Lavigne daughter 'devastated' at dad's return to prison
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The daughter of a man who was convicted of raping her in 1996 says she is "devastated" he is being sent back to prison.
"My father was not the man that raped me. I have no memory of thinking that he did. I am certain of the fact that it was not him because I have no fear of him," Katie Haught said in a written statement after the state Supreme Court ordered her father Joseph Lavigne Jr. to return to prison.
Haught told the Gazette on Sunday that she wrote the letter to give to her father's attorney, Greg Ayers, in hopes the court would consider it.
"There's no actual record of me ever saying that he didn't do it," she said
Lavigne, 54, was released on bond last year after serving 15 years when now-retired Putnam Circuit Judge O.C. Spaulding found there had been insufficient evidence to convict him in his 1996 trial.
Putnam County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Sorsaia appealed Spaulding's decision, arguing there was plenty of evidence to convict Lavigne.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court unanimously reversed Spaulding's decision and ordered Lavigne back to prison immediately to serve the remainder of his 22- to 60-year sentence.
Lavigne said Saturday his attorney would ask that he be allowed to remain free on bond while his case is appealed further. If that effort fails, he expected he would have to turn himself in Monday. He plans to appeal his case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"I was not prepared for this result because I didn't think that there was anyway someone could look at this case objectively and think the conviction was valid. This came as a huge surprise and I am devastated that an innocent man cannot find justice," Katie Haught wrote.
Prosecutors said in court documents that on the morning of Feb. 11, 1996, Lavigne took his daughter -- who was 5 years old at the time -- out of their Hurricane home and assaulted her across the street, near a row of pine trees surrounding the parking lot of a church.
When Lavigne awoke that morning, he told authorities he found his daughter in the bathroom, shivering and bleeding, records state. He called 911 and told them his daughter was saying he was the one who had hurt her, according to court documents.
Doctors and police testified during the 1996 trial that Katie Haught told them her father was her attacker. But on the stand, her identification of him was controversial. The court reporter made a notation that the girl looked to Lavigne when asked who had assaulted her, but she never said it was him.
Spaulding found that the record was insufficient to amount to an in-court identification. The Supreme Court overruled Spaulding and said it was sufficient.
Prosecutors relied almost entirely on testimony that Katie Haught identified her father as her attacker as there was no DNA evidence connecting him to the crime.
Katie Haught, now 22, said in her latest statement that as early as age 11 she knew her father wasn't the one who raped her.
"I know that there were many testimonies of what I said during the hours following my traumatic rape but I firmly believe that nothing of what someone else said I said during that time period should be admissible in court," she wrote. "The memories of a few people of the ramblings of a distressed child in pain do not seem to me to be a very precise record to judge as evidence."
After the rape, Lavigne's sister, Lori Haught, adopted Katie and her two brothers. Lori Haught said Saturday that while she never believed her brother was guilty of the crime, she didn't discuss it with his children. She said she wanted to be careful not to influence Katie Haught to think one way or another about her father, she said.
"I spent the whole time in fear, not saying anything for the good of the children," Lori Haught said, noting that as Katie grew older, not discussing her rape caused tension between them.
"We didn't know anything, and they weren't allowed to talk about it," Katie Haught said. "There came a point where I just kind of thought that it didn't matter."
She finally started a discussion about her assault with her aunt and has been trying to clear her father's name ever since. When she was around age 11, court officials conducted tests to determine her ability to testify.
"I guess they said I didn't have the ability to remember it well enough to bother to testify, but I wanted to tell somebody," she said.
Although she doesn't remember much about the rape, she said she does remember not ever being afraid of her father.
"I remember some things, but I just know there's no way it was my dad, because I remember that right after this happened he came into the bathroom and found me and I wasn't afraid of him," she said. "How is that logical that I would just get completely abused by him and not worry about it what so ever 20 minutes later?"
Lori Haught has been working to garner national media attention for her brother's case since finding out he must return to prison. Letters have also been sent to groups that work to free innocent people from prison.
Joe Lavigne said Saturday that although he's nervous, he's prepared to return to prison.
"I think the only reason I'm able to maintain at all now is because I kept it in my mind that this was a possibly," he said. "I made sure to enjoy my life and do the right thing everyday."
The Supreme Court's decision was delivered the day before Thanksgiving. Lavigne remained free on Sunday. He said his parole date is 2021 and his release date is 2035.
Sorsaia couldn't be reached for comment over the weekend.
This time, Katie Haught said seeing her father being taken to jail is more difficult than when she was younger.
"The second time around is worse, because now I really know him. Before I had vague memories, but now we've actually gotten to know each other," she said.
Her daughter, who was born about a month after Lavigne was released, will also suffer, she said.
"His granddaughter will never get to know him either," Katie Haught said.
Reach Kate White at email@example.com or 304-348-1723.