that Roberts did have a sexual relationship with Mitchell during the Franklin trial, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. But, it was determined that based on 1981 laws, Roberts could only be charged with a class B misdemeanor, punishable by six months in jail.

Under current law, Roberts’ admission to having a sexual relationship with then-underage Mitchell, of which he made during a recorded phone call with her in 2014, would bring a felony charge.

When the lawsuit was filed, Roberts claimed the relationship had been consensual.

"Roberts acknowledges that the relationship was indeed a bad lapse in judgment," a statement from Washington, D.C.-based attorney Jason Weinstein, who represents Roberts, said at the time. "However, the relationship did not occur until after the trial and had no bearing on the outcome of that trial."

Anderson, on behalf of Mitchell, voluntarily dismissed the civil rights lawsuit and refiled on July 29 under a new law, lengthened statute of limitations, KSTU reports.

“In the last legislative session, the Utah legislature passed a bill that actually allows claims that were previously barred by the statute of limitations to be revived so that victims of child sexual abuse can hold their perpetrators accountable,” Anderson said.

“We're going to win this case," he said. "We're going to hold Richard Roberts fully accountable, and Terri Mitchell is going to finally feel that she has some semblance of justice."

Mitchell hopes that by coming forward it will help other sexual assault survivors.

“I don't want other survivors to think that it's the end of the world,” she said.

Sources: KSTU, The Salt Lake Tribune / Photo credit: George Frey/The Guardian

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