Patton, Mo., man charged with rape, molestation of 14-year-old after DNA test results come back

Tuesday, November 17, 2009 ~ Updated 1:29 PM

EDITOR'S NOTE: The name of the man released from jail has been corrected from Brad E. Johnson to Brandon E. Johnson.

MARBLE HILL, Mo. -- A Patton, Mo., man faces statutory rape and child molestation charges in a case where authorities admit they kept the wrong man in jail for eight months based on false testimony from the victim.

James E. Primer, 41, was charged Monday by Bollinger County Prosecuting Attorney Stephen Gray. DNA testing identified Primer as the father of a child born June 20 to a girl who was 13 at the time she became pregnant, according to a sworn statement filed with the charges.

Initial DNA testing conducted after the birth of the child led to charges being dismissed Oct. 5 against Brandon E. Johnson, 20, who had admitted knowing the victim but denied having sex with her.

Primer will have his first court appearance at 9 a.m. Thursday in Marble Hill.

Johnson was released from jail Aug. 11, about two weeks after the DNA testing confirmed he was not the father. Gray joined with Jason Tilley, Johnson's attorney, in asking at that time that Johnson be released.

Additional investigation led to the dropping of the charges, Gray said. "Ultimately the investigation progressed to where I determined the best thing to do was dismiss the case, and when we came into some new information this past week, we acted on it."

Johnson was arrested in January, after the then-pregnant girl named him as the father during an interview at the Southeast Missouri Network Against Sexual Violence. She said she had met him at a party in Marble Hill, described his appearance and said no one else could be the father. The victim stuck by the story during court testimony.

The DNA testing showed that Johnson was telling the truth when he denied the charges, Tilley said. "It is one of those cases where the charge is dismissed and you