Convicted sex offender free on appeal

December 17, 2008 9:41:23 PM PST
A convicted sex offender is free after his conviction was thrown out.Clay Bennett just spent more than three years in prison. He says he was harassed every single day, including today on his way out. He says he was called a rapist and sex offender all because he says a little girl and her mother made up a story and a judge believed it.

Bennett told Eyewitness News, "I still feel like I have shackles on me. It's still sinking in."

Clay Bennett is a free man. With his attorney at his side, Bennett tells the horrors of his three-and-a-half year prison sentence for raping a seven-year-old girl who belonged to his former girlfriend.

Bennett said, "Look what they did. They are responsible for me being in prison for three-and-a-half years!"

Bennett's attorney, John Ray, said, "She was still a virgin when medically checked, but still, a judge convicted him."

Bennett says he never touched her. But, that's something a judge disagreed with during his three week bench trial in June of 2005. All of that despite some questionable testimony.

Ray said, "Every time she and her mother testified, they kept changing the times and circumstances."

And that's what Bennett's attorney used to win the appeal. The charges were dismissed including multiple counts of rape, sodomy and sex abuse.

Bennett says he believes the alleged victim made her story up at her mother's request to get money he had received from a work injury settlement.

Eyewitness News tried to contact the alleged victims, but didn't get an answer. We also went to Meghan's Law advocate Laura Ahearn who says Bennett may have been cleared during the appeals process, but it's not an innocent or guilty dismissal. Ahearn says rather, the case is an issue with evidence-or lack thereof-that's given Bennett his freedom back.

Ahearn said, "It is impossible for a child victim to be specific with an exact time frame and date because they are traumatized by the offense."

Bennett said, "I would love them to come forward and tell the truth. Even then, they can't be forgiven. I'm angry."

The Suffolk County District Attorney has not yet decided if it will appeal. Bennett served about three years of what would've been a 20-year sentence. He says he's looking forward to everything, especially reuniting with his family.

---- WEB PRODUCED BY: Carmin Biggs

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