Lawyer for Rebecca Ann Butler claims separate trials hurt client’s defense

Last updated: June 16. 2014 3:49PM - 1683 Views
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WILKES-BARRE — A Danville woman who was convicted of taking two young girls to be molested by a murderer during prison visits is requesting a new trial.

An attorney for Rebecca Ann Butler filed paperwork Monday arguing that Butler’s rights were violated when the trial judge granted a prosecution motion to try Butler separately from her co-defendant, Andre Vancliff.

Butler, 42, was convicted by a jury of taking the girls, ages 5 and 8, to the State Correctional Institution at Retreat in Newport Township knowing they were going to be allegedly molested by Vancliff, an inmate she had befriended who is serving a life sentence for a murder in Philadelphia.

She was sentenced by county Judge Michael Vough earlier this month to spend 3 1/2 to 10 years in state prison.

Vancliff, 48, on April 11 was allowed to withdraw his guilty plea on two counts each of indecent assault and criminal conspiracy to corrupt minors, and a single count of corruption of minors.

Defense attorney Clyde Kevin Middleton of Bloomsburg argues that prosecutors did not follow proper procedure in severing the two trials, noting that he did not receive confirmation of the Commonwealth’s intent to request separate trials until 48 hours before jury selection was about to begin.

Middleton points out that under state rules of criminal procedure, such a move is required within 30 days of arraignment — unless that was somehow not possible, attorneys were not aware of the grounds for the motion, or the court had granted an extension.

He maintains that the Commonwealth did not meet those conditions, and that prosecutors were concerned a statement made by Butler could not be used against her in a joint trial if she opted to exercise her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Middleton says he had to revamp his trial strategy at the last minute when the judge granted prosecutors’ request.

“Without the full story of defendant Vancliff’s involvement, coercion, threats and individual actions,” Butler faced prejudice at trial, he wrote.

State police at Shickshinny believe Butler had taken the girls to visit Vancliff from May 2010 to September 2012.

On her way out of the Luzerne County Courthouse on June 6, a shackled Butler proclaimed her innocence.

“I still maintain my innocence. I hope someday I can prove that,” Butler told reporters as she was escorted away by sheriff deputies.

The paperwork filed by Middleton seeks a chance to do exactly that.

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