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2017 Feature, Small Newsroom finalist

The Accusation

Finalist(s)
Maurice Chammah

Organization
The Marshall Project

Award
Feature, Small Newsroom

Program
2017

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About the Project

Katie barely knew her father, Ray, but he was the central mystery of her life. When she was six years old, he was sentenced to life in prison for violently molesting her, along with her brother and step-brother. Her statements to investigators helped put him there. But growing up, she struggled to remember the abuse. She wondered why she had no memories.
After 19 years, Ray’s sentence was commuted because of problems with the original investigation, and Katie finally had to come to terms with what she’d long suspected: he was innocent, and she’d played a role in sending him to prison.

The Accusation, written by The Marshall Project staff writer Maurice Chammah, takes us inside the lives of the Katie and her brothers to explore what it’s like to grow up in the shadow of a false conviction. The story shows the devastating impact on not only Ray, who lost his freedom, but also his son Matt, who grappled with addiction to dull his guilt, and their mother, who pushed for Ray’s prosecution but never revealed some of her own underlying motivations. It explores their reunion upon Ray’s release, and how each has worked to the rebuild their relationship.

Since 1989, more than 200 people have been freed from prison after being cleared of a sex crime against a child, often because the child recanted an accusation. Very few of those children have ever shared their experiences of dealing with aggressive investigators who elicit false accusations, of losing a loved one to prison and of trying to rebuild a family after years of guilt and confusion. The Accusation shows how the fallout from a wrongful conviction stretches beyond the accused to victims, as they realize and acknowledge that they were not victims at all.