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Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic reviewing 1987 sexual abuse case

After serving 27 years of a life sentence, Andrew Chandler Jr.’s fate might rest in the hands of Theresa Newman, Duke University law professor, and her team, which recently began to reexamine the controversial 1987 sexual abuse case.

In 1987, the prosecution argued that Chandler, a daycare bus driver, would regularly deviate from his route to a parking area along the French Broad River, strip the children of their clothes and lead them down to the river, where he would molest them.

The investigation began when a child came home one day and announced to her mother, “We’ve been f**king,” according to a petition by Mark Montgomery, a Durham lawyer who petitioned the N.C. Supreme Court on Chandler’s behalf in 2011.

Since 2007, Chandler's legal team has debated the legitimacy of his conviction based on questions over the rules regarding expert testimony in child abuse cases.

“This was a period when there were a lot of cases involving daycare centers or bus drivers that resulted in these fantastic stories of allegations of abuse that were fabricated,” Newman said.

Newman, who is also co-director of Duke's Wrongful Convictions Clinic, said her team is currently looking into Chandler’s case but has not yet decided whether or not the case is worth taking up. 

“We agreed to look at the case because lawyers who worked on his case believe fervently in his innocence,” she said. “The case contains characteristics of other cases that arose during that period and have been overturned.”

Many legal experts feel that Chandler’s case and others like it are worth reviewing.

This is largely due to scientific improvements in evaluating the physical signs of sexual abuse and new procedures for questioning children.

“The testimony of the children was incredible, contradictory and unreliable. There was little physical evidence, and none diagnostic for abuse," Montgomery said in his petition.

The Duke clinic has proven wrongful convictions in five cases since 2010. 

Most recently, the team helped secure the release of Michael Alan Parker, who, following the breakup of his marriage, was accused and convicted of molesting his children in 1994. Parker spent 22 years in prison before his release in late August.

Lew Powell, a Charlotte resident who blogs about cases involving ritual satanic abuse, said in an email that Chandler’s case and other convictions based on outdated, faulty practices pose a troubling question to the United States’ criminal justice system. 

“Today is Andrew Junior Chandler's 57th birthday. He has been in prison since he was 29 years old," Powell said in a blog post on Sept. 8. "Even if he were guilty — which he clearly is not — how can the State of North Carolina justify his continued incarceration?”

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