Eyes wide open moms. Hate to share stories like this one, but need to just the same.
SEATTLE -- A local father carried a dark secret for years until he decided to confess his crimes.
Bit by bit, he admitted on tape to molesting his daughter.
His confession was so convincing, prosecutors charged him. But what happened next sent the family into a tailspin and asking, where is justice for Bella?
Bella was a rosy-cheeked, bright-eyed baby. Like all children, before she could form words, she showed her joy in her smile and her frustration in her cries. But Bella had more to tell than she could express.
Her story came out, years later, in tape recorded conversations between her parents. On the tapes you hear Bella's mother, Susan, ask, "How many times did you take her out of the bath and masturbate while she was sitting naked on your lap?"
Her father, Jason, answers, "Oh you know Sue, I don't remember, but it was probably between five to 10 times."
Later on the tape he gives more detail.
"So when she was in the bath tub, giving her a bath, I'd touch her and, you know, kneeling down there next to the bath I'd masturbate," Jason is heard saying.
Susan asks, "Were you stimulating her?" and Jason murmered affirmatively.
Sitting down with KOMO 4 News recently, Susan sighed and said, "This is a long, twisted story."
It's a story that's taken more than a decade to come out. Now 12 years old, Bella also spoke with us, asking us to identify her and explain what happened. She knows she did nothing wrong, and she is not ashamed.
When she was 1, her mother walked in as her father was supposed to be giving her a bath. But he was sitting, pants down, holding Bella.
"I got on to him," Susan said. "I said, 'What are you doing?' He said 'I had to go to the bathroom so I sat down.' I was shaking and I just felt really strange. And scared. But the thought of him molesting our baby? Never crossed my mind - at that time."
It wasn't until years later, when Susan and Jason were divorcing and hashing out their problems in a unique way that she says the truth came to light.
"We would talk and I was very confused, and I think he was dealing with a lot of denial so we started using the tape recorder. We started taping our conversations," Susan said.
Those tapes led King County prosecutors to charge Sherwood with first degree child molestation in 2011. But he was never convicted of a crime. After a short bench trial this year, Superior Court Judge Beth Andrus wrote in her decision, "It does seem odd that when a man confesses to molesting his child, a court might not find him guilty of such a heinous crime."
His confession alone wasn't enough. Without more evidence, Judge Andrus said she had to throw out the charges.
In Latin, it is called "corpus delicti" and translates to "body of the crime." It is the proof that a crime occurred.
Christian Halliburton, an Associate Professor of Law at Seattle University explained corpus delicti.
"There's frequently abundant evidence a crime has occurred and it's proving who committed it that's the challenge rather than the existence of the crime," Halliburton said. "But it also comes up relatively infrequently because while it's an important predicate to prosecution, it's a relatively low threshold to meet. It doesn't even have to be physical evidence. It can be other corroborating evidence -- testimony by eyewitnesses and things like that."
"We thought we had sufficient evidence to corroborate what Mr. Sherwood said," said Rich Anderson, Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney for King County. "In this case, the judge didn't agree."
Susan believes prosecutors bungled the case, because they didn't pull a doctor's report from the time of the alleged abuse. The doctor made note of a rash, wrote a prescription to treat an infection, and asked if it was possible that Bella was being sexually abused.
Susan testified about that doctor's visit, but the prosecutor never pulled the report or called a medical expert to talk about it. That surprised three attorneys who reviewed the case for the Problem Solvers.
Each has a working relationship with King County prosecutors and wouldn't go on camera. But one said the county "botched it up." Another said, "they needed independent third party evidence. They had it and they didn't use it."
But prosecutors insist, the medical report wouldn't have made a difference.
"Having a doctor's signature on a piece of paper saying I saw a child's redness to the genital area and then having the mom say the exact same thing when no one's contesting it is, you know, overkill," Anderson said.
Anderson said nothing went wrong in the proceeding, but that the office was reminded of the importance of a thorough investigation.
"It does highlight the need for investigations in general involving nonverbal children to really leave no stone unturned and go for every possible corroborating circumstance that might help support the defendant's confession," Anderson said. "There's a natural instinct when someone confesses to a crime to say, that's what we need. He says he did it. but in order to overcome the hurdle of the corpus delicti rule you have to have that independent evidence. I would just consider it a reminder to investigators that they really have to go the extra mile when the child can't say what happened."
Bella's mother believes the same thing, but that the King County Prosecutor's Office did not go that extra mile.
"I feel they should have pulled those medical records," Susan said. "And they should have maybe had a medical expert come and talk about that. The other thing I feel they should have done is they should have had a child expert there. There was behaviors in her. This child could not talk."
