Rape victim vindicated as serial suspect arrested
Cranberry police didn't believe Sarah Rebecca Reedy when the gas station worker claimed a man held a gun to her head and forced her to perform a sex act in July.
Township police charged her with making a false report, theft and receiving stolen property. She spent six days in jail last summer because police suspected her story was a ruse to steal $606.73 she claimed her assailant had taken from the cash register.
But they believe her story now.
Butler County District Attorney Tim McCune said Friday he will drop the criminal charges against Reedy because of the arrest earlier this week of an alleged serial rapist who confessed to sexually assaulting her.
Reedy, 20, of Mars, said she's glad authorities decided to drop the charges.
"But it doesn't make up for how they screwed up," she said. "They interrogated me for an hour, asking me where I put the money."
Wilbur Cyrus Brown II, 43, a construction contractor from the Harrisburg suburb of Oberlin, was arrested early Tuesday after he broke into a Jefferson County convenience store, tied up the store clerk and began to sexually assault her, police said. He later confessed to sexually assaulting Reedy, and also a 25-year-old woman on Oct. 13, 2004, at the Landmark North Office Building in Cranberry.
Brown is a suspect in numerous other sexual assaults in Western and Central Pennsylvania, and has confessed to some, authorities said.
McCune defended the police handling of Reedy's case, which he said was "an aberration" and "not a pattern."
"The evidence police gathered at the time indicated it was a false report, which subsequently turned out to be an incorrect conclusion," McCune said during a news conference.
Reedy said she has had to undergo therapy during the past year to recover from the assault and the nightmare of spending six days in jail. She was four months' pregnant at the time of her incarceration and has since given birth to a daughter.
The cloud of suspicion still hurts. Reedy recalled her employers fired her and called police when she tried to return her uniform. She needed an attorney to collect her final paycheck.
"The arresting officer asked me at the hospital how many times I shot heroin in a day," Reedy recalled. "And I never did heroin."
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review usually does not reveal the names of sexual assault victims, but Reedy asked to be identified to clear her of any stigma from the criminal charges.
She was scheduled to stand trial Sept. 9.
"She is overjoyed that she's being vindicated," said her lawyer, John Foster III. "She's been angry with the Cranberry police for over a year because they didn't believe her from the start."
Foster said his client, who was attacked July 14, 2004, at the JG Gulf station along Route 19, could have faced up to five years in prison if convicted of the theft charge.
He said that when she took a polygraph test, the results of which were inconclusive, a police official told him he had never seen anyone so good at controlling her emotions. Foster said he told the officer his client wasn't controlling anything but was simply telling the truth.
B.J. Horn, executive director of the Pittsburgh Action Against Rape, said the fear of being labeled a liar factors into a rape victim's decision about whether to report an assault.
"Historically, it happens often enough that it discourages women from reporting the rape in the first place," Horn said. "It's an enormous fear that women have. As a society, we're more distrusting of people reporting rape than we are of people reporting any other crime."
An affidavit filed by Cranberry police Detective Frank Evanson states that he doubted Reedy's account on the night of the attack. He interviewed her at the emergency room of UPMC Passavant in Cranberry, where Reedy was tested for evidence of sexual assault.
Power cords to the alarm and a telephone at the gas station had been pulled from the walls. Evanson doubted her story because she had no memory of the power cord and only remembered her assailant forcing her to disable the telephone, according to the affidavit.
Evanson also noted in his affidavit that the sexual assault and robbery coincided with efforts by Reedy and her boyfriend, Mark Watt, to rent a mobile home.
Foster said he and his client are considering whether to file a lawsuit.
Reedy wants to assist in the prosecution of Brown but wants no contact with Cranberry police, preferring to work through other law enforcement agencies such as the state police or the Butler County Sheriff's Office, Foster said.
Cranberry police joined McCune at yesterday's news conference but made no comment.
Brown, who is being held at the Jefferson County Jail, is a suspect in assaults dating back to the fall of 2002. DNA analyses are being conducted by the state police crime lab in Greensburg, Westmoreland County.
Brown is accused of targeting women in isolated areas, such as outside the office building in Cranberry, on nature trails in November at the Wildwood Lake Sanctuary in Harrisburg, and Conewago Trail in Lancaster County in September 2003.
"These victims appear to be victims of opportunity," McCune said. "He deliberately chose women who were going to be alone."
McCune said Brown's job gave him the ability to move around. The crimes often occurred near major highways in counties hundreds of miles apart.
Dauphin County District Attorney Edward M. Marisco Jr. said Wednesday that authorities have DNA evidence connecting Brown to two other sexual assaults in Dauphin County and one each in Butler, Cumberland and Lancaster counties. Brown is a suspect in other attacks in Allegheny and York counties.