On Tuesday, Amy Moore returned to the courthouse where, 23 years ago, she testified that her father sexually assaulted her.
In a soft-spoken, often stumbling voice, she told the court that her testimony had been a lie.
Her father, Howard Dudley, did not rape her, she said. He never touched her inappropriately.
Dudley, 59, has served nearly 24 years for the alleged assault, and once turned down a plea deal that would have let him walk away without prison time. The only evidence against him was the testimony of his daughter, who soon after the trial admitted that her testimony was a fabrication.
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Tuesday’s proceedings opened an evidentiary hearing, a mini-trial of sorts where his lawyers will present evidence and witnesses in an attempt to prove that Dudley was wrongly convicted. At its end, he could be ordered released by Superior Court Judge W. Douglas Parsons.
Jamie Lau, a lawyer for Dudley, said the hearing was a big moment for both Dudley and Amy Moore.
“We are here to end this nightmare for Howard and Amy,” Lau said. “Amy has had a terrible time as an adult. Over and over people have refused to believe her as an adult now.”
Dudley, an inmate at Greene Correctional Institution, wore a grey T-shirt and white dungarees and watched the proceedings intently. His family and friends filled six rows in the small courtroom.
‘Not my daddy’
Dudley’s plight was the subject of a 2005 News & Observer series, “Caught in a Lie.” The stories revealed problems with the case and explored Dudley’s life in prison.
Eventually, the Wrongful Convictions Clinic at Duke took up Dudley’s case, and in June, Superior Court Judge Paul Jones ordered the hearing that started Tuesday.
Moore, now 33, was at center stage. She struggled to explain herself, first as she was questioned by lawyers trying to free her father, then by an assistant district attorney seeking to uphold the conviction. At the end of her testimony, the judge turned to ask questions.
“I’m sitting up here all by myself, just like you are,” Parsons said.
Motioning to the two teams of lawyers, the judge said he wasn’t on either side. He wanted the truth.
Parsons: “I want you to answer in your heart.”
Moore: “I was raped when I was younger.”
The rape happened before she was 9, she said. Her late mother never knew of the rape.
Parsons asked: Were you raped by your father?
“It was by two different guys,” she said. “It wasn’t my daddy.”
An inexperienced lawyer
Lau said Dudley’s lawyer at his 1992 trial, Nicholas Harvey, did not have access to records from the Department of Social Services and his daughter’s court-appointed guardian.
The guardian closely interviewed Amy Moore and concluded that 9-year-old girl was lying. The babysitter who first reported Moore’s allegations told social workers before trial that Moore might be lying.
Social service records showed that Moore’s allegations were physically impossible, inconsistent, and embellished over time. She said was raped while wearing her pajamas and panties. She said she was bleeding. She said there was no blood. She said she was stabbed in the back with a knife, screamed and that a neighbor broke up the alleged attack.
“These are impossible,” Lau said. “Harvey did not have the DSS and guardian ad litem statements showing how inconsistent and fantastically embellished Amy’s statements were.”
Assistant district attorney John Newby argued that Dudley was entitled to a fair trial, not a perfect trial. Newby cautioned Judge Parsons about overturning the jury verdict.
“We are looking backwards through a hazy, distorted lens,” Newby said. “Witnesses are no longer available, memories fade, witnesses are influenced by family members. Recanted testimony is exceedingly unreliable.”
Harvey testified Tuesday that Dudley’s 1992 trial was his first serious felony case. At the time, he had only recently started the full-time practice of law. Harvey said he did not receive any of the social service or guardian files, which would have been critical for revealing the flaws and inconsistencies in the testimony of Moore and other witnesses.
Dudley’s lawyers called an expert witness, Jeffrey Miller, a Greenville lawyer with extensive experience in child sex abuse cases. Miller spent several years on the controversial Little Rascals case. The main defendant, Robert Kelly, was convicted in the neighboring county of 99 counts and sentenced to 12 life sentences the day before Dudley’s trial began. Kelly’s convictions were later overturned.
Miller testified that Harvey did not do a competent job at the 1992 trial. He filed no motions for evidence and did not request an expert witness or psychological evaluation to determine if Moore was competent to testify. And he spent just 12 hours working on the case before trial.
“That falls far short of competent reasonable practice in Eastern North Carolina for anyone charged with a life sentence,” Miller said.