SEATTLE (AP) — A man who had been in prison for nearly two decades was released from custody Thursday, two years after his supposed victim recanted allegations that he molested her.
Jerry Lee Brock, 55, had been in prison since his conviction for first-degree molestation in 1995. In 2012, the alleged victim, Regina Rush, came forward to say she made the whole thing up, partly as a way to get more attention from her mother.
Last week, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Erik Price ordered a new trial after finding the recantation credible, and on Thursday, he signed an order vacating Brock’s conviction. The order stated that Brock “shall no longer remain in the custody of the Washington State Department of Corrections.”
“He was all smiles,” said Brock’s lawyer, public defender Patrick O’Connor. “His brother was there to pick him up and take him home. It was very satisfying to see.”
Brock was released with a few conditions, including that he remain in the state, not possess firearms and not use drugs. A new trial was scheduled for February, but it wasn’t clear prosecutors would proceed with it, given that the girl’s story was the primary evidence against him.
Rush was 11 years old when she accused Brock, a friend of her mother, of molesting her while she was sleeping. She repeated the allegations at trial, and Brock was convicted. He was sentenced to life in prison under the state’s “three-strikes” law; he also had convictions for burglary and promoting prostitution.
But in 2012, Rush came forward to say she was haunted by what she had done. In a six-page, typewritten admission, she denied that Brock touched her inappropriately. She said she made up the story because she wanted attention from her mother and because she worried that Brock was a drug user and a bad influence on her mom.
Price held a hearing Nov. 10 to assess Rush’s credibility. Now 31 and a mother herself, she testified under oath, detailing that she had previously been taken away from her mother due to her mother’s drug use, and she didn’t want it to happen again.
“Ms. Rush testified that she realized just how wrong it is to make such serious false accusations,” the judge wrote in his order Thursday. “The dishonesty was eating away at her inside and she didn’t want to carry that burden any longer. ... She simply wanted to clear her conscience.”
Prosecutors argued that Rush may be recanting because she disagreed with the length of Brock’s sentence. The judge rejected that, noting that Rush didn’t even know Brock was still in prison when she came forward in 2012.
“The Court concludes that Ms. Rush’s recantation was not motivated by anything other than her stated desire to tell the truth,” Price wrote.
No phone listing could be found to try to reach Rush for further comment. O’Connor said he did not expect her to face any legal repercussions for the false report, given her age at the time.
Rush’s accusation was the main evidence against Brock. While Brock denied fondling the girl, he did tell detectives in one interview that he “made a mistake.”
It wasn’t clear what Brock meant by that, however, and the judge said Thursday that the statement alone could not support a conviction.
Prosecutors have not said whether they plan to go forward with another trial, although they did ask for a trial date to be set to keep the case on track, Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim said in an email.
The deputy prosecutor handling the matter is in another trial for the next couple weeks, Tunheim said, but “he will examine the remaining evidence in the Brock case in light of the recent developments and we will decide if there is sufficient evidence to retry the case.”
O’Connor said he did not know if his client was ready to speak with reporters. Brock had been serving his sentence at Clallam Bay Corrections Center, where he served as a minister.
“He’s a very gentle guy,” O’Connor said. “He doesn’t seem to have any animosity or anger, anything like that.”
Washington state adopted a law last year allowing wrongly convicted defendants to be reimbursed $50,000 for each year of incarceration if they can prove they were innocent of the felony they were convicted of. O’Connor said he did not know if Brock planned to file a claim under that provision.