WYANDOTTE COUNTY, Kan. (KCTV) – In a stunning legal decision, the Kansas Court of Appeals has reversed the convictions of a Wyandotte County man, previously convicted on child molestation charges, after a judge ruled charges were filed incorrectly.
In September 2019, Josue Manuel Arita was charged with two counts of aggravated criminal sodomy and two counts of aggravated indecent liberties with a child. More than three years later, a jury found him guilty of all four crimes.
This year, KCTV5 Investigates obtained a June 9 memorandum opinion from the Kansas Court of Appeals, which ruled a Wyandotte County prosecutor filed charges against Arita “under the wrong subsections of both the aggravated criminal sodomy and aggravated indecent liberties statutes.”
According to the memorandum, this comes after an appeal from Arita’s attorneys, who argued prosecutors “presented insufficient evidence to support [Arita’s] convictions because the evidence did not match the charges levied against him.”
In Kansas, “the language of the charging documents controls criminal prosecution,” according to the memorandum. KCTV5 Investigates has attempted to get a copy of the charging document from the Wyandotte County prosecutor’s office but have not yet been able to obtain it.
The document goes on to state that prosecutors “presented evidence that Arita had personally sexually abused his victims, but all four counts in the charging documents alleged that he had caused his victims to be abused by another person.”
Simply put, the ruling concludes “the state presented insufficient evidence—actually no evidence—to support Arita’s convictions,” as was charged.
The ruling makes it clear that Arita cannot be retried for what happened to the young victims. The opinion states, “when a defendant’s conviction must be reversed because the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support the conviction, double jeopardy bars the State from retrying the defendant for that particular offense.”
The end of the ruling states that Arita’s convictions were reversed and sentences vacated. It is unclear if or when Arita will be released from prison, as he is still listed as being in custody on the Kansas Department of Corrections website.
Arita’s picture and information as a registered sex offender remained on the Kansas Bureau of Investigations as of Friday afternoon.
KCTV5 Investigates reached out to the Wyandotte County District Attorney’s Office for an explanation on how an error like this could happen in a case with young victims of sexual abuse. They declined an interview, but did send us the following statement:
“The Wyandotte County District Attorney’s Office made arguments it believed should have upheld the conviction. However, the Court of Appeals disagreed and overturned the conviction. We accept the court’s ruling. The defendant has been in custody for almost four years and is subject to deportation and our understanding is he will be deported.”
“Devil is in the Details”
Upon learning of the mistake that led to the convictions being reversed, KCTV5 Investigates reached out to several local attorneys to help understand how an error like this happens.
Branden Bell, a criminal defense attorney with the Morgan Pilate law firm in Kansas City, said he is shocked an error like this made it through so many layers of the court.
“The most astonishing thing is that no one caught this error at trial,” Bell said. “Not the judge, not the prosecutor, and not the defense attorney.”
While Bell argues that all three have culpability in the mistake, he lays the brunt of the responsibility on Arita’s original defense attorney, who represented him at trial.
“This is criminal defense 101,” Bell said. “Out of all three of these people, it is primarily the defense attorney’s job to make sure her client gets a fair trial. That did not happen here.”
Former Jackson County prosecutor, Phil LeVota, says the wording of the specific charges was the difference in this case being overturned.
“The State cited the wrong crime in the initial charging document, stating the defendant had caused a sexual offense of a child by ‘another,’ but the State prosecuted him at trial with ‘him’ doing the crime, not another person,” LeVota explained. “Even all the evidence proved he committed sexual assaults against the children, but the underlying charge was that he caused another person to do it.”
“In prosecuting a crime, the devil is in the details,” LeVota said.
The Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault, or MOCSA, questioned what this could mean for the young survivors in this case and others who may experience sexual abuse. They released a statement to KCTV5 Investigates which says the following:
“MOCSA is disappointed anytime we see a negative outcome for survivors, and we fear this could discourage other survivors from coming forward in the future.”
KCTV5 Investigates has been unable to connect with family of the young survivors. Their identities are protected in court documents and the children are only referred to by their initials.
If you or a loved one need support regarding sexual violence, here are resources to help.
This is a developing story. KCTV5 will continue to update this story as we get more information.
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