As a state lawmaker vows to file a bill to remove parental rights from rapists, the judge whose sentence opened the door for one to ask for visitation rights refused to change his sentence, rejecting the victim's arguments in a strongly worded decision issued Thursday.
All this comes after a FOX Undercover story earlier this week exposed the predicament a teenage mother now faces where the man who raped and impregnated her when she was 14 is now asking for visitation rights.
In his decision, Superior Court Judge Thomas McGuire writes that his primary purpose in sentencing the rapist to probation with conditions was to get the man to support the child financially, and that the question of visitation rightfully belongs in family court.
Family and Probate Court is just where the rapist is now asking for visitation rights. Seeing the FOX Undercover story on the case sparked an immediate response from state Rep. Steven Levy, R-Marlboro.
"I was immediately just shocked and outraged at the fact that something like this could happen in Massachusetts," Levy said.
The rapist was 20 at the time, his victim an eighth grader.
"He threatened me. He told me that he could make my life upside down and I wouldn't have anybody and he would pin it all on me. So I was scared," the now 18-year-old victim recounted to FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet.
"Do you think he should have visitation rights?" Beaudet asked.
"No," she replied. "He hasn't cared up until now. Why should he now? (My daughter's) three. She doesn't know who he is."
After the man pleaded guilty last year to statutory rape, the Norfolk County prosecutor asked for a three- to five-year sentence. But Judge McGuire sentenced him to 16 years of probation with the conditions that he acknowledge that he is the father of the baby and abide by the decisions of the Probate and Family Court.
After the probate court ordered the man to pay child support, and the rapist requested visitation rights.
"What are these judges thinking?" asked the victim's mother. "She got raped at 14. She decided to keep her baby. And now she has to hand her baby over for a visit with her rapist?"
The victim's attorney, Wendy Murphy, filed a motion to revise the sentencing conditions, asking the judge to order the man to pay restitution instead of child support.
McGuire denied the motion, writing in his decision today: "This court ordered the defendant to financially support the child he fathered; but placed no obligations at all on the victim or the child."
McGuire pointed out he also ordered the man to abide by any restraining orders issued to the victim and her child: "The issue of visitation is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the probate court. It is up to that court to evaluate all of the facts and circumstances and determine whether a request for visitation by the defendant is in the best interests of the child."
Murphy says the judge got it wrong.
"By sending them off to family court, you're saying that the child born of the crime, who is also a crime victim, has to deal with the possibility that a judge is going to say, ‘Well, your father did rape your mother but he never hurt you so we have to give him fatherly rights because he hasn't ever hurt you.' That's a problem," Murphy said.
Murphy says she'll appeal the decision.
Sixteen other states have laws protecting a raped woman who chooses to raise her child. Rep. Levy says he'll file a bill to make Massachusetts do the same.
"It's time in Massachusetts that we put victims' rights before criminals' rights. I understand we have laws in place to protect people from government, from undue prosecution. But in this case you have an admitted rapist who's basically trying to interject himself into the family's life and it's just ongoing torture for the victim. How do you put a child in that situation?" Levy told FOX Undercover.
Gov. Deval Patrick declined to say whether he'd support a bill to close the loophole but his press secretary issued a statement calling this a "very said situation" and that the governor would give any bill to address it his full consideration.
It's not clear whether Levy's bill would address this case, where a decision on visitation remains on hold in the probate court until December.
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