SEARSPORT, Maine — The Waldo County district attorney has dropped charges against a former Searsport music teacher who was found guilty by a jury two years ago of multiple counts of unlawful sexual contact against a child.
In a split decision in March, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court voided the conviction of William Wiley, 43. The judges on Maine’s highest court found 4-3 that the former teacher had been coerced by police when he confessed to the crimes against a 12-year-old girl during a controversial interview. Eric Walker, the deputy district attorney, said this week that without the evidence of the confession, there wasn’t a case.
“There’s no other evidence, no other witnesses, no DNA, no photographs. There’s nothing to corroborate this victim other than her own statement, and that’s not a case that’s likely to be won,” he said Wednesday evening. “I don’t see any way that a jury’s going to convict on that evidence. … My case was gutted to the core when the confession was removed from the case.”
Wiley’s defense attorney, Steven Peterson of Rockport, said that he was pleased but not surprised by the law court’s decision and district attorney’s decision to drop charges against his client.
“Needless to say, he’s happy this is finally over with,” the attorney said. “He’s certainly taken a hit. He’s lost his job, his profession, his livelihood.”
The judges on the law court found that the interrogating officer led Wiley to believe a confession would secure a favorable sentence, and that this belief motivated the man to confess.
The minority report by the dissenting justices said that the interrogation was not improper and did not go beyond established precedent for interrogations.
Although Wiley is no longer a convicted sex offender and there is no legal reason why he can’t return to teaching, he does not want to do that, according to Peterson.
“What he’s been doing recently is cleaning houses and homes for a mortgage company,” the attorney said of his client. “It’s been a long road, four years.”
In 2009, a young woman told police that over a six-month period in 2004, Wiley had frequently abused her. Police who interviewed the former Searsport Elementary School music teacher videotaped the interview with him at the Waldo County’s Sheriff’s Office. During that long interview, the extremely emotional, distraught Wiley at times sobbed and writhed on the floor while he confessed to the sexual abuse.
His three-day 2011 criminal trial at Waldo County Superior Court included the videotape of the interview, testimony from the young woman and from community members who spoke about the former teacher’s good reputation in Searsport. A jury unanimously found him guilty of 10 counts of unlawful sexual contact, but not guilty of the most serious charge of gross sexual assault. Justice Ann Murray sentenced him to 15 years in prison with all but three years suspended, and six years of probation upon his release.
He remained free on bail while waiting for his appeal to be decided.
Walker said that the decision to drop the charges was one of the hardest he has made, as well as being disappointing to the young woman and her family. The now-22-year-old woman has the right to bring a civil suit against Wiley if she chooses to, he said.
“My question going forward was what’s a new jury to do, where you have basically just the testimony of a victim?” he asked. “And obviously the defense would be bringing up inconsistencies in her statement and conflicts she had with the defendant, and painting her as just a disgruntled teenager.”
Walker said it would be a disservice to put the young woman through another trial, as well as a “waste” of taxpayer dollars.
“This has been a long, long drawn-out affair,” he said. “I spent literally hundreds of hours working on this case. A tremendous amount of resources go into a case like this, and to have this result is something I never could have imagined.”
He believes that police officers in Maine will need to carefully read the law court’s decision, which could affect how they interrogate people.
“It’s really a shot across the bow of police agencies,” Walker said.
Waldo County Sheriff Scott Story said that the court’s decision is likely to affect how police conduct their interviews.
“Our job is to provide by the parameters of the law,” he said.
But Peterson said that while the decision has practical implications, it shouldn’t be considered negative for the state’s police forces.
“These police officers can’t do certain things. You can’t twist someone’s arm to get the confession,” he said. “I don’t see anything bad coming out of it as far as the police department goes.”