San Antonio, TX — Frank Navarijo was sentenced to 20 years in prison after courts convicted him of repeatedly raping a 5-year-old family member. Thirteen years after the conviction, the now 20-year-old victim has recanted her story, saying that Navarijo never touched her.
The college student, who testified in court against Navarijo in 1999, has confessed that her grandmother pressured her to tell stories of Navarijo’s abuse. The victim’s alleged confession has led Navarijo’s attorney’s to ask that the verdict be overturned.
Navarijo, 73, was convicted and charged with multiple counts of rape when his then 5-year-old granddaughter told the jury that Navarijo had raped her. On Friday, however, the victim – a student at Texas State University – claimed that she wanted to set the record straight. Despite the confession, however, Navarijo is still in jail.
Rico Valdez, chief of the district attorney’s appellate division, said that the alleged victim “appeared to be very credible to us as a child.” Valdez noted that “victims in the past have recanted then reversed again, sometimes explaining that they felt sorry for an aging offender.” He is therefore unsure of what the court’s recommendation will be regarding Navarijo’s future.
“There are all types of situations that can cause a victim to recant untruthfully,” he said, adding that there was “strong scientific evidence” during the trial that the child was molested by somebody. “I haven’t heard anything yet to make me question it.” During the trial, Dr. Nancy Kellogg was called to offer an opinion on the child’s well-being. Based on an examination of the child’s genitals, Dr. Kellogg maintained that it was “highly probably” that the girl was indeed molested by somebody.
But the accuser states that it was her grandmother who put the idea of Navarijo’s abuse in her head. “From what I remember,” the accuser noted, “[my grandmother] would basically sit there and tell me, ‘This is what [Navarijo] did to you.’ ” The woman added, “It happened gradually, over time as I grew up.”
Now, she wants to “set the record straight.” The accuser, who remains nameless since the case is still considered a sexual abuse case, added that “For whatever reasons, which I do not know, she [the grandmother] hated [Navarijo]. She did have a fair amount of control over me.”
Psychologist Joann Murphey states that the examination of the girl’s genitals is not conclusive of abuse, stating that the child could have been born that way. Murphey is reportedly confident that the woman is telling the truth, that Navarijo never raped her. The woman, according to Murphey, “presents as a passive, mildly histrionic young woman who likely would have been psychologically crushed by the pressures of the investigation and trial.”
In a video of the child’s interview with investigators, the grandmother was in the room. Murphey claims that “The grandmother is glaring at the child … behind the interviewer’s back.” Murphey also contends that “the investigator suggested to the child what to say.”
Navarijo is a retired police officer who worked for the district attorney and a police instructor in El Salvador for the US Department of Justice. He is still in jail, and will remain there until authorities decide how to proceed in light of the accuser’s renouncement.
The woman’s grandmother did not attend the hearing, and neither side has spoken to her about the recanted testimony, attorneys said.