Twelve years ago, based almost entirely on the testimony of a troubled adolescent girl with a long history of telling preposterous stories, an Arapahoe County jury found Charles Farrar guilty of a horrible crime. That testimony was recanted not long after the trial, but Farrar is still in prison, serving a sentence of 145 years to life for a series of sexual assaults that his alleged victim says never happened.
That's the short version of the noirish, nightmarish but all-too-real journey through the legal system of Farrar, whose case was explored in detail in my 2011 feature "Beyond Belief." It's a bizarre story that enraged and puzzled many Westword readers and left some wondering how they could express their support for Farrar's efforts to get his conviction overturned -- a question for which a Minnesota woman who's never actually met Farrar now has an answer.
"I didn't know Charles from Adam before something similar happened to my brother," says Heather Gatheridge, who's launched a change.org petition seeking a new trial or release for Farrar. "But like my brother, I know Charles is innocent, and I don't feel like I can just sit here and not try to help him, even if it's in a small way."
While doing research online related to her brother's case, Gatheridge came across the Justice for Charles Farrar Facebook page set up by family and friends. That led her to the Westword coverage, which traces how easy it is to convict someone of heinous child sex-abuse allegations despite a lack of investigation or supporting evidence.
In 2002, Farrar was found guilty by an Arapahoe County jury of multiple counts of sexual assault on a minor -- his stepdaughter Sacha, who accused him and her mother of forcing her into hundreds of sexual encounters from the age of eleven until she was fifteen. There was no physical evidence in the case and minimal investigation by authorities, who relied almost entirely on Sacha's testimony. (Other family members, who could testify to Sacha's history of false accusations and wild stories, were ignored or never interviewed by investigators.) A few months later, after refusing to testify against her mother and reaching her eighteenth birthday, Sacha returned to court and recanted her story, saying she'd fabricated the entire tale in order to go live with her grandparents.
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Judge John Leopold refused to grant Farrar a new trial, concluding that Sacha's recantation wasn't any more credible than her original testimony. Colorado case law urges courts to regard recantations in sex abuse cases skeptically, since victims might be pressured by family members to withdraw allegations. But Sacha has stood by her recantation for the past eleven years and wasn't living with family at the time she admitted perjury. A deeply divided Colorado Supreme Court upheld the conviction in 2009.
Gatheridge says she's appalled by how little attention Farrar's case has received on a national level. She hopes the petition site, which fires off e-mails to Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and Attorney General John Suthers on behalf of those who sign, will help bring more awareness of his plight. "Charles is such a kind man and quick to thank me," Gatheridge says. "But I've really done nothing but what any normal person should do. It may not be much, but hopefully with social media he can gain some steam to help his case."
Below is a video excerpt from my 2011 interview with Farrar, describing how his hopes were raised by Sacha's recantation, only to be dashed by the judge's decision not to grant a new trial.