Getting The Facts – The First Part

Moving on, then.

In the wake of concluding that Harder had raped Sephora, my first concern was for her personal safety.  It was difficult to imagine what she must have been going through inside, having been raped and then charged with crimes she knew nothing about carrying a potential life sentence.  The risk of self-harm was obviously high and confirmed by her somewhat erratic behavior, and in addition her inability or unwillingness to relate the facts, even to her own attorney, implied a serious psychological disconnect.  Or so I believed.  This was a matter for trained professionals, I figured, so I began scouring around for social workers and psychologists who could handle that aspect.

But the more immediate problem for me was the Grand Jury appearance less than two days away.  There was an entire statement I had prepared and reviewed with Sephora for that appearance which was now overtaken by events.  It had to be scrapped.  An adjournment was out of the question:  if I asked for another one Moran would have simply taken the position that we had waived the right to testify.

What I decided to do was to prepare a new and much shorter statement which basically indicated her ignorance of the facts and requested that the Grand Jury re-call Adrian Paige as a witness – and me.

None of this worked.  During a break in the testimony I told Moran I thought Sephora had been raped, but he ignored that, successfully discouraged the Grand Jury from re-calling Paige, or calling me, or getting the medical records that I had also requested, and simply called for them to vote an indictment, which they dutifully did.

Sephora remained out on bail, but she was understandably very upset at having been indicted and disappeared a lot.  Contacting her became difficult for me and her parents.  She did manage to make a few appointments with social workers and a psychiatrist but didn’t follow up and would then disappear again.  One rape counselor became convinced that she had been raped but Sephora provided no details and then failed to appear for her next appointment.  Then she missed several more with others.  She claimed not to like the social workers I sent her to, I tried two or three.  There was a male psychologist she liked, but she missed appointments with him and didn’t give him any details either.

Weeks of this went by. I had nothing I could really use, because although I had an idea who had raped her and some idea when, I didn’t know where or how.  Since Sephora had been seen driving with the rapist in the car, it could have been anywhere within driving distance.  I didn’t know who would have jurisdiction, or who to report it to if we decided to do so.

The sooner I knew the details the better, I thought.  It was impossible to proceed to do anything without knowing what the facts were, or at least knowing what she would say the facts were, even if in the end she said she didn’t remember or something.  If that was the case, better to know now.  Right now, I thought.

After the trouble of getting her to open up to anyone else, I began to gingerly broach the topic myself on those seemingly rare an unpredictable occasions I spoke with her during this time.  I greatly preferred that whatever information she had be provided to someone else in the first instance, fearing that I might become a witness if it was me.  But getting the information was the main thing.  And it was urgent.

On one occasion I was in the process of obtaining some additional medical records from a hospital in Rochester.  I asked Sephora to accompany me so she could sign the relevant release forms while we were there and she agreed.  After we got the records I asked if she was hungry, she said she was so we went to the hospital cafeteria.  I brought up the rape question after she had eaten.  In response she became completely unresponsive for several minutes, appearing to have some kind of seizure with eye lid fluttering, the whole bit.  When she came out of it she shivered, complained that she was cold and asked me to take her home.  As we walked back to my car she kept losing her balance.  She stopped walking at one point and leaned up against a wall, appearing to catch her breath, or something like that.

I tried on a second occasion a week or so later, meeting her at a local restaurant.  I had to meet with her in public places.  It seemed she didn’t like being alone with me in an office.  Anyway, the same thing happened, a two or three minute period of unresponsiveness similar to a seizure.  This time when she came out of it she said she would tell her cousin, who would then tell me, but she didn’t do that and didn’t follow up.

And there was an even bigger problem lurking behind all this:  if Sephora had been passed out and not driving during the crime, why was there all this evidence in the file I got from Sessler saying otherwise?  This would have to be coordinated, orchestrated perjury and fabrication that was intended to deceive her attorneys.  And law enforcement, too, of course – unless it was law enforcement itself that was doing the deceiving.  But like Scarlett O’Hara, I preferred not to think about that right then.  I would think about it later.

