Last year I financed a new car. It was beautiful. Pearl White, Heated leather seats. Wood grain steering wheel. And a pretty reasonable car payment. Nothing overwhelming but still, an additional expense.
But I had a plan. The new vehicle would actually be an investment and make me money! I would sign on with Uber and or Lyft and earn my car payment money and then some.
My plan was perfect except for one little thing.
There's this saying; "Don't count your chickens before they're hatched."
I couldn't pass the background check.
The first rejection letter came from Lyft. It was respectful but straight to the point. In big bold letters it read "Something didn't check out."
Then, I got something similar from Uber. Then UPS just never called me back. I got something in the mail about a week after my "on-the-spot" interview where they practically hire anyone to handle packages for the holiday season.
I don't remember what the letter said specifically but the bottom line was "Don't call us. We won't call you."
Eventually, I just stopped applying for jobs because it just felt like a waste of time. Just filling out applications was stressful. The rejections were emotionally draining .Almost just as traumatizing as the day I was first falsely accused of and arrested for a crime I didn't commit four years earlier.
If felt surreal. A knock on the door. I open it see approximately eight cops dressed in black tatical gear, standing outside. One pulled me out the door and cuffed me.
:"Why are you arresting me?"
"Unlawful sexual contact. Kidnapping. 2nd Degree Assault."
"What are you talking about?!?" I demanded.
They ignored me.
It wasn't until I got to the police station that someone finally spoke to me. A detective tried his best to intimidate me into confessing to a mysterious crime.
:"We already know what happened. But we want to give you a chance to tell your side of it." He stated.
"Well then, you know more than I do." I replied. "What is going on? What is this all about?" I asked, confused, scared and disoriented.
"I think you know." He said matter of factly.
"I don't" I said flatly.
We went round and round until I realized he wasn't going to give me any information and was only hoping I would say something to incriminate myself. "I want a lawyer" I told him, now irritated with him and the entire situation.
With that, began a long, sleepless night of being photographed, fingerprinted and "processed" as an alleged violent sex offender.
Without a single shred of evidence.
I sat in the county jail for over a month while my pregnant wife attempted to raise $5000 to give a bail bondsman 10% of the $50 thousand bond.
I eventually met my court appointed public defender who laid out the police and prosecution's ridiculous case.
Some woman, who lived in my apartment complex, whom I had never - ever- met (even to this day), had alleged that someone peeped in her window and then through, a convoluted series of events, groped her by knifepoint.
Several key points of her story was inconsistent. In certain parts of her story the assailant wore a ski mask. At other points, his face was unconcealed. But still, in her police report she said she didn't get a good look at her attacker even though he was supposedly on top of her, face to face, just inches apart, during the attack. She simply described the perpetrator as so many self described victims do. "average build, nondescript, Black man".
She described her attacker as a five feet five inches tall and weighing 135 pounds. which would have described me perfectly...in 1990, when I was a still a sophomore in high school, not as a 39 year old man who in 2012 was at least four inches taller and about four dozen pounds heavier.
She claimed that she never saw the person who supposedly attacked her but for some unexplained reason "just felt like he lived in the complex."
She said this assault happened in the courtyard of a multi-unit apartment complex around dusk, when people were most likely to be returning home from work and school. Yet, no one else saw or heard anything while this incident unfolded over several minutes not even her friend with whom she was talking on the phone when she first supposedly saw a mysterious person looking through her window.
A person who she irrationally decided to go outside to investigate rather than to immediately call the police.
During the so-called investigation, a cigarette butt was found outside the window through which the suspect was supposedly looking at the victim. The DNA was tested against a sample I provided and came back negative for a match. But rather than exonerate me, the prosecution refused to pursue, or even test, for any other suspect for whom that DNA may have matched.
The only thing that tied me to her accusations was her claim that she saw a "work badge with the name McMillan on it". An odd detail to remember but also one she could have seen multiple times as we possibly and probably passed each other on the way to the mailbox, or bus stop or convenience store less than two blocks away from our apartment complex. The same 7-11 which she coincidently claims to have seen me at days after she said I attacked her.
Then there was the fact that coincidentally, just weeks before the alleged attack, I had lost my wallet with my RTD issued spouse bus pass which had both my photo and name printed on it. Chances are, someone could have found that badge and had possession if and when they attacked her. It's even possible that she may have found that badge and that's what prompted her crystal clear recollection of the name "McMillan" when so many other, more obvious details failed her.
