injusticebusters logo

James Parker

Victims recant; accused "molester" freed

CHARLOTTE, NC -- A man who was accused of molesting more than a dozen children in North Carolina has been set free after 14 years behind bars because the victims recanted.

James Parker James Bernard Parker wept as he walked out of a Brooklyn, N.Y., courthouse on Monday and embraced a sister he hadn't seen in 15 years. He had been given three life terms plus 60 years in prison for charges of molesting four children.

"I've paid a price I shouldn't have had to pay," said Parker, 44. "I didn't do those crimes."

When Parker was charged in 1990, authorities said at least 19 children had been attacked in Monroe, where he lived. Police found no physical evidence, even though children told stories of being tied to trees and fed poisoned ice cream. They also gave a wide range of descriptions of their attacker.

After Parker was convicted in 1991, he wrote letters to several news organizations and legal groups maintaining his innocence and asking for help.

The Charlotte Observer ran stories in 2002 in which 15 reported victims and witnesses said the crimes never happened or that Parker wasn't the attacker. The only three boys who testified against Parker have since signed affidavits saying Parker didn't commit the crimes.

In May, Parker pleaded guilty to reduced charges in the sex crimes in exchange for the state's promise to free him. Immediately afterward, he denied committing the crimes.

"I never molested any children," he said. Pleading guilty was "the only way I could get out."

He was then extradited to New York to face unrelated 15-year-old robbery charges.

On Monday, the former day laborer completed a plea deal on the robbery charge and was freed on time served. He ate a belated Thanksgiving dinner of turkey, chicken, macaroni and cheese and collard greens.

"It's a great accomplishment that he's free," said Richard Rosen, a law professor and board member for the Center for Actual Innocence. "But I think the system didn't work for James Parker. It didn't work at time of trial. And frankly it didn't work at the end when he was pressured to plead guilty to a crime he didn't do."

James "Sonny" Rogers, the lead investigator on the case for the Monroe police, told The Observer that he still believes Parker molested children in Monroe, which is about 25 miles southeast of Charlotte.

"The victims and their families have to live with whatever's happened. I did my job," said Rogers, now a church pastor.

Parker's trial followed two of the nation's most sensational mass child-abuse cases - at the Little Rascals day care center in Edenton and the McMartin Preschool near Los Angeles. Convictions against child care workers in Edenton were overturned, and charges in the McMartin case were dropped after juries deadlocked on criminal charges.

James Parker

Innocent, but he did 14 years in prison

A man who did 14 years in prison for a felony he didn't commit finally walked out of a Brooklyn court yesterday a free man.

"They took my freedom from me," James Parker said after a tearful reunion with his sister Theresa Parker, 37, of Brownsville. "They ruined my name."

In 1990, Parker found himself the focus of a child-sex-assault investigation in Monroe, N.C., about 30 miles southeast of Charlotte.

He denied involvement in the attacks and was serving life in prison until a Charlotte Observer investigation cast doubt on his guilt.

The newspaper reported that all three victims who testified as children against him made up the stories about being attacked near a housing project. The recantations, repeated to Parker's attorneys, became the basis of a court motion that led to his release.

Although Parker, 44, insisted he never molested children, he agreed to plead guilty in North Carolina in May to reduced sex crime charges involving children and was sentenced to time served.

"I told the truth all those years," he said. "Then I had to lie to get out."

But before Parker could taste freedom, he had to deal with a legal matter in Brooklyn - a 1989 conviction for robbery.

After cutting a deal with prosecutors, Parker was sentenced to time served after pleading guilty to fourth-degree attempted larceny, a misdemeanor.

About 1:40 p.m. yesterday, he walked with his sister to the Ingersoll Houses in Fort Greene, where another sister lives. He spoke on a cell phone for the first time in his life and marveled at the Christmas decorations along Myrtle Ave.

He appeared fearful of the traffic, and his sister held his hand as they crossed Flatbush Ave.

"There are a lot of police officers out here," he noted.

Minutes later, an anxious Wanda Johnson, 34, spotted Parker and ran through a basketball court at Ingersoll. She wrapped her brother in a long embrace, as tears rolled down both their faces.

Parker says he'll meet with a social worker next week and begin either job training or a job search. He'll stay with Brooklyn relatives until he's able to get his own place.

