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Rape Conviction Appealed after Recanted Testimony

10-Jun-2013

An Oklahoma City man who testified that he was raped by his grandfather has recanted his testimony, clearing the way for an appeal. Devonte Levon Johnson, 20, testified when he was 12 years old that his grandfather, Harold Lee Belton, 62, sexually assaulted him when he was only 9 years old. Belton was convicted of rape and has been serving eight years of a 20 year sentence.

Johnson now says that he does not remember testifying and denies that he was raped. In a sworn affidavit, Johnson wrote, "My testimony was responsible for the conviction of Mr. Belton, who is also my grandfather. The truth of the matter is, he has never raped me and I want to now tell the truth." The alleged victim does not provide any reason for initially testifying against Belton.

In his appeal to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, Belton's appellate lawyer asserts that her client was convicted based upon this false testimony which has now been recanted. She says that this "newly discovered evidence" is grounds for vacating her client's conviction.

Belton was accused of sexually assaulting his then 9-year-old grandson over a period of about five months in late 2001 to early 2002. Johnson testified that his grandfather climbed up onto his bunk to assault him. However, Belton's attorney argues that there was no physical evidence to support Johnson's testimony and that there were no witnesses to corroborate his claim. She points out that no one heard anything, including Johnson's brothers on the bottom bunk and his mother and stepfather sleeping in the next room. Now, the testimony which put a grandfather behind bars is sworn to be false by the accuser himself.

Harold Lee Belton appealed his conviction on direct appeal on grounds of insufficient evidence, improper admission of other crimes evidence, and error in conducting a bifurcated proceeding. His claims were rejected and his conviction and sentence affirmed. Belton then filed for post-conviction relief, claiming ineffective assistance of appellate counsel,  ineffective assistance of trial counsel, improper use of certain former felony convictions for sentence enhancement purposes, and violation of his right to a speedy trial. Post conviction relief was also denied.

Finally, Belton petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court, arguing five points:

  • appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise the claims he first raised in his application for post-conviction relief
  • ineffective assistance of trial counsel
  • his sentence was improperly enhanced
  • his right to a speedy trial was violated
  • the evidence was insufficient to sustain his conviction

Again, his petition was denied.

Now, with the evidence used to convict him--his grandson's testimony--rendered invalid, Belton has once again filed an appeal of his conviction. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals must decide whether the outcome of Belton's trial would have been different if the jury had been privy to this "new evidence"--Johnson's sworn statements that his testimony was false.





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