Nightmare Accusation: Facing Rape Charges
Imagine this nightmare. From out of the blue, your teenage niece alleges you raped her when she was nine. You’re innocent. But you were charged. The penalty, if convicted, is up to life in prison.
A jury trial is a month away.
There is no DNA evidence, no rape kit, no medical report, and no mandated reporter who made reports at the time of the alleged incident. You were alone with your niece only once in your life. And you never touched her.
Realizing that trials are uncertain, the District Attorney offers you a plea deal: Instead of risking life in prison, he offers you the same penalty you’d get if it was a misdemeanor: Eight months in jail. But you have to admit to sexually abusing your niece — a crime you did not commit.
There are two choices: Accept the plea deal, knowing it’s a lie, or go to trial where your fate rests with a jury.
The case boils down to her word against your word. She is either a creative liar or delusional. But she’ll cry on cue. And you will be stuck trying to prove a negative.
You’ve never been ever remotely associated with any sexual or violent crime in all your life and you know you’re innocent.
You can go to trial. The prosecution will try to dirty you up. If your defense tries to do the same to your accuser, if the judge does not stop it, the jury might think you’re bullying the girl – even though you’re on trial for your life. You, not her.
If you win at trial you get freedom. If you lose, you immediately go to a maximum-security prison, where inmates abhor child molesters. You won’t be safe in the regular part of the prison. You risk spending the rest of your life in solitary confinement.
You’re not perfect. You’re not an angel. You’ve been in the rough and tumble world of hard knuckle politics. But you never hurt a child. Never hurt anyone physically. Not once. Not in your whole life.
And you also know the system. You know the prosecutors are in it to win. It’s not about justice. It’s about winning and they know how to make even bad even lying witnesses look good.
You know innocent people get convicted just as often as guilty ones get away. The system is imperfect.
Now a guy gives you a deal with a misdemeanor sentence. But he has to save face. He has to make you admit to a lie. To humiliate yourself. What would you do?
Avoiding the Unknown
On November 6, G. Steven Pigeon, 63, pleaded guilty to sexual abuse in the first degree for a crime committed against a person less than 11 years old, as defined by Penal Law §130.65, a class D felony.
The plea was the result of an offer from Erie County District Attorney John Flynn.
The trial, set to begin in 28 days, was canceled.
Pigeon’s accuser, his 16-year-old niece, claimed Pigeon raped her seven years ago.
With the plea deal, the district attorney dismissed predatory sexual assault charges against a child, a Class A felony with a potential life sentence, first-degree rape, and first-degree criminal sexual act.
Flynn’s plea deal guaranteed Pigeon’s sentence was “just a year.”
With “time earned,” Pigeon will serve eight months.
When Flynn announced Pigeon’s arrest two years ago, in December 2021, he said, “I do not believe Mr. Pigeon should be out of jail. I believe he should be in jail the rest of his life.”
He explained why, “This is big boy stuff here, okay? This is rape. This isn’t child molestation okay. This is rape, and so when we’re talking at that level, all right, we’re talking life in prison.”
But Flynn explained he relied entirely on the accuser’s word.
“At the end of the day, at the end of the day, what’s going to happen, 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.’ Alright? At the end of the day, it’s a child’s word versus his word, it is. And I believe the child. I’m standing with the child, and I’m going to give the child justice.”
Two years passed, and this week Flynn explained why he offered Pigeon a plea deal for eight months.
“At the end of the day, he might have walked,” Flynn said.
Flynn said the accuser and her family wanted to avoid testifying at trial.
“The family just didn’t want to go through that,” Flynn remarked.
The Accuser’s Burden: The Challenge of Belief
Lamenting that people did not believe the girl’s story, Flynn added, “The victim is faced with the task that ‘people don’t believe me’. The shame of what happened to them is now compounded with that fact that people don’t believe them.”
At the plea hearing, State Supreme Court Justice William M. Boller asked Pigeon, “How do you plead to the charge of sexual abuse in the first degree, guilty or not guilty?”
Pigeon uttered one word, “guilty.”
“Pigeon’s admission to guilt for the victim and her family is justice,” Flynn said.
With that word, Flynn hopes the disbelief will end.
“Now, obviously, she was telling the truth,” Flynn said.
Next month, in the icy grip of pre-Christmas sentencing, Justice Boller will sentence Pigeon to one year – meaning eight months.
When Justice Boller finishes, his court officers clamp handcuffs around Pigeon’s wrists, shackle his legs, and escort him out of the courtroom as TV news cameras roll.
They will transfer the prisoner to the custody of Erie County Sheriff John C. Garcia, whose deputies will arrange transport to the Erie County Correctional Facility in Alden.
This place, a jail and not a prison, will be his home for the next eight months.
Attorney’s Perspective: A Unique Legal Situation
A seasoned criminal defense attorney expressed his astonishment at the proceedings, stating, “In my 25 years of practice, I have never encountered a case where the disparity between the potential sentence after losing at trial and the plea offer was so significant — going from a potential life sentence to just eight months.”
Counting the Days: Pigeon’s Journey to Freedom
By nightfall—on Friday, December 22, the first day after Winter Solstice, when the sun begins to travel a slightly longer path through the sky each day, Pigeon will be in his cell, with 244 nights ahead, each of which will be a little shorter and each he will count – checking them off as they pass.
A typical jail cell, such as ones at the Erie County Correctional Center, is where Pigeon will spend eight months and then be free.
When the sun arises next August 22, Pigeon will leave jail and step into freedom, his sentence served in full. No probation to tether him. That was part of the deal. He will be free to travel, relocate, and attempt to rebuild his life. He will reenter society, perhaps less conspicuously than in the past.
As part of the deal, he will have to register as a sex offender, though likely at the lowest level, requiring only minimal reporting.
The Final Question: What Would You Have Done?
It is a matter of record. John Flynn sought life in prison, then offered eight months. He did not know if the jury would believe the accuser’s story. Neither did Pigeon, and he was gambling with his life.
If Pigeon had gambled and lost, he would have gone to Attica or a similar maximum-security prison – never to return to daylight again.
Attica Correctional Institute
Because of the violent nature of many inmates at Attica or any maximum security prison, Pigeon, a 63-year-old white man convicted of raping a child, cannot live safely in the general population of prisoners. He would have to seek protective custody.
If you gambled at trial and lost, you would walk down the halls and into your solitary cell, where you will spend 23 out of 24 hours per day for the rest of your life.
You will get out for one hour several times per week for “exercise” in a room like this.
If you gambled on the jury – but, even though you’re innocent, they believed your accuser, this is where you will spend the rest of your life.
It is the nature of a coercive plea deal to take you beyond innocence or guilt and place you squarely into the sole calculation of survival.
So, if you were innocent, what would you do?
Before you answer with certainty, read our upcoming part 2: The Accuser’s Tale: Improbable Details Emerge.