During this period I learned from her family that Sephora had acquired a new boyfriend who was from the Buffalo area, and she was spending time with him there or somewhere in between.  They weren’t sure.

A November 9th court appearance was coming up, required in connection with the possession charges Sephora had picked up after the car accident in early October (these were eventually dropped).  I wasn’t sure she would show.  If she didn’t show her bail could have been revoked.

In the end she got there, probably after marathon phone calling from her mother.  Her father drove her to court, which was in Pembroke, about an hour’s drive from where I lived and about the same from her parents’ home.  We entered our not guilty plea and went outside – her, me and her father.

I had noticed in my conversations with Sephora that she was often very sensitive, soft hearted and empathetic, even if a bit erratic.  It had come up at one point that my mother had recently died, about a year earlier.  This visibly upset Sephora, she became somewhat emotional, and she expressed profound sympathy.  She had also indicated on numerous occasions what appeared to be a genuine and somewhat exaggerated concern for the welfare of children.

When we left the Pembroke court I pointed out to Sephora that she had not followed up with her cousin as she had promised and demanded that she come with me so we could stop somewhere on the way back and she could tell me what I needed to know.  She became angry and said she “did not want to talk about it” again, stomping her feet and gritting her teeth.

I said:  “You think I do?  This is not exactly my idea of a fun time.  What difference does it make what either one of us wants?”

I told her I was scheduled to leave in the morning for two weeks to go visit my daughter in Canada who was turning 5 later that month, and if she wouldn’t talk to me before I left I might as well not go, because it would just bother me the whole time.

I said:  “You don’t know what this is like for me.  I don’t know what to do until you’ve talked to me and I’ve had a chance to digest it all.  If you leave me hanging on this I won’t be able to sleep well, or eat, or be good company for anyone else.  I’ll be in a lousy mood.  I’ll just be a terrible drag.  It would be better to not go but then I won’t see my daughter on her fifth birthday.  Can’t you just take pity on me?”

Sephora said:  “Will the system take pity on me?”

“Look, I don’t know, I’m just trying to help you.” I said.

“I don’t care what happens to me!”

“Well, I do.”


And she stamped her foot and stormed off towards her father’s car.  Her father looked at me, shrugged his shoulders and went to meet her.  I went back to my own car to drive home.  I had no intention of not going to Canada for the visit, but it was a good try, I thought.  Or maybe I wouldn’t have gone, just like I told her.  I’m not really sure.  The subject didn’t come up as it turned out.

When I got home there was a voice mail message.  It was from Sephora.  When I returned the call we spent a very emotional 15 or 20 minutes on the phone in which she described all the gruesome details of what Eric Harder had done to her.  The whole time I was talking to her, I wished I had a way to record the conversation.  No one who overheard that phone call would ever have the slightest doubt that every detail she relayed to me was true.

Harder had lured her into his apartment and raped her.  In Mount Morris.  This was, you know, quite inconvenient because the Mount Morris police department, which would have jurisdiction to investigate the matter, was notoriously corrupt and completely untrustworthy, especially in a situation like this.

One of the oddest things about this phone call, another one of those things that didn’t seem all that significant at the time but became obviously important in view of things I learned later on through other sources – that happens a lot when you are investigating things, which is why you just gather information for the most part and worry about what it all means later – was toward the end when Sephora had become very, very emotional and was basically sobbing and struggling to get her words out.  She wailed:  “He knew where I lived!  He knew where I lived!”

You see, as he held the knife to her throat and raped her, and then afterwards, Harder had threatened to kill Sephora, and – as Sephora had repeatedly emphasized during this phone call, her younger sister, too – if she ever told anyone about the rape.  That he knew where she lived was particularly disconcerting to her, then; but how did he know where she lived?  There was no indication that Sephora had ever seen him before or since, no indication – and certainly no reason why – he would ever have been to her house.

Filed that one away for later consideration.

I went to Canada the next day, but I was very worried about my client.


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Filed under financial crisis, Judicial lying/cheating, Striking lawyers, wrongful convictions

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