Katie answered: "I don't know."
A court reporter recorded that the child glanced at her father in the courtroom, but neither the judge nor attorneys mentioned such a glance.
Doctors, paramedics and officer Smith testified that she previously declared her father was the attacker. The judge, the late Clarence Watt, instructed jurors that "if you believe the testimony of the child beyond a reasonable doubt," they could convict Lavigne.
However, the official testimony of the child was that she didn't know the rapist. The only contrary statements were related indirectly by others.
Lavigne was convicted on three counts and sentenced to a total of 20-to-50 years in prison.
A year later, Judge Watt revoked Lavigne's wife's custody of Katie and two brothers -- and that's when I entered the story. My son Joel is married to Joe Lavigne's sister, Lori, and we lived in side-by-side homes at Lake Chaweva. Joel and Lori adopted the three parentless children, and they grew up Huckleberry Finn-style amid the lake's beaches, docks, creeks and woods.
As a foster grandfather, I spent years taking Katie and brothers to hotdog roasts in the hills, hiking to wild rock formations, and the like. We discussed every imaginable topic -- but Katie never mentioned her attack, and I never asked. She slowly grew into a lovely young woman, moved to Ravenswood, married and had a baby.
Through the years, I heard the Lavigne clan agonize over Joe's plight (although I never actually met him). Various groups akin to the famed "Innocence Project" examined his case and wrote that he had been wrongly convicted. During this period, Hurricane officer Smith mysteriously was fired for reasons never made public.
Three years ago, the Kanawha Public Defender office persuaded Putnam Circuit Judge O.C. Spaulding to review the case. The highly respected judge spent more than a year studying the record, then delivered a bombshell: Spaulding said there never had been enough evidence for a conviction. He wrote:
"No reasonable jury can find proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt where the only evidence as to an essential element of the crime are contradictory, out-of-court statements by the accuser."
As for Katie's alleged courtroom glance, the judge said he was forced to conclude "that the look, in fact, did not happen."
Spaulding freed Lavigne, pending a new trial. Meanwhile, Katie publicly declared that, although her long-ago memories are blurry, she never thought her father attacked her. My son posted his Lake Chaweva houses for Joe's bail.
The Lavigne family was overjoyed by his release. I finally met Joe, a former Army paratrooper, and he seemed a bright, affectionate, decent, caring person. He got a job and was reunited with Katie and her new daughter. He behaved like a genuinely loving father. By this time, my wife had died and I had moved uptown, so Joe began staying at my vacant Lake Chaweva cottage.
All of us felt the nightmare was over. No new trial could be held, since Katie would testify that her father didn't do it. But the Putnam prosecutor appealed Judge Spaulding's ruling to the state Supreme Court, where all five justices unanimously said Spaulding had been wrong to reverse the conviction. After a year and a half of freedom, Joe went back to prison.
Now what? Can anything be done to change what I think is an error of justice? He already has served 15 years behind bars, and now faces more years. The situation is a frustrating dilemma. During this long mess, I've kept my hands off Gazette news coverage of the case -- but I feel an urge to voice a cry for help.
Haught, the Gazette's editor, can be reached by phone at 304-348-5199 or email at hau...@wvgazette.com.