Rape conviction appeal denied: Girl's story recanted 16 years later
05/02/2016 11:40 am PDT
John Kinsel has been locked up for more than 16 years for the horrifying, despicable crime of raping, choking and threatening to kill a child.
Now someone has come out of the past with an incredible story claiming Kinsel didn't do it: His accuser.
At the age of 22, John Kinsel met and fell in love with Adrienne Alberts. They moved together to Gretna, Louisiana, a sleepy little suburb of New Orleans, where Kinsel got the chance to have a family of his own, and play dad to Adrienne's three kids.
That didn't sit too well with her middle child, a precocious little girl named Alyssa.
"Alyssa was always a very independent child," said Adrienne. "Once we moved in together, Alyssa didn't think anybody had the right to tell her what to do if it was not myself or my ex-husband."
Kinsel was strict, and demanded respect, something Alyssa wasn't willing to give him.
"Family life for all of us from one minute to the next it would be great, then toss of a dime, it was turmoil," said Adrienne. "After a time it got very troubling: disappearing acts, unaccounted money spending, holes in the walls, anger outbursts. It was kind of a mess."
After years of chaos, Adrienne kicks John out, all the way back to Texas. But John Kinsel never stopped trying to reconcile.
"He was calling, every time I would change my number, he'd manage to get it and he would call, and he was asking 'Can I please come back?'" said Adrienne.
That's something 10-year-old Alyssa wasn't about to let happen. Her plan to get rid of John starts at a sleepover at her cousin Lacy's house. Weeks later, Alyssa blindsides her mom with a twisted, terrifying story.
"I was cooking and she came in very cool and said 'Mom, I want to tell you what John did,'" said Adrienne. "And I said OK. And I can remember looking down at whatever I had in the frying pan, and she said 'He molested me,' and she was so calm.
"Did I believe her? No, because she was so kind of flip about just her whole approach to trying to tell me this, so I just really didn't know how to react to that," said Adrienne.
And there was something else: Alyssa had a hard time with the truth. Everyone knew that.
Alyssa's family wouldn't take her seriously. But her elementary school did. A few months later, she told her school counselors the details, claiming John had been raping her for three years, choking her, threatening to kill her if she dared to tell anyone.
"When the detectives sat in my living room and told me what had occurred at the school and what was going to take place, I felt like somebody had punched me in the stomach, because for whatever had gone on between John and I, did I believe that he was capable of doing this to Alyssa? No," said Adrienne. "The D.A. said 'I'll try to talk to Alyssa and see.' And after he talked to Alyssa once, he said 'I'm sorry, we're going forward with this,' and that was the end of it."
John is tracked down in West Monroe, Louisiana and brought to trial.
Alyssa's mom, her grandfather, her aunt and her neighborhood friend all testified against Alyssa, and on John's behalf.
"When I was sitting on the stand, basically I didn't call her a liar, but what I did was try to help the jury see there was no way that John could've done it at the time," said Adrienne. "And they didn't believe anything that I said."
John's lawyer says it's a case of "she-said, they-said."
"There's no DNA, no seminal fluid, no blood-type matching, there's no statement of confession in this case," said Kinsel's attorney, Bruce Netterville. "It gets down to victim saying it happened and defendant saying it did not happen."
But when Alyssa recounts her terrifying experience on the witness stand, it's all the jury needs to hear.
"Jurors tend to believe children no matter what they say, and in some cases, no matter the preposterousness of what they say," said Netterville.
John Kinsel is convicted, and the mandatory punishment is grim.
"The sentence for aggravated rape is a life sentence without the benefit of probation, parole or suspension of sentence. You're done," said Netterville.
"I remember just putting my head down on the row in front of me and crying," said Adrienne. "Life with no parole, that made me want to vomit, it was sickening to be in that courtroom that afternoon."
For prosecutors, justice is served. But the awful truth becomes crystal-clear nearly 10 years later when Alyssa admits she made the whole thing up.
