Two months after their decision, in November 2007, the girl admitted that she had lied.
The Cokers have been fighting ever since to rescue their son from the consequences. He served 17 months in a juvenile prison. He remains on the Virginia sex-offender registry, and the family moved to avoid harassment from neighbors.
Last month, Coker, now 20, was arrested during a Friday night football game at the Orange, Va., high school he graduated from after his release from juvenile prison. Unless they have permission from the school, convicted violent sex offenders are not permitted on school grounds. But Coker had received such permission, and he attended school there for more than a year before graduation.
“He can’t do something as simple as go out with his brothers and see a football game,” his mother said as she fought back tears during a recent interview from the family’s modest rambler in Mineral, Va.
Coker’s attorneys are working to have the conviction vacated in Stafford County, and the Virginia Supreme Court is expected to hear the case early next year. To his attorneys and other advocates, the case is about the dangers of ineffective counsel and about Virginia’s restrictive post-conviction laws, which make it extraordinarily difficult for people like Coker to get a retrial.
“We have a kid here who’s innocent,” said Andy Block, an assistant professor at the University of Virginia law school and director of the school’s Child Advocacy Clinic, who is helping with Coker’s defense. “If the Virginia courts fail to intercede, he will suffer consequences for the rest of his life.”
To his parents, those lasting consequences are the most painful part of this saga. They lament that they couldn’t afford a better attorney for their son.
“He has his whole life ahead of him, and where is he now? With this hanging over his head, he has limited options,” said Edgar Coker Sr., 44, a warehouse supervisor who often tears up when going over the facts of the case. “We made a mistake in giving up originally. All we want him to have is another chance.”
The sex, the parties now agree, was consensual.
But when Michele Sousa caught Edgar Jr. with her daughter, the girl claimed it was rape. He was arrested in June 2007, and by September he was sent to a juvenile prison outside Richmond.
Just after Thanksgiving 2007, however, Sousa’s daughter, whose name is being withheld to protect her privacy, told her mother that she lied because she was afraid of getting in trouble. Both Coker and Sousa’s daughter had learning disorders that required special education when they were in high school. In a letter to the Circuit Court, the girl wrote:
“Eger didn’t rely rape me . . . in fact we did it befor. Eger was a friend of mine befor this even happend . . . but now it just seems that I lied about Eger. . . . I will never forgive myself.”