In 2001, Cassandra Ann Kennedy, then 11, accused her father, Thomas Kennedy, of multiple instances of rape. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Eleven years later, Cassandra, now 23, confessed that she had made up the entire story.
“I did a horrible thing,” Kennedy told detectives. She said she wanted to “take vengeance” on her father, a drinker and partier who wasn’t around much during her childhood.
But Kennedy won’t be prosecuted for lying, partly to avoid discouraging actual rape victims from coming forward.
What’s startling about this case isn’t just the injustice of an undeserved 10-year prison stay — it’s also how successfully an 11-year-old girl was able to dupe a criminal justice system designed to weed out false accusations.
Cowlitz County Prosecutor Sue Baur used a variety of evidence to convict Thomas Kennedy in 2001. Cassandra had written a series of journal entries mentioning the abuse, confided in her teachers and repeatedly delivered a detailed and consistent testimony. Baur consulted Cassandra’s doctor, who examined the girl and found “trauma in her groin area.” Police now believe it may have been caused by a previous incident.
Asked if there had been missteps in the initial investigation, Baur said she has recently reviewed a recording of the little girl’s testimony and has been rethinking every detail of the case. She noted that 12 jurors found enough evidence at the time to convict Kennedy and that the conduct of prosecutors, defense attorneys and Judge Warme was upheld by the appeals court.
“There should be no indictment of the system,” she said.
Instead, Baur said, it’s simply a case of a victim withdrawing her story.
Should Cassandra be prosecuted? It would be a mistake to prosecute an adult for lying as a child, even if those lies led to a decade-long prison sentence for an innocent person. What’s done is done.
But is justice served by viewing this case as an anomaly? This absolutely sucks beyond belief for Thomas Kennedy, but yes, it’s a total oddity, and given that Cassandra was (literally) probed for evidence until the defendants had a convincing case, the existence of a rare false rape accusation should not shake anyone’s faith in the legal system or contribute to some kind of rape-case policy change.
What would be accomplished by putting more pressure on young victims and subjecting them to even more trauma? Baur’s motives for protecting the accuser’s rights are spot-on.
Given the ubiquity of the crime and the startling statistics of rape victims who don’t — or can’t — come forward, it’s important to view this case as exactly what it is: a (completely awful) exception whose bizarre abnormality proves the rule.
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