Prosecutors have taken the unusual step of detaining an alleged teenage rape victim who has a history of running away, saying she is a key witness against a man prosecutors say is a career criminal and serial rapist.
Victims' rights advocates are joining the 17-year-old foster child's attorneys in arguing that her detention, upheld three times by two superior court judges, could discourage other victims from reporting sexual assaults. Moreover, they say the detention conflicts with laws governing the well-being of foster children, and with Marsy's Law, a victims' rights initiative approved by California voters in November 2008.
"This is a very rare step for us. It's really the last thing we want to do, but we do feel that there is a public danger that has to be balanced here," Sacramento County Assistant District Attorney Albert Locher said Monday. "We believe it's important to balance the protection of the community in the process here, and that is done by ensuring a conviction and ensuring that this defendant will not have the opportunity to harm someone else in the future."
The girl has been held in juvenile hall since March 23. Her attorneys are proposing that she be released to a foster or group home with a GPS ankle bracelet. Her next detention hearing is scheduled for April 16, but they hope to move up the hearing to get her released earlier.
"She's being treated like a criminal without having done any criminal act. In fact, she's the victim," said attorney Lisa Franco, who is challenging the decision to hold the girl as a material witness to ensure she appears at the trial of Frank William Rackley Sr., 37. "This is just sending a chilling effect out there for people not wanting to report crimes and rapes. In the larger scope of things it's going to give other people more chance to commit crimes because people will be afraid to report."
The Associated Press is not naming the girl because of her age and because she is an alleged sexual assault victim, though her attorneys complained that she has been identified in court papers and in open court.
Prosecutors had to dismiss charges once against Rackley when the girl failed to appear, though they were able to charge him again with the same crimes the next day, according to court documents. The girl ran away twice from her foster home and did not show up for Rackley's preliminary hearing in October or his first scheduled trial date in February, according to an affidavit by Deputy District Attorney Alan Van Stralen.
He now is set for a trial to begin April 23. His attorney, Assistant Public Defender Richard Berson, was not available to comment, and Berson's supervisor, David Klemer, said he couldn't comment.
Franco said her client recognized the swastika tattooed on Rackley's chest. She and prosecutors said his DNA was found on her client after the then 16-year-old girl was abducted from a Sacramento light rail station on July 22.
Sacramento attorney Amina Merritt, who represents the girl's interests as a foster child, said her client is now willing to testify against Rackley.
"She is at risk and that is the reason she did not testify previously. She's afraid, she's afraid for her life," Merritt said. The girl is a different race than Rackley, and fears that others with a racial hatred might harm her even if Rackley is behind bars, Merritt said.
An adult woman who also is an alleged Rackley victim has not been detained, Merritt noted.
Locher said prosecutors are willing to consider any reasonable alternative that gives them assurance the girl will show up in court. Prosecutors contend the girl can be held as a material witness despite protections for foster children or sexual assault victims that also are written into California law.
Sandra Henriquez, executive director of the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, known as CalCASA, said this is the first time in her 20 years of working with victims that she has seen one incarcerated.
"We're potentially sending a message that our concern over public safety supersedes our concern over a particular victim," she said. "We could also be jeopardizing public safety if fewer victims come forward."