One of the first defendants in Wenatchee's infamous child sex ring case was freed from prison Thursday, but corrections officers kept him in handcuffs as a security measure while he was in court.
Meredith "Gene" Town didn't seem to mind the brief wait, though, given the fact that he had been imprisoned for the past six years on a conviction that was recently overturned. Town was freed after a state appeals court ordered special hearings into circumstances of his conviction, including his confession. Evidence that could have potentially cleared him was not made available to defense attorneys before trial.
Town and his wife, Cherie, were the first two people arrested by former Wenatchee Police Detective Robert Perez during the sex-abuse investigations in 1994 and 1995.
Town was sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of child molestation and two counts of child rape. The alleged victims were his two sons.
"At first, I didn't believe it," Town said after visiting Whitman County Superior Court Judge Wallis Friel signed the order freeing him. "But I've got a real good defense team, and I basically relied on them. They found the evidence to prove I was innocent. It was there six years ago."
The State Court of Appeals has found Perez regularly used coercive tactics while interviewing adults and children and compiled reports that disguised those tactics.
Perez has repeatedly denied he did anything improper while serving as sex-crimes investigator for the city. He is no longer with the Wenatchee Police Department.
Perez accused 43 other people of participating in the sex ring, which reportedly included 50 children ages 10 to 14.
Town maintained that he never confessed, and that Perez wrote the confession and coerced him into signing it. Town told the judge he has a 10th-grade education.
In remanding the case for a hearing, newly discovered evidence showed Perez routinely used improper and coercive tactics in his interrogation of suspects, said William Broberg, Town's attorney.
"His confession was a verbatim copy of the police report written by Perez," Broberg said.
Town's case was the sixth Wenatchee conviction overturned by the state Court of Appeals.
Town was freed with the help of the Innocence Project Northwest, a Seattle-based group of lawyers and law students who volunteered to help defendants in the cases.
Town, 42, entered an Alford plea to one count of violating an order of protection, a misdemeanor. In exchange, Chelan County Prosecutor Gary Riesen agreed to ask that Town's conviction and sentence be vacated. An Alford plea means a defendant maintains his innocence, but agrees the state has enough evidence to convict him at trial.
Town served his sentence at the Airway Heights Corrections Center.
Thursday's case was heard in the Spokane County Courthouse.
In a deal with prosecutors at the end of last year, Town's wife, Cherie Town, pleaded guilty to one count of child molestation and agreed to drop the appeal of her original convictions in exchange for release from prison.
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