For the moment, he was concentrating on his first home-cooked meal since 1990.

They were Thanksgiving leftovers, but to Parker they were a king's feast. He started with chocolate cake and then moved on to collard greens, candied yams and turkey.


After 14 years, Parker now free
Young accusers in N.C. later swore he hadn't hurt them

James Bernard Parker, sentenced to three life terms in one of North Carolina's biggest child sex assault cases, was set free Monday after 14 years behind bars.

He walked out of a Brooklyn, N.Y., courthouse and wept as he embraced a sister he hadn't seen in 15 years.

"I've paid a price I shouldn't have had to pay," said Parker, 44. "I didn't do those crimes."

In the past three years, lawyers, UNC Chapel Hill journalism students and the Observer have raised questions about Parker's guilt and whether his reported crimes at a Monroe public housing project ever took place.

All three boys who testified against him in court have signed affidavits in the past two years saying Parker didn't commit the crimes.

A December 2002 Observer investigation found 15 reported victims and witnesses who said that the crimes never happened or that Parker wasn't the attacker.

And four Charlotte lawyers worked without pay for hundreds of hours to win a new hearing on his case.

But Parker, who had maintained his innocence since the 1990 crimes were reported, ultimately won his freedom by accepting a deal from prosecutors last May to plead guilty to lesser charges.

Even then he remained jailed. He was extradited to New York to face a pending 15-year-old robbery case. Monday, he finalized a plea deal on that charge and was freed on time served.

About 1:40 p.m. Monday, the former Monroe day laborer walked with his sister to a nearby home in Brooklyn. He spoke on a cell phone for the first time and marveled at the Christmas decorations, according to the New York Daily News. He ate a belated Thanksgiving dinner of turkey, chicken, macaroni and cheese and collard greens.

"It's a great accomplishment that he's free," said Richard Rosen, a UNC Chapel Hill law professor and board member for the Center for Actual Innocence. "But I think the system didn't work for James Parker. It didn't work at time of trial. And frankly it didn't work at the end when he was pressured to plead guilty to a crime he didn't do."

Rosen said he doesn't blame Parker or his attorneys for accepting the plea deal, however. If they had failed to convince a judge, Parker likely would have gone back to prison for life. "Innocent people, as well as guilty people, plead guilty under those circumstances," Rosen said.

Parker's release Monday was an inconclusive end to a case that some legal experts compared with the 1989 Little Rascals day-care sex abuse scandal in Edenton.

Authorities initially said at least 19 Monroe children were attacked. But they found no physical evidence. As in the Edenton case, the children told police fantastic stories, including details of being tied to trees and fed poisoned ice cream. They gave a wide range of descriptions for their attacker.

Few children initially told their parents. The stories came out only when school counselors in Monroe began asking questions.

James "Sonny" Rogers, who was the lead investigator for the Monroe police, said Monday that he still believes Parker was guilty of sexually molesting children in Monroe, about 25 miles southeast of Charlotte.

"The victims and their families have to live with whatever's happened. I did my job," said Rogers, now a church pastor.

Noell Tin, Parker's lead attorney in Charlotte, said, "There were times when I worried we would never see this day. I've always believed in James' innocence. We wouldn't have done the case otherwise."

After Parker was convicted in 1991, he wrote letters to news organizations and legal groups maintaining his innocence and asking for help. He wasn't scheduled for parole until age 97.

He wrote Duke Law School's fledgling Innocence Project in 1999. UNC Chapel Hill journalism students decided to focus on Parker's case in 2001, and the N.C. Center for Actual Innocence targeted his case.

Journalism graduate student Joshua Myerov wrote his master's thesis about the crimes, and that convinced the Observer to take a look.

Tin and three other lawyers helped Parker win a new hearing that was scheduled for last May.

Then prosecutors offered a plea deal. And on May 24, Parker pleaded guilty to reduced charges in the sex crimes in exchange for the state's promise to free him.

Immediately afterward, Parker told family and spectators he didn't commit the crimes.

"I never molested any children," he said. Pleading guilty was "the only way I could get out."

Monday, Parker said he hopes to get training and find a job in New York.

He has an appointment with social services early next month on the training.

Then on Dec 17, he's scheduled to return to court to learn if he has to register as a convicted sex offender.

"I would like to get my name back," Parker said. "They took my name and my job, and those were the only two things that I had."