Charges dismissed against Telford man in Kutztown U. case
Faced with findings that police destroyed evidence and an uncooperative alleged victim, prosecutors have dismissed all charges against a Telford man once accused of raping a Lower Pottsgrove woman, a fellow student at Kutztown University.
Charges of rape, aggravated indecent assault and sexual assault were dismissed against 19-year-old James VanDerbeek in Berks County Court on Thursday.
"My client has maintained his innocence from day one. I can't tell you how pleased we are that justice has been done in this case," defense lawyer Maureen C. Coggins said on VanDerbeek's behalf.
"He's an innocent man who was accused of a horrendous crime and his and his family's life was horribly affected by that."
"His life was hell and he suffered as a result of this arrest," Coggins added.
"This was a nightmare for him and his family and now he can start to rebuild his life."
VanDerbeek, a 2007 graduate of Souderton Area High School, had been charged in connection with a March 24 incident inside the woman's dorm room at the university.
The defense, Coggins indicated in court papers, was that the woman fabricated the accusations against VanDerbeek and engaged in consensual sex without force.
VanDerbeek, a former member of the university's wrestling and track teams, is currently attending a community college.
Dismissal of the charges comes on the heels of allegations, made by Coggins in pretrial court documents, that a Kutztown University police officer shredded VanDerbeek's initial statement to authorities, preventing VanDerbeek the chance to present a complete defense.
VanDerbeek's initial statement, Coggins alleged, contained information that would exonerate VanDerbeek, including a "detailed fact specific explanation of the consensual sex that occurred that night."
In court papers, Coggins had asked that all charges be dismissed against VanDerbeek.
Berks County District Attorney John T. Adams said state police investigated the destruction of evidence allegations.
"The bottom line here is that the allegation that police destroyed evidence was not an allegation, it was true," Adams said Thursday.
Adams said the finding that evidence was destroyed undermined the integrity of the investigation in the VanDerbeek case.
"The destruction of evidence is a violation of the rules of discovery and would have hindered any prosecution of this case," Adams explained.
Authorities have not identified the Kutztown University police officer at the center of the destruction of evidence probe.
"We haven't made any final determination as to whether charges will be filed in regard to the destruction of evidence," said Adams, indicating the investigation is continuing.
Coggins also alleged in pretrial court documents that VanDerbeek's accuser previously made similar unsubstantiated accusations against two other university students five months prior to making the accusation against VanDerbeek.
Coggins argued that evidence of the woman's alleged prior false accusations against other students tended to prove that she fabricated the sexual assault claim against VanDerbeek.
In the petition, Coggins listed numerous alleged similarities between the woman's accusations against VanDerbeek and the accusations she allegedly made against two other students - including assertions that the accuser never struggled or called out for help and that she voluntarily consumed alcohol with each of the men in dorm rooms or at campus apartments just prior to the sexual encounters.
Adams said he asked Berks detectives to conduct an independent investigation of the rape allegations.
"The victim told us that she would no longer cooperate in the investigation," Adams confirmed.
Coggins praised Adams and his staff for their review of the case.
"I applaud John Adams for the way he handled the case and making sure that justice was served," Coggins said.
According to court papers filed by the university's police department, the woman, who has since dropped out of school, went to campus police headquarters at 11:45 p.m. March 24 to report she was raped in her dorm room in University Place.
The woman told police she signed-in VanDerbeek around 7:30 p.m. to study for an exam, according to court records. While they were studying, the woman said she provided VanDerbeek with vodka.
During a previous hearing, the woman testified VanDerbeek asked to have sex with her between 15 and 20 times.
According to the woman's testimony, each time she rejected VanDerbeek's request, his tone of voice grew angrier.
The woman said she got up from her desk at one point and went over to the bed."I could notice the change in his voice," the woman testified at a May 27 preliminary hearing.
"I was getting scared. So I removed my clothes and went over to the bed and he drug me on top of him."