Alyssa was just 10 years old, and her tearful testimony left the jury with no doubt.
How could a child this young come up with such twisted details about a terrible crime?
Lacy Plaisance, Alyssa's cousin, was one of three little girls at sleepover more than 20 years ago. She remembers every detail of a conversation that would forever change the life of John Kinsel.
"Our other friend had been sexually abused by her stepfather and she confided in us," said Plaisance. "She kind of went into a little detail with us and it was pretty graphic. She had to go through counseling and things like that, and she confided in us and she was talking to us about it, and Alyssa, you know, we all knew Alyssa's hate for John, and the thought of John coming back into the picture came around and the other friend basically told Alyssa if you don't want him around, all you have to do is say that he molested you and he's gone."
That horrific story would set Alyssa's wheels in motion. She could lie, and John would be gone. So she made up a story, telling people John had been raping her.
"I knew she was lying. Her story was exactly the same as another friend of ours who had actually been sexually abused, and Alyssa adapted the same story," said Lacy Plaisance.
When the trial began, Alyssa's conscience finally caught up with her.
"Alyssa was very, very scared, she just didn't want to go through it but they told us it didn't matter what she was willing to go through that day or not, that they already had it on camera testifying so that was going to hold up whether she did it or not," said Alyssa'S friend Georgette Evans.
So Alyssa testified. And John Kinsel got life with hard labor, without parole.
Now, 16 years later, Alyssa comes to Crime Watch Daily to set the record straight. She doesn't want to show her face, but she wants to reveal the truth.
"John is an innocent man and he does not deserve to be in prison," said Alyssa. "I had no idea what I told that counselor was going to be such a huge thing. I had no idea what would happen to him, I didn't think that far ahead."
When Alyssa turned 19, the nauseating weight of sending an innocent man away forever was finally too much to bear.
"I do wish I could take it back," said Alyssa. "My younger brother grew up without his father in his life and no child needs that. He missed his daughter's wedding, he's missed a couple of his sisters has passed away, he wasn't able to go to their funerals. There are important life events that he should be a part of, that a father should be a part of, and he's missed all of it because of where he is."
Alyssa vowed she wouldn't live her horrible lie any longer.
"I had contacted John's lawyers and told them I wanted to meet with them and recant my testimony. I spent my own dime, drove 1,500 miles, and we went back to court. And in front of everyone I recanted my testimony," said Alyssa.
Despite Alyssa changing her story, John Kinsel still sits behind bars.
State Trial Judge Charles Cusimano isn't sure what to make of Alyssa's recantation, saying: "I don't know at which time I'm supposed to believe her."
But without her testimony, he's compelled to order a new trial for Kinsel.
"I thought that john was going to come home, I thought he was going to walk out that courtroom with us that day," said Alice Wilkison, John's sister.
Then just as the family's hopes are raised, the LouIsiana Supreme Court shoots them down. The Court agrees that Alyssa's testimony and recantation are "preposterously unreliable," but that his conviction, at the time, was legitimate. "It is beyond regrettable that a possibly innocent man will not receive a new trial."
Bottom line: No second chances for John Kinsel.
"I figured once I told the truth his conviction would be overturned, that they would let him out," said Alyssa. "And that didn't happen, at all. Louisiana justice system, right? You gotta love it."
"Just because someone says it didn't happen, it doesn't mean they hold the keys to the jail and if you think about it, it makes sense," said Netterville. "The only thing that could save you would be overturn it on some sort of post-conviction relief."
Tragically, with all appeals exhausted, another chance to prove John didn't rape Alyssa may never come.
Even though everyone says he's innocent -- including the 10-year-old girl, now a 29-year-old woman, who put him in prison.
"I do carry a lot of guilt," said Alyssa. "That day that we were in court 10 years ago and I recanted, in passing I apologized and said I was sorry. And 'I'm sorry' is never going to be enough."