Texas Injustice: Woman Could Avoid Jail For Lying About Being Sexually Assaulted (TWEETS)

Last spring, a woman in Denison, Texas claimed she’d been brutally gang-raped by three black men. However, she admitted she’d made the whole thing up–and faced the prospect of a stiff jail sentence herself. It looked like a major miscarriage of justice had been averted.

Unfortunately, we may have spoken too soon. Last week, the woman pleaded guilty to four felonies related to her deceit. Even though her lies put innocent men at risk of being arrested for a crime that never occurred, and even though she wasted scads of taxpayer dollars and police man-hours, she may not have to spend a day in jail.

Last March, Breana Harmon, also known as Breana Talbott, claimed that three black men had collared her in her apartment complex, dragged her to a nearby forest, and raped her. However, it was obvious from the start her story didn’t add up. There was no physical evidence that she’d been penetrated, and cuts on her jeans didn’t match cuts on her thighs.

Despite this, it took two weeks before Harmon admitted it was all a lie. She’d gotten in a fight with her then-fiancĂ©, and it so upset her that she cut herself. She then cooked up the rape story to cover her tracks.

It initially looked like prosecutors were poised to throw the collection at Harmon. She was initially only charged with false reporting, but in July was indicted on felony charges of tampering with evidence and tampering with government records. The latter charge came because she lied to the nurse who examined her at the hospital, and also caused bogus entries in the police report.

Facing the prospect of anywhere from 10 to 30 years in prison,a $30,000 fine, and getting the bill for the police investigation, Harmon pleaded guilty on Wednesday to all charges against her. In return, if the judge accepts the plea deal, she will either get probation or deferred adjudication. The latter sentence will allow the charges to be thrown out once Harmon completes community service. It will also allow her to keep her crimes from being disclosed to potential employers, landlords, and others. In both cases, Harmon could potentially escape jail time altogether. She will be formally sentenced on March 20.

There is so much wrong with this that it’s hard to know where to start. Harmon’s lies could have potentially ruined innocent people’s lives, and forced them to shell out scads of money to defend themselves for a crime that we now know never occurred. Moreover, rapists rank among the lowest of the low in the prison subculture, and risk being beaten up or worse. And that’s before we even scratch the surface of the racial factor.

Additionally, Denison police felt compelled to pursue this case even though they knew within 24 hours of speaking with Harmon that there was no there there. Police chief Jay Burch said that he kept the case open in the off-chance that Harmon was telling the truth. As a result, police questioned a number of black men in the area at the time of the supposed rape. Fortunately, no one was arrested.

Harmon’s lawyer, Bob Jarvis, says his client is “very remorseful for what she did and what she said.” He also claims that there were “fairly unusual circumstances” that led her to concoct this outrageous frame-up.

Sorry, not buying it. If Harmon was one bit sorry for what she did, she would have been willing to go to jail. And no “unusual circumstance” would justify making police go on a wild goose chase for two weeks, or put innocent people at risk of being arrested or worse.

We also have to wonder what Grayson County district attorney Joe Brown was thinking when he accepted this deal. When all the hyperbole is exhausted, you have a woman who concocted an outrageous frame-up that wasted thousands of taxpayer dollars and police man-hours, and could have resulted in innocent people having their lives ruined. No amount of talking from Jarvis should have been enough to overcome that. In the absence of something we haven’t heard or seen, anything less than 10 years would have been a joke.

Imagine someone firing a gun into the air. Even if no one got hit, something would be very wrong if the shooter didn’t go to jail if he were ever tracked down. This is no different.

This case represents yet another example of a very big problem with mass incarceration that doesn’t get talked about. When you fill up the jails with people charged with picayune offenses, sooner or later you’re going to run out of room for the people who really do belong in prison. And if concocting an outrageous frame-up that could have potentially resulted in innocent people having their lives ruined isn’t deserving of prison time, I’d like to know who sets the priorities for the criminal justice system in Texas and Grayson County. This case proves beyond doubt that those priorities are fundamentally warped.

Even if a judge does accept this travesty of a plea bargain, it’s obvious that saner minds across the country are not going to let this go away any time soon.

And it shouldn’t go away. What Brown has effectively done is tell the people of Texas and the nation that if you put people at risk of having their lives ruined, for all intents and purposes you’ll get off scot-free.

(featured image: mugshot courtesy Denison Police Department via KDFW)

Darrell is a 30-something graduate of the University of North Carolina who considers himself a journalist of the old school. An attempt to turn him into a member of the religious right in college only succeeded in turning him into the religious right's worst nightmare--a charismatic Christian who is an unapologetic liberal. His desire to stand up for those who have been scared into silence only increased when he survived an abusive three-year marriage. You may know him on Daily Kos as Christian Dem in NC. Follow him on Twitter @DarrellLucus or connect with him on Facebook. Click here to buy Darrell a Mello Yello.