False Testimony by Sex Crime Expert Casts Doubt on Sentencing

David Lindsey, Attorney at Law

By David Lindsey Attorney of David Lindsey, Attorney at Law posted in Sex Crimes on Thursday, July 12, 2012.

A prosecution expert in sex crimes made false claims about his assessment of a Texas man’s alleged sexual assault of a young relative, leading to a 20-year sentence for that crime.


In a unanimous ruling, the Texas Supreme Court has concluded that defendant Michael Arena should be re-sentenced because testimony provided by an expert witness was found to be false and misleading. While stopping short of reversing Arena’s conviction altogether, the court found that false statements made by the expert undoubtedly contributed to the length of his sentence; Arena, who was fourteen years old at the time the alleged assault took place, has already served nearly 13 years of his sentence. He continues to maintain his innocence; the victim has since recanted their testimony.

Arena was sentenced to 20 years in prison based on the testimony of licensed psychologist Dr. Frederick Willoughby, who labeled him a pedophile likely to offend again; this conclusion was reached after performing a test called the Abel Assessment on Arena that required him to view images and measure his level of sexual interest in the people pictured. In Willoughby’s testimony regarding this test, he claimed – falsely – that the test was 85% accurate and had been independently verified. The Abel Assessment’s accuracy is in fact closer to 65%, and an independent expert has never verified its reliability.

Because the prosecution relied so heavily on this expert testimony, referring to it repeatedly in their closing arguments, the Supreme Court concludes that it had a substantial influence on the sentence.

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