December 14, 2005
A Charlottesville man who was wrongfully accused of rape is now using the courts to fight back. This defamation lawsuit was filed for $850,000 against the victim of the rape. The man cleared of the charge is suing the woman who mistakenly identified him as her attacker.
Through his lawyer, Christopher Matthew, says his character was defamed and now he wants the victim of the rape to pay almost a million dollars in restitution.
“When you point your finger at someone and say 'I'm sure,' [then] you should be as careful as if you are shooting a gun at a target,” said Matthew’s attorney Debra Wyatt.
A former University of Virginia law student positively identified Matthew as the man who sexually assaulted her along Sunset Avenue on September 3, 2005. Matthew was released from jail after DNA cleared him and charges were filed against another man.
Wyatt says the woman she believes recklessly accused Matthew should be held responsible.
"[His reputation is smeared.] He was in jail for five days, could have been his whole life. I don't see what definition of victim wouldn't include that,” said Wyatt.
Charlottesville's Commonwealth Attorney, Dave Chapman, says what happened to Matthew is a terrible tragedy but the victim in this case simply made a mistake.
“The victim in this rape case at every step of the way has acted in the utmost good faith,” said Chapman.
Chapman says it’s rare but occasionally people are falsely accused and arrested but that doesn't mean action should be taken against a victim.
“She participated...with law enforcement officers who followed standard and ordinary, routine procedures that are used in this community and every other community in the country,” said Chapman.
Wyatt wants people to remember the effect being falsely accused had on Matthew.
“People end up in prison or on death row from these kinds of mistakes, so how else to make people be more careful,” said Wyatt.
We tried to speak with Matthew and he had no comment.
Rape support groups we spoke with said rape is the most under-reported crime in our nation and they fear this lawsuit may stop more women from coming forward.
As for the man police ultimately arrested in this rape--his case goes before a grand jury on Monday. If you are a victim of a sexual assault and need support, please call The Sexual Assault Resource Agency hotline at 434-977-7273.