Cathleen Crowell Webb told a Senate subcommittee yesterday that, as a panicky teen-ager six years ago, she was "prompted" by law enforcement officials in giving testimony that resulted in conviction of Gary Dotson for a rape that she now says never happened.
Webb said she accepted full responsibility for lying, and she and her lawyer suggested that more "diligence" by authorities would have brought out the truth at the trial in 1979.
Meanwhile, a four-judge Illinois appellate panel, with one dissent, denied Dotson's petition for bail pending appeal of his conviction for aggravated rape and kidnaping.
Dissenting Justice Don J. Rizzi said, "The majority has denied bail by simply stating a litany of facts . . . . It appears the victim's testimony was the only direct evidence" against Dotson. He called the majority decision "unfair, unjust and an abuse of discretion."
Webb, whose tale of kidnap and rape in a Chicago suburb sent Dotson to prison on a 25- to 50-year sentence, drew a phalanx of television cameras and reporters before the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on juvenile justice.
"My concern is that the case not do damage to the whole question of prevention and treatment" in rape cases, said Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), who added that the case is "not at all typical."
He said he fears that "sensationalizing of this issue may further paralyze women in seeking justice in rape cases."
After she "cried rape" in 1977 at age 16, Webb said, she did not intend to identify anyone.
She said she did so only after she had gone through many mug books and finally "police came to my house with a handful of mug shots taken from the books I'd already looked at. I looked at them again and said, 'No,' and handed them back."
The police officer said, "Look again," she said. Dotson's photograph looked so much like an artist's sketch based on her description that, if she failed to identify it, she said, she feared that police would see through her lie. "I believe I may have been prompted to identify him," she said.
Just before she testified two years later, she said, prosecutors told her to say certain things, such as "I'll never forget his face."
She added, "I got the message I had to be very forceful in the way I presented my identification."
Webb told the panel that she will not accept money from any source as a result of her notoriety. "Dotson is entitled to any monetary benefits that he can get or that I can get for him," she said.
Webb's lawyer, John McLario, agreed to supply a copy of a polygraph test that he said Webb recently passed and indicates that her recantation is truthful.
Her dramatic turnabout resulted in brief freedom for Dotson, who has served six years but was returned to prison April 11 when the original trial judge rejected Webb's recantation. Prosecutors said they were initially inclined to believe Webb's recantation but changed their minds after a thorough review of the evidence and her subsequent testimony.
Illinois Gov. James R. Thompson (R) has scheduled a special hearing May 9 to consider Dotson's clemency petition.
Prof. Paul Rothstein of the Georgetown University Law Center, a specialist on the laws governing recanted testimony in criminal cases, told the Senate panel that legalities that make it difficult to reverse a conviction based on recanted testimony are generally well-founded. Otherwise, victims would be "bugged to death" to persuade them to recant, he said.
Placing the recantation in the hands of the original trial judge, as the law provides, may be "a problem," he said, because of possible bias.