A Kansas City woman allowed a man in her car for a ride without knowing that he was a convicted murderer who had been arrested in two sexual assaults. Both times authorities deemed the cases too weak and released Lawrence Neal. Neal, 40, raped the woman driver. The Kansas City Star says the case highlights a weakness in the justice system recognized by lawyers and exploited by some criminals: If offenders choose the “right” victims, preferably those addicted to drugs or involved in crime, and put them in implausible situations, prosecution becomes extremely difficult. Police, prosecutors, and advocates for crime victims worry that it allows perpetrators to remain free, perhaps to rape again.
Neal's alleged victims believe he set them up to be discredited, in part, by forcing two victims to ingest crack and by luring the third to his home by offering free marijuana. Two of the women, upset that prosecutors did not act, wonder if more could have been done to keep the man off the streets. “It's sad, disappointing, discouraging, really,” said one victim. “It just changes my whole view of the justice system.” Prosecutors consider evidence strength and any weaknesses in a case before deciding whether to file charges, said Kevin Harrell, Jackson County's chief deputy prosecutor. It's not a matter of whether they believe the victim, he said, but whether a jury will. Jurors “don't want to convict an innocent person,” he says. In the last three years, about 1,300 rapes and other sex offenses were reported to Kansas City police. After investigating, police presented evidence against suspects in 323 cases to prosecutors, who filed charges in only 134 cases.