In a case involving some of the most disturbing allegations ever to pass through a Massachusetts courtroom, the Supreme Judicial Court on Friday affirmed several sexual assault convictions against the defendant. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Mayotte.
The defendant married her husband in 1987 and they adopted two siblings (a 12-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl) in 2004. Almost immediately, the defendant began to rape the adopted son and her husband began to rape the adopted daughter. According to the son, the defendant had sexual contact with him more than 100 times during the next couple of years. In 2007, the son impregnated the defendant and she gave birth to his baby in 2008. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) began investigating the family after the children disclosed the sexual abuse to friends and neighbors. When they were interviewed by DCF caseworkers, however, the children initially denied being abused. DCF did not finally remove the children from the defendant’s home until years after the sexual abuse started. At trial, the defendant claimed she never raped her son – instead, it was her son who was raping her. The defendant said if she did not give into the son’s sexual advances, he would threaten to accuse her of rape. The jury didn’t buy the defendant’s story and convicted her of several crimes, including rape of a child, incest, indecent assault and battery, and intimidation of a witness. The judge sentenced her to serve 18-22 years in state prison. Her husband was convicted of rape of a child and sentenced to 16-20 years in state prison.
On appeal, the defendant argued the trial judge committed error by refusing to allow her (the defendant’s) hearsay statements to be presented to the jury as “first-complaint” evidence. Massachusetts courts allow for alleged victims of sexual assault to identify the first person they told about the crime. The first individuals who hear the alleged victims’ allegations of sexual misconduct are permitted to repeat the allegations in court, despite the fact that the statement of the victim is hearsay. The Supreme Judicial Court has reasoned that first-complaint evidence is important in allowing a jury to understand the context of the sexual assault allegation and assess the credibility of the accuser. The question in this case was whether a defendant, rather than an alleged victim, is entitled to benefit from first-complaint testimony. The SJC concluded a defendant can admit first-complaint testimony if the proper evidentiary foundation is laid. Just as a jury needs to assess the credibility of an alleged victim, it also needs to assess the credibility of a defendant who asserts she was the true victim of a sex crime. The Court said evidentiary rules that apply only to one party are inherently unfair, and accordingly, the first-complaint rule must be applied in a neutral manner. The issue was moot in this case, as the defendant failed to proffer evidence that would have been admissible pursuant to the first-complaint doctrine. The Court rejected the defendant’s remaining appellate issues and affirmed her convictions.