Jason Sherwood walked out of the courtroom a free man, unhindered by these words from the judge.
"The Court does not find that Mr. Sherwood is innocent of the charged crime and neither he nor anyone else should interpret this decision as an exoneration," Judge Andrus wrote in her decision.
When he made those tapes years ago, Sherwood tearfully apologized to his children.
"I've made some very, very bad choices in my life," he said. "I am just so, so sorry."
He did not -- and has not -- won their forgiveness.
Bella recently confronted her father.
"I said how could you have ever loved any of us? And he said, 'I loved you guys very much. Sometimes my actions didn't show it, but I loved you guys very much, and I still do.' And I personally think that's really untrue," Bella said.
After asking him questions and writing down his answers, Bella said she is now done with Jason Sherwood.
"It's been hard for me to look at her beautiful baby pictures and not just see sadness and a little victim," Bella's mother Susan said. "Seeing her muster the courage to talk to her father, I see a survivor now."
She is a survivor who wants her story known and who hopes for no more victims. Jason Sherwood is free. But so is Bella.
by futureshockNovember 11, 2012 at 11:35 AM
I read this and still do not understand why he wasn't convicted.
Sounds like the prosecution dropped the ball.
But the taped 'confession' also sounds extremely peculiar. I have a hard time imagining anyone having such a conversation, abuser or not.
The news article may not have been complete - there may have been other reasons why the prosecutiondid not pick up the medical report. For example, the medical report may not really have been as airtight as it seemed. If the rash wasn't diagnosed as an STD or abrasion, if it weren't worked up carefully, if the mother took no other action, the med report may not have been as much of a slam dunk as portrayed in the article. These articles aren't always written by people who grasp the legal process very well.
Parents have to be extremely careful and thorough if they suspect abuse. Any indications should be carefully and thoroughly folowed up on.
The thing that has to be remembered when a case like this shows up as part of a divorce - there is a need for a lot of proof as some officials are going to assume that the accusation is due to an acrimonious divorce and nothing else. It's especially hard to get proof where small children are involved.
It's also important to remember that abusers don't just manipulate their victims to get what they want - they manipulate everyone around them. Child sexual abuse tends to be a repetitive activity and abusers are often very adept at convincing others that their abuse was not actually abuse.
If a spouse 'explains away' abuse it's very important to discuss it with a counselor or therapist and get some recommendations on how to proceed. A counselor may be able to counter act the abusive person who convinces a spouse that 'nothing is going on'.
by annabl1970November 11, 2012 at 11:50 AMSick!!!
by AdrianneHillNovember 11, 2012 at 1:21 PMYou need more than a confession or they would be putting crazy people in jail for supposedly killing people they couldn't haven't ever shared a zip code with. It is to keep cops considered with real crimes instead of imagined ones. But if course, nothing is foolproof.
November 11, 2012 at 2:00 PM
Makes me want to throw up.
Both the father and the mother needs to be sitting in a cell for the rest I their lives. Worthless pieces of shit.
The woman decides to use the molestation to her advantage when they are divorcing, instead of turning him over to the cops years ago. Sick cunt.
November 11, 2012 at 6:54 PM
!0 yrs ago 3 young strong women went into a police dept nearby and told their story, the officers taking the report indicated there were charges of gross sexual imposition and molestation that seemed appropriate.
There was no investigation.
The experience was still good for the young women but our system severely mishandles these cases too often.
by mehamil1November 11, 2012 at 6:56 PM
My mother found out that my dad's brother was molesting his daughter.
What ensued was...I don't know. I was young when it happened. My mother told me that my dad and my other uncle (aunt's husband who is a cop) drove to his house, beat the ever loving shit out of him, and took his daughter (my cousin). Apparently my dad said that if he ever came looking for her he would get a bullet between his eyes.
My mother and father adopted my cousin. Her mother was a junkie and didn't object. Her father (my uncle) didn't object either. No one in the family will speak to him or have anything to do with him. Standing orders are to shoot him on sight should he show up at anyone's door.
This was done because my uncle that is a cop saw too many molesters get off without even a slap on the wrist. Our family didn't want to deal with the "justice" system in this way because justice is rarely given since evidence is so hard to come by.
How did we find out she was being molested? She was 5 and staying with my aunt and was having a hard time peeing. My aunt looked at her genitals and they were red and raw as hell. Obvious signs of trauma. She asked her what happened and my cousin said that daddy poked her all the time and it hurt a lot. She showed her husband and then all hell broke loose.
So yea. This story doesn't surprise me at all.