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Grand jury: classic flaws in rape case

System's mistakes victimized family

Associated Press

Houston Chronicle

SAN DIEGO -- A man who was falsely accused of raping his daughter was betrayed at every step by a flawed county system that took the girl away from his family for 2 1/2 years, a grand jury concluded.

"It demonstrates the horrors which can result when carelessness and zealotry team up," foreman Richard B. McFie told reporters this week.

Alicia Wade, 8, was raped in her bedroom in May 1989, and police, doctors and social workers suspected her father, Jim. She was removed from home despite her repeated assertions that her attacker was a stranger who had crawled in the window. She even provided a description of the man and his car.

After 13 months of separation from her family and constant urging by a therapist, Alicia finally relented and implicated her father. Based on this, criminal charges were brought against Wade. It was only after the intervention of the grand jury, in response to a plea from the family, that long-overlooked DNA evidence clearing Wade surfaced.

But even after a judge issued a finding of factual innocence to clear Wade's name, a deputy counsel in San Diego County tried to frustrate moves to reunite the family, a grand jury report said.

The Wades moved to Missouri last month, financially devastated by the costs of court cases and foster care for Alicia. They have filed a lawsuit against the county.

The case compelled reform of the county's system for protecting abused children. Hundreds of other cases of possible injustice have been turned over to a newly created ombudsman's office for review, said the foreman of the grand jury, which released its report this week.

The jurors investigated the child dependency system for almost a year, and in February released a scathing overview that deemed the system too quick to break up families and to presume parents were guilty.

McFie said so far he was satisfied with the county's progress in instituting 86 recommended reforms, and he predicted that two years were needed to overhaul the system.

Carol Baenziger, spokeswoman for the Department of Social Services, said the agency had no comment other than to confirm that reforms were being made.

The Wades were victims of mistakes and omissions by police, social workers, doctors, prosecutors, court-appointed therapists and judicial officers, the grand jury found.

"Any one in any of these offices could have stopped the process by which preconceptions of guilt almost destroyed a family, but no one did," its report said.

1992 Jun 27