And speaking of her memory, according to her and the prosecution, it amazingly got better, not worse as with most people as time went by. For example, within minutes of the alleged attack she couldn't even generally describe the man who she said she "was face to face with as he assaulted her" but yet, more than three years after the night in question, she could describe even the most nuanced details of my face including a small scar above my left eye. On the night of the alleged incident I had a full grown beard which she failed to mention at any point, including the time she spent with a sketch artist charged with creating a reasonable likeness from her description.
But yet, even with all these inconsistencies in her story (and several others that came out during trial), the burden of proving my innocence still fell upon me.
How do you defend yourself against fabrications and fiction?
It's not easy or inexpensive.
The United States' Pledge of Allegiance ends with the phrase "liberty and justice for all" but should be amended to say "liberty and justice for all who can afford it."
As I mentioned before, my bond was set for $50,000. That wasn't an amount of money that I just had laying around. Not even $5000 which is the standard 10% which a licensed bondsman would charge to post the surety with the court.
My wife and I were fortunate enough that our guy agreed to a payment plan and accepted a down payment and instalments until the $5000 was paid in full. But as a condition of that arrangement, I had to wear an electronic GPS ankle monitor which cost about $300 a month.
Of course, at that time, anything that cost any amount of money was a problem, because I wasn't able to secure gainful employment as long as the charges I was facing showed up on a pre-employment background check.
But all of that was minor compared to the emotional toll.
In Colorado, certain sex offenses are eligible for a sentencing practice called indeterminate imprisonment. This a commitment to prison with no definite period of time set during sentencing. It basically says you'll be in prison until the system feels you have paid your penance depending on your behavior in prison. Returning to society or being kept in prison for life are both real possibilities but the later is more likely since no one sentenced to indeterminate imprisonment in the history of Colorado courts has ever been released.
Yes, I was facing the possibility of spending rest of my life in prison. That terrified me and deeply depressed. me. I felt as though I was trapped in a lucid nightmare. I was constantly stressed and anxious. I suffered anxiety attacks every time I left my apartment. I couldn't eat or sleep. Or I would do too much of either. I contemplated suicide. My relationships suffered and I began to isolate myself away from my friends and family.
My court appointed attorney wasn't exactly reassuring because while he did believe in my innocence, he doubted his ability to prove it in court. He began pressing the issue of settling for a plea bargain because he was fearful I would be railroaded into a life in prison based on the indeterminate sentencing component attached to the charges I faced. And he was the best that I could afford.
Eventually, my father raised the money and offered to pay for Harvey Steinberg, a more skilled, very expensive attorney, Harvey took the case for $30,000 with no guarantee of success but he initially felt more confident than my previous attorney.
So by this point at least $40,000 had been spent to prove my innocence plus the passive income I wasn't earning due to not being able to secure employment.
The legal process dragged on for over three years.
I was in and out of court hearings approximately every three months or so. Court dates would be set and then postponed or continued.
I tried to create a semblance of a normal, carefree, productive life but every time I went to court I was anxious and disheartened for days before and afterward. I felt so out-of-control of my life that it felt surreal and like I was living someone else's life.
I had conflicting desires of dreading the day which trial would begin and longing for the day this would finally be all over.
The closer we got to trial, the more confident I felt. I had convinced myself that the prosecution was just playing chicken with me trying to get me to flinch or blink. I just knew in my soul that they were going to drop the charges rather than waste any more time or money with a trial of the weak case they had.
But then, to my dismay, about a week before the scheduled trial date, my lawyer called to inform me a plea deal had been offered. They wanted me to plead guilty in exchange for minimum prison time, three to five years probation and register as a sex offender. I immediately refused.
Then a few days later I was offered another deal. This time I was offered one year in county jail, a stint on probation and of course registering as a sex offender. I again declined.
My lawyer insisted it was a good deal. He even said it was so good he would recommend that deal to his mother to which I replied "I'm glad I'm not your mother then. I rather have my day in court."
Trial started on September 2nd, 2015. (To be continued)
I am a simple man who has lived a complicated life. The lessons I've learned from the experiences I've been through and the challenges I've conquered have helped me develop a philosophy that life is meant to be lived at a level better than average.