KNOXVILLE, TN (WLAF)- A convicted child rapist is staying in prison following a Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) denial of his latest appeal. Larry Rathbone is serving a 56-year sentence for four various types of sex crimes committed against a child. Following a jury trial, that resulted in his conviction, Rathbone began filing appeals.
Last week’s ruling from the court of criminal appeals might have been his last hope.
The latest appeal was launched by both sides of the case. Rathbone, of LaFollette, asked the court to review his trial attorney’s failure to challenge the competency of the 10-year-old Rathbone was accused of raping. Rathbone was represented at trial by a public defender.
Prosecutors asked the court to review a ruling made in Campbell County that said Rathbone and his co-defendant, and girlfriend at the time, Veronda Gean Fleeman, should have been represented by separate attorneys.
Over the course of his nearly 15-year battle, Rathbone has repeatedly attacked his victim’s competency. Rathbone allegedly told his public defender shortly after his arrest the victim had competency issues, the TCCA opinion said.
As Rathbone began to exhaust his legal recourse following his conviction, his allegations about the victim’s capability increased. At one point, he had the victim’s psychiatric records introduced to the court, court records said. Continuing his attempt to discredit the child, Rathbone said the child had been “locked up a couple of times” and had been diagnosed as bi-polar. Rathbone further alleged the child’s mother invented the mental health diagnosis. At one point in the appeals process, Rathbone also alleged the child’s mother had been able to coerce the child’s rape testimony through his disability and threats of violence to his siblings.
Later, as an adult, the victim testified during the appeals process that his mother had “influenced” his testimony through the threats of violence. When faced with the retraction of the victim’s original testimony, the local court discredited the recantation. The higher court deemed that despite the victim’s psychiatric evaluations, Rathbone and his attorneys failed to show the child didn’t understand what it meant to testify in court.
Given the totality of this, the appeals court ruled that Rathbone’s attorney had not erred to the point of overturning the conviction when he didn’t challenge the victim’s competency.
Regarding the state’s appeal issue, prosecutors argued that when the local court ruled that Rathbone and Fleeman should not have shared an attorney that decision was incorrect. Throughout the court record, there is no indication the defendants wanted separate representation, the TCCA opinion indicated.
Their denial of the crime became the crux of their defense, according to the court record. And while having clients sign a written waiver acknowledging the potential liabilities in sharing an attorney is standard, there was not one in this case. That was deemed a “mistake” by the local court.
Yet, the duo’s public defender insisted he had conversations with them in which they agreed they wanted the same attorney. “And for what’s worth, they were in love at the time and they wanted to be tried together, they asked to be tried together and I felt like that was not a problem,” the public defender said in an appeals hearing.
However, at the post- conviction juncture, it was noted by the trial judge that allowing Rathbone and Fleeman to pursue the shared attorney strategy despite their defense of total denial of culpability wasn’t prudent. In essence, the trial court and the public defender should have saved Rathbone “from his own misguided strategy,” the opinion said the trial judge ruled.
The TCCA said in this case, a shared attorney didn’t amount to an ineffective assistance of counsel. According to what was presented to the higher court, there was no conflict in the matter. Rathbone bore no prejudice from the jury as a result of the shared attorney and that same attorney presented the defense of blanket denial for both parties thus bolstering their claim of innocence, the record said.
In the end, the jury “weighed the evidence and credited the victim’s testimony” above all else resulting in the conviction.
Rathbone is not entitled to any type of reprieve and must serve his sentence following the ruling.
He is currently housed at Hardeman Correctional Facility in Whiteville with a release date of April 2061. (WLAF NEWS PUBLISHED -05/06/2020-6AM)