After seven long years, wrongfully convicted sex offender Edgar Coker Jr. will see his name removed from Virginia’s sex offender registry.
Coker was 15-years-old when attorney Denise Rafferty instructed him to plead guilty to rape charges before a Virginia court. Rafferty told him it would be better for him to plead guilty and spend time in a juvenile facility than protest the charges and risk being incarcerated in an adult prison.
Just two months after Coker’s juvenile detention sentence began, the 14-year-old girl who accused him of rape recanted her accusation. You'd think Coker would be set free after his victim redacted her claim, but this isn’t the case. He spent 17 months in a juvenile detention center and his name was added to the state’s sex offender registry.
Coker’s case now serves as an example of just how difficult is to undo a criminal conviction.
The Innocence Project at the University of Virginia spent six years cutting through red tape in their effort to clear Coker’s name.
“It took a team of half a dozen attorneys, dozens of law students, a pro bono law firm, a legal aid justice center and two clinics at U-Va. law school,” said Matthew Engle of the Innocence Project. “It took that team six years to undo what happened in 15 minutes in court.”
Judge Jane Marum Roush ruled recently that Rafferty, the state-appointed attorney who represented Coker in his initial trial, failed to give him sufficient assistance. The judge accused Rafferty of doing “little or no investigation of the facts of the case” before she instructed Coker to plead guilty.
Judge Roush said Rafferty failed to listen to a tape from Coker’s accuser or investigate the accuser’s reputation for truthfulness. She also failed to investigate the accuser’s ability to consent to sex. Rafferty never listened to an interview Coker did with police in which he said the 14-year-old girl invited him into her house for sex.
Since his conviction, Coker has had trouble finding good jobs due to the blemish on his record. His family has had to move several times due to protests from neighbors about living near a sex offender. After graduating, he was arrested for attending a football game at his school. Sex offenders are not allowed on school grounds.
Michelle Sousa, the mother of Coker’s former accuser, is glad to see the case finally coming to a close.
“I thought there was some sort of a way to just reverse everything, click the ‘undo’ button,” she said. “I didn’t expect to have to go through every court in Virginia and go on and on for years.”