Justice hard to come by in sexual abuse cases

By John O'Brien | Mar 24, 2006

CHARLESTON - Cynthia Evans still gets e-mails from the girls she has represented in sexual abuse cases over the years.

"I just received an e-mail from a girl last week," the Charleston attorney said. "She's 16 now, she was molested when she was 12.

"She said that, if anything, it's getting harder and harder to deal with as she's getting older."

That's why when Evans was forced to become a spectator in one of her clients' criminal case against former Sissonville teacher Rodney Newhouse earlier this month, she couldn't allow herself to sit back and watch.

"I didn't keep my distance," she said.

And when three charges were dropped and Newhouse was acquitted of the fourth, Evans' heart sank.

She represents former Sissonville cheerleader Stevee Baldwin in a still-pending civil case, but she knew the teenager missed out on a chance for a greater measure of justice when Newhouse, who escaped similar charges in Roane County in the 1990s and is currently facing allegations from a fellow teacher, escaped jail time.

Kanawha Circuit Judge James Stucky found testimony during the trial to be inconsistent with indictments made by the Prosecuting Attorney's office on three of the charges, and a jury found Newhouse not guilty of the wording on Baldwin's accusation of first-degree sexual abuse.

An independent board found there to be enough evidence to support termination of Newhouse's employment during the Kanawha County Board of Education's investigation.

Evans blamed a lack of communication between the Prosecuting Attorney's office and the accusers during the criminal trial.

"There has never been a finding by a jury that he did not commit sexual misconduct in a classroom," Evans said. "Anything that the jury looked at was narrowly construed wording on an indictment that did not match identically to their statements."

She said the result of the criminal case will have no impact on the effectiveness of her civil suit. The "not guilty" verdict may have an impact on her client years from now, though Evans admits that no one fully recovers from the type of crime that Baldwin alleges happened to her.

Newhouse is one of four Kanawha County teachers to be fired in the last year because of sexual abuse allegations, along with former Nitro teacher and assistant football coach Robert Fulmer, former South Charleston teacher John Fisher and former Capital teacher Tyrone Persinger.

It's a problem that appears to be getting worse, and it's an area that Evans focuses much of her time on. It's easy, she said, to form an emotional attachment to her clients.

And she took it as hard as anyone when Newhouse was sprung on what she called a "technicality." She knows there is little justice in a "guilty" verdict, but even less in a "not guilty."

"These girls who are molested are still suffering," she said. "It doesn't matter if the case gets settled and the insurance company pays, people don't see the emotional damage it does to these girls.

"When these teachers do something to these girls at that young of an age, it's devastating their entire life."

She hopes other girls who have been abused are inspired by those who come forward, but several are still afraid to bring their allegations.

Being afraid, she said, is something that never stops in cases like these.

Evans watched a Lincoln County teacher get sentenced to prison a couple years ago and represents one of his victims in a civil case. He's currently in federal prison for his obscenities over the Internet with a young girl.

"I still get e-mails from one of his victims," Evans said. "They're worried he's going to get a message to someone on the outside to harm her. That's a common occurrence for these young girls.

"They're not adults. They don't logic things the way adults do.

"It's the same as being afraid of the Boogeyman. It never leaves their mind."

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