The novel behind the Dotson case

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An elusive aspect of the case of Gary Dotson—who was exonerated 30 years ago this week of a rape that hadn’t happened—was how his 16-year-old purported victim could have fabricated a false rape scenario that persuaded police, an emergency room physician, her parents, a judge, jury, prosecutors, and even Dotson and his trial lawyer that it was true.

The answer is she didn’t make it up.

As Cathleen Crowell Webb explained to me and to a psychologist in 1985, after she recanted the false allegation that sent Dotson to prison six years earlier, she lifted the scenario out of a novel—“Sweet Savage Love” by Rosemary Rogers (Avon Books, 1974).

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I have told the story before, so please forgive me for engaging in a bit of self-plagiarism.

“Sweet Savage Love” features a vivid rape scene, including details that parallel he story Crowell told at Dotson’s 1979 trial, three years before she married and changed her name to Webb.

The female victim in the novel was abducted by three men in a carriage, one of whom raped her as the others “laughed along with” him. Crowell testified that she was abducted by three men in a car and raped by one of them while the others were consistently laughing “like it was a big joke.”

The victim in the novel was stripped by her rapist and “pinned down by his weight.” Crowell testified that her rapist held her down, “putting his weight on” her as he tore off her clothes.

The novel victim’s rapist bit her breast. Crowell testified that her rapist bit her breast.

The novel victim felt her attacker’s shirt “tear under her clutching fingers” and that the men “threw [her] onto the ground beside [the carriage] naked.” Crowell testified that she tore her rapist’s shirt during the attack and, after the rape, he pushed her out of the car “nearly naked.”

Postscript: I wrote in this space yesterday that Dotson was the first person in the world to be exonerated by DNA. That was questioned by two readers, who contended that a man named David Vasquez was first. Vasquez indeed was exonerated of a Virginia rape-murder seven months before Dotson. But biological evidence that could have established Vasquez’s innocence had been destroyed. He was pardoned on Jan. 4, 1989, after DNA linked another man to a virtually identical crime.

Rob Warden is co-founder of Injustice Watch.