EDITORIAL: Tragic end to statutory rape case in Saugerties, N.Y.
AUTHORITIES on Monday announced the arrest of Denzel Francis of Saugerties for allegedly having had sex with two underage girls, ages 15 and 16.
A day later, state police confirmed that Francis, 21, was dead in an apparent suicide.
Official details – of the alleged crime and the death – are few.
The community soon engaged in a heated debate over the arrest and death of Francis. In a few days, nearly 250 comments were posted on our website.
Some blamed the Freeman for the death. Others blamed the Freeman for reporting his arrest after his death.
Many comments were aimed at the accusers, some saying, in effect, that while 15- and 16-year-old girls cannot consent to sex with a 21-year-old, they should be held responsible for their part.
And many readers focused on defending the law, saying it is entirely appropriate for society to demand that 21-year-olds stay away from potential partners younger than 17 years old.
IT’S a difficult case to parse and, with Denzel Francis dead, likely always will be.
Still, there are a few things that can be reasonably said about what happened. Continued...
We’ll go first, regarding our role.
We reported the charges of rape against Francis as we would any felony charge, without exception. It is and always has been in the public interest to know when serious criminal allegations are made by authorities.
The reporting, however, was complicated by a troubling delay between our report of the arrest and our ability to confirm his death. We reported the arrest on our website around noon on Monday; by 5 a.m. the next day, our website was filling with comments alluding to the death, about which we knew nothing and which was never officially announced by authorities. Our inability to confirm the death on Tuesday delayed for several hours our ability to update our online story. The outdated story couldn’t help but read strangely to those who had heard of the death of Francis by word of mouth.
MUCH of the raging war among web commentators turned on the rumor that the accusers had recanted.
Some attacked the unnamed girls, accusing them of causing the death by lying. A state police investigator, however, said the rumor was simply untrue – no one had recanted.
As for causation, if anyone has evidence of what went through the young man’s mind before his death, he or she has not said.
Arguments about the propriety of a law regulating sex are inevitable.
But, for the record, in New York, a person is guilty of felony rape if he or she is “21 years old or more … (and) engages in sexual intercourse with another person less than 17 years old.”
And that’s it.
All of the blather about how the accusers may or may not have presented themselves to Francis is irrelevant to the letter of that simply stated law. Continued...
But it is juries, of course, not online communities, that determine guilt or innocence after sorting out details of conflicting evidence and accounts, given under oath and subject to cross-examination.
No jury will ever be presented with the facts of this case.
THERE is so much that is not known that it is difficult to draw any conclusions. But we feel secure in saying that Denzel Francis’ death constitutes a tragedy.
Twenty-one years old is just too young to give up on life, regardless of the depth of our imperfections or the height of the challenges we face.
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