Britton wants peace of mind

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 15, 2007

CONWAY – It’s been a four year fight for Terry Britton and now he has seen vindication.

On July 13, four child sexual abuse related charges filed against Britton were dismissed due to insufficient evidence, according to a dismissal filed with the state.

Though his exoneration has brought public and court acknowledgment of his innocence, he has yet to have peace of mind.

Britton is upset with District 6B Attorney Valerie Asbell, the Northampton County Sheriff’s Office and the Northampton County Department of Social Services (DSS) for how his case was handled. He also accused Asbell of withholding evidence that could have proved his innocence earlier.

“They know they didn’t do their job,” said Britton. “No one ever investigated my side.”

Britton was arrested in 2003 and charged with two counts of first degree sex offense. The charges stemmed from accusations that he had sexual contact with his then three year old daughter.

Britton claims those accusations are the results of coaching by the child’s mother, Amy Barnes.

“She’s a pathological liar,” he said. “She tends to make up lies.”

He said Barnes was bitter after their relationship ended and he refused to marry her after she revealed she was pregnant.

Britton said he was suspicious of the paternity of the child because Barnes at the time was living with one man while she still had not resolved her marriage to another. He agreed to take a DNA test and footed the $700 bill to determine paternity after the child was born.

When the paternity test proved he was the father, Britton said he stepped up to the plate, signing a VCA for support and filing for court ordered visitation rights to see his daughter.

But his relationship with Barnes remained contentious.

Britton said he was charged with communicating threats stemming from accusations by Barnes, but the case was thrown out when it went before a judge.

In 2002, he said tried to get full custody of their daughter through mediation, which resulted in Britton getting the right to see his daughter every other weekend.

That was the same year that the rumblings of sexual child abuse accusations against Britton began.

According to a timeline provided by Britton, he said the child In early June 2003 the child was interviewed by a mental health therapist in early June of 2003. The report generated by that interview was forwarded to the Northampton County Department of Social Services, which contacted the Northampton County Sheriff’s Office.

A DSS social worker along with Northampton County Sheriff’s Detective Bill Wheeler interviewed the child with Barnes present. It was during that interview where the child claimed Britton had touched her inappropriately.

From that point, an evaluation of the child was done by Dr. Michael Reichel of the Tedi-Bear Child Advocacy Center at East Carolina University. Within his report, Dr. Reichel stated that “based on the history and exam, child sexual abuse is possible but cannot otherwise be confirmed.”

The report also referred to a 2002 exam done on the child by an urologist that revealed “no signs of genital trauma.”

Britton said this 2003 document was withheld by Asbell.

“She had that document for four years,” he said.

Britton also said his side was not investigated by the Northampton County Sheriff’s Department.

“I spent eight minutes in the Sheriff’s Department,” he said.

Britton claimed that witnesses who saw Barnes coaching their daughter were not interviewed by the department. He added there are tapes of Barnes interviewing the child alone and are highly coercive.

According to defense documents, which Britton supplied for this article, in July 2003 the child was interviewed alone by a social worker at a daycare facility. In that interview the child disclosed her father did not touch her inappropriately.

Less than 10 days later, Britton was arrested. He was charged with two counts of first degree sex offense with a child.

According to Britton, one of the counts was dropped after another interview with the child resulted in two different statements by a DSS social worker and Detective Wheeler.

Britton said he dropped his defense lawyer Jimmy Sam Barnes after finding out he was working with Asbell on a plea bargain. Britton said he would never agree to a plea bargain because he had not done anything wrong.

He said he went outside of the Roanoke-Chowan area in order to get fair representation. He then hired Thomas Manning with Manning & Crouch to represent him.

Britton said Asbell would not set a court date for the case.

Meanwhile, Britton’s family and friends rallied around him by organizing fundraisers for his legal bills.

When the grand jury heard the case in October 2006, Britton learned he would not be facing one count of first degree of sex offense with a child, but two along with two counts of indecent liberties with a child. With the court date set, Britton said grand jurors were sequestered.

Britton claimed there was jury tampering when one of Barnes’ friends approached jury members and asked them to “push the case along.” Britton said despite jury members coming forward to report the alleged tampering, no investigation was done.

With Manning moving forward on the case, Phillip W. Esplin, a psychologist from Phoenix, Ariz., was hired to review the evidence and offer an opinion.

In a copy of that report given to the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald by Britton, Esplin concludes, “Based upon the records reviewed, I have serious doubts about the reliability of the information obtained from this child. There is substantial risk that the child’s independent recollections, if any, of the events under investigation has been tainted.”

He continues, “The child’s age during the time span of the alleged events would place her in the highest risk category with regard to ‘susceptibility to external influences’ and the development of ‘genuine but mistaken beliefs.”

Then Asbell pulled out of the case, citing “conflict of interest,” according to Britton.

“She begged to get out of the case because the community was against her,” he said.

Child Abuse Resource Prosecutor Laura Parker with the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys in Raleigh picked up the case.

In a letter addressed to Parker on July 12, 2007, Dr. Reichel reiterated what he stated in 2003.

“Based upon my review of current legal issues in 2007, I cannot confirm with any reasonable degree of medical certainty that any prior possible sexual abuse occurred in 2003,” the letter states.

Britton to this day does not understand why the case went as far as it did.

“I told them from day one she (Barnes) was vindictive,” he said.

Britton said he wanted to speak with Asbell and even tried to set up a meeting.

“I’ve never met the woman (Asbell) in all these five years,” said Britton. “I’ve never met her.”

As for the future, Britton said he intends to seek custody of his daughter, whom he has not seen since 2003.

“I’m not sure if she would know me if I stepped in front of her,” he said. “Just imagine what kind of therapy I’ll have to carry her through.”

Britton said due to this case he has lost his business and is nearly bankrupt.