Edgar Coker Jr. pled guilty in 2007 to raping a 14-year-old acquaintance who accused him.  He was 15 at the time.  On the advice of his attorney, Denise Rafferty, Coker pled guilty to avoid the danger of a conviction at trial and a long prison sentence as an adult.  Two months after agreeing to plead guilty, the victim admitted that she lied.  It took almost 7 more years for Coker to finally be free.

Coker’s family was able to secure early release for him from the juvenile facility after 17 months of incarceration.  However, he was required to register as a sex offender.  His family said that they were harassed by neighbors because of this.  The family went through several lawyers before finally finding the University of Virginia School of Law’s Innocence Project and Child Advocacy Clinic.  They helped the family go before the Supreme Court of Virginia.

In 2009, Coker’s attorneys filed for a writ of habeas corpus, a petition for release from wrongful detention.  A county judge dismissed the motion.  Coker then appealed to the state Supreme Court.  A 2012 ruling cleared the way for Coker to sue the state Department of Juvenile Justice to overturn his conviction.  Then, Judge Jane Roush vacated his conviction and ordered that he no longer had to register as a sex offender.  The judge also ruled that the state-appointed attorney who represented Coker in his initial trial, failed to give him sufficient counsel.  The judge accused Rafferty of doing “little or no investigation of the facts of the case” before she instructed Coker to plead guilty.

“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-V…law school,” said Matthew Engle of the Innocence Project, “It took that team six years to undo what happened in 15 minutes in court.”

Dierdre Enright, director of investigation for the Innocence Project Clinic, criticized the lower level courts, which she said “refused to acknowledge the merits” of the case despite the fact that the alleged victim had recanted.

“There are very few people who could have afforded to litigate this case for six years, which emphasizes the importance of law school clinics and organizations that represent clients for free,” Enright said in a news release.

Coker still faces the stigma of criminal accusations, sadly, much like many innocent defendants who are cleared at any step of the criminal justice system.  Coker has had trouble finding good jobs and he has moved several times due to protests from others about him living near them.  While still on the sex offender list, Coker was arrested for attending a football game at his alma mater.  Sex offenders are not allowed to be on school property.

“I thought there was some sort of a way to just reverse everything, click the ‘undo’ button,” Michelle Sousa, Coker’s mother, said, “I didn’t expect to have to go through every court in Virginia and go on and on for years.”

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