by Matt Clarke
Brian Edward Franklin was a Fort Worth, Texas police officer for more than a decade before he was convicted of aggravated sexual assault of a child and sentenced to life in prison in 1995. On April 6, 2016, the highest criminal court in Texas reversed his conviction, saying the state’s case against him relied on perjured testimony. The testimony in question was that of the alleged victim. The court noted that her perjury had caused other witnesses to give false testimony as well, depriving Franklin of due process.
The reversal allowed the state to prosecute Franklin again using the same indictment. However, there was no DNA or other forensic evidence to support the allegations of sexual assault. And since Franklin’s conviction was reversed based on perjured testimony – upon which the prosecution’s case rested – it would be extraordinarily difficult for prosecutors to win a conviction at a second trial.
On May 4, 2016, two days after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued its mandate reversing the case, Franklin appeared before state District Judge Wayne Salvant for a bond hearing. The bond was set at $10,000 and Franklin was released the next day.
In state habeas corpus proceedings, Salvant had concluded that Franklin was actually innocent but chose to decide the case based on the perjured testimony of the alleged victim.
During Franklin’s original trial, the then-13-year-old girl testified she had never had sexual relations with anyone prior to Franklin. During a 2014 hearing, however, she claimed to have been repeatedly sexually assaulted by her stepfather, starting at least a year prior to the alleged sexual encounter with Franklin and continuing throughout his trial.
Franklin’s brother, Paul, who loaned him a suit to wear during his release, said his brother is innocent and also opined that the girl’s claims against her stepfather were false – claims that led her stepfather to plead guilty to injury to a child. He was sentenced to 10 years of probation and died in March 2016.
Franklin, who is now 57, didn’t understand why Assistant District Attorney Bill Vassar told the press that he intended to re-prosecute the case given the alleged victim’s perjured testimony.
“I didn’t do it,” he stated. “I wasn’t even there. I’ve taken a polygraph. I don’t know what else they want me to do.”
A plea bargain is what Vassar wanted, apparently. But Franklin had rejected a plea for time served that would have resulted in his release from prison two years earlier. Having steadfastly maintained his innocence, he refused to plead guilty to a crime he did not commit.
“The district attorney’s office doesn’t want to believe that there are innocent people in prison from Tarrant County,” Franklin noted. “If they looked at the evidence with an open mind, they would see that I am innocent. [The alleged victim is] an admitted liar and a perjurer. And I’m not the only innocent man in prison.”
Defendants wrongfully convicted of sex crimes in Texas face extraordinary difficulties. State rules of evidence prohibit a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence if the accuser testifies. This case presents a rare exception where proof that the testimony of the alleged victim was perjured led to the reversal of the conviction. See: Ex parte Franklin, 2016 Tex. Crim. App. Unpub. LEXIS 321 (Tex. Crim. App. 2016).
On December 16, 2016, a Tarrant County jury took less than two hours to acquit Brian Franklin at his retrial. Although his accuser testified and stood by her allegations that he had sexually assaulted her, “the prosecution failed to prove their case and in fact we proved he was innocent,” said defense attorney Neal Davis.
During the retrial, family members of the alleged victim testified that just days after Franklin was arrested, she had admitted to them that she made up the story. Further, Franklin had work time logs, credit card bills and time-stamped sales receipts verifying his alibi that he was not near the alleged crime scene when the sexual assault supposedly occurred.
Franklin indicated he is now working to obtain a judicial finding of actual innocence, so he can seek compensation for the 21 years he was wrongfully imprisoned.
Sources: Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, PLN interview with Brian Franklin
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Related legal case
Ex parte Franklin
|Cite||2016 Tex. Crim. App. Unpub. LEXIS 321|
|Level||Unpublished Court of Appeals|