Almost two years ago – in December 2021, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn announced rape charges against Steve Pigeon.
Next month, he goes on trial.
Pigeon, 62, a former Erie County Democratic Party Chairman, is accused of first-degree rape, predatory sexual assault against a child, and first-degree criminal sexual conduct.
The charges stem from an alleged incident involving Pigeon’s then-nine-year-old niece in December 2016.
“This is not just child molestation. This is rape,” stated Flynn, emphasizing the severity of the alleged crime.
The trial, slated for December 2023, seven years after the alleged incident, has garnered significant attention due to Pigeon’s former prominence as a political kingmaker.
Twisted Family Ties: Pigeon’s Efforts to Bond with Troubled Niece Ends in Grave Accusations
The case relies heavily on the testimony of Pigeon’s teenage niece, as there is no DNA evidence or corroborating witnesses.
Recent developments in the case have shed light on the complex family dynamics surrounding the alleged incident.
Pigeon’s sister, who faced financial challenges, encouraged her brother to spend time with her troubled but bright daughter. The girl had experienced neglect from her absent father and a mother grappling with her own emotional challenges.
On the day of the alleged incident, just before Christmas in 2016, Pigeon agreed to take his niece out to dinner, initially intending to be a group gathering. However, when two friends declined to join, Pigeon found himself alone with his niece for the first time. They had dinner at a restaurant, and Pigeon claims he dropped her off afterward. However, his niece alleges he raped her during the drive home.
The girl did not immediately disclose the alleged assault to her mother or anyone else. Years passed without further one-on-one interactions between Pigeon and his niece. It was only when someone questioned the girl, then 14 years old, about unrelated inappropriate behavior that she disclosed the alleged assault.
Her mother consulted with a lawyer, who was Flynn’s former law partner, and the allegations were brought to Flynn’s attention.
Flynn’s Faith in Victim Over Evidence: Bypasses State Police; Ignores Conventional Investigative Measures
From the beginning, Flynn decided to keep the investigation within his office, and did not involve the New York State Police Sex Crimes Division.
Flynn was aware of the challenges he faced in prosecuting the case.
One of the key challenges was the lack of physical or DNA evidence, as well as the absence of corroborating witnesses to support the allegations that took place in 2016.
Furthermore, the target of the investigation, Pigeon, had no prior history of sexual offenses. It was also noted that Pigeon had never been alone with the girl, except for the dinner in question, initiated by the girl’s mother.
Flynn’s decision to proceed with the case despite these challenges was influenced by his belief in the credibility of the victim’s allegations. He chose to prioritize the victim’s account, even in the absence of typical patterns seen in cases of child sexual abuse. The investigation revealed that Pigeon had not attempted to be alone with his niece after the alleged incident, which contradicted the usual behavior of a pedophile.
Family’s Doubts and Flynn’s Unyielding Faith: A Clash of Beliefs in Pigeon Case
However, some family members expressed doubts about the credibility of the victim, citing her history of lying. They pointed out details in her story that seemed implausible from a physical and biological standpoint.
These doubts might have led another prosecutor to conduct a deeper investigation into the plausibility of the story.
Despite these concerns, Flynn remained unwavering in his belief in the victim’s account. His faith in her story guided his decisions throughout the investigation.
As a result, he chose not to interview Pigeon, dispensing with standard investigative techniques.
Typically in child sex abuse cases where there is no DNA evidence or witnesses, it is common for investigators to interview the suspect to gather information and assess credibility.
Flynn Stands Firm on Teenager’s Testimony: “I’m Standing with the Child”
At a press conference announcing Pigeon’s arrest two years ago, Flynn acknowledged his case relied solely on the word of the teenager making the allegations.
WGRZ TV reporter Dave McKinley asked Flynn, “Do you have anything more than the word and allegation of a child?”
Flynn replied, “I’m not going to talk about any other evidence, but I have her word, though.”
The journalist asked, “I’m not asking what you have, but you must (have more evidence) to bring a charge like this, no?”
Flynn replied, “What all these cases come down to [is] a child’s going to say something. I presume he’s going to say something: ‘it didn’t happen.’ All right. At the end of the day, it’s a child’s word versus his word, and I believe the child. I’m standing with the child, and I’m going to get the child justice.”
Flynn’s Singular Focus: Trusting One Voice
Despite significant public attention the case has garnered over the past two years, no other individuals have come forward with similar accusations against Pigeon. This sets this case apart from others involving high-profile figures like Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby, where multiple victims have stepped forward.
While the lack of physical evidence or additional victims may present challenges for the prosecution, Flynn’s unwavering faith in the child’s word remains the foundation of the case.
He fought for the right to have her voice solely heard to get the child justice.
Flynn’s Role Questioned: Historical Animosity and Procedural Controversies Mire Pigeon’s Case
Pigeon’s attorney, James Nobles, filed a motion for the disqualification of Flynn, which a judge denied.
Nobles stated Flynn holds “actual prejudice and animosity” towards Pigeon due to their long history of political clashes. For instance, in 2008, Pigeon blocked Flynn’s first candidacy for DA, and the prosecutor had to wait eight years to get another chance to run and win the office.
Nobles also claimed Flynn’s office created an additional conflict of interest when it chose to use its own investigators to pursue the victim’s claims before notifying police agencies, thereby making several members of the DA’s office witnesses.
The direct investigation, however, allowed Flynn to block Pigeon from telling his story before indicting him.
If Flynn had put the state police in charge of the investigation, NY criminal procedure law [§ 190.50(1) and (5)] would have required Flynn to allow Pigeon to appear before the Grand Jury, where Pigeon might have persuasively told his side of a story, and avoided the indictment in a case that boiled down to his word against his accuser.