Putnam County Prosecutor Mark Sorsaia contends former Putnam County Circuit Judge O.C. Spaulding erred when he allowed a man convicted of the rape of his five-year-old daughter to go free.
“After practicing law for 27-years, I cannot understand this opinion,” Sorsaia told members of the Supreme Court during an argument to overturn the judge’s ruling Tuesday.
Joseph Lavigne spent 15 years in prison following the 1996 conviction. He was released from prison last year when Judge Spaulding ruled in his favor on several challenges. Most specifically Lavigne was denied a fair trial.
Sorsaia is exercising a rare right of appeal on behalf of the state in the matter.
“The state made the decision to file the appeal because after reading the circuit judge’s opinion it was arguably obvious to the state quite frankly that the Circuit Court of Putnam County imposed their personal opinions as to the facts of the case,” Sorsaia argued.
Lavigne’s attorney argues Judge Spaulding was correct when he found the instructions the trial judge gave to the jury were unfair.
“The court’s jury instruction directed a verdict and said ‘If you believe the victim’s testimony in the case, you may find the defendant guilty,” defense attorney Greg Harrison said. “It in effect was saying the victim had identified Joe in court when she actually had not.”
Sorsaia argues the testimony of the daughter was clearly influenced by the mother who had instructed her not to accuse her dad of committing the crime. Sorsaia says the initial stories the victim told were more believable when she told several people, including her parents, her father was the one who sexually assaulted her.
“The child’s behavior on the witness stand supports the state’s theory in this case,” Sorsaia argued. “The child was pressured by her mother to recant. A jury made up of common people, using commonsense would understand when a six-year-old is in a courtroom under those circumstances, that six-year-old would behave exactly like the child did in this trial.”
The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case in the coming weeks. Lavigne’s retrial on the charges is on hold pending the outcome of the Supreme Court’s ruling. He remains a free man while the case is pending. Lavigne was at West Virginia Wesleyan Monday where the Supreme Court held the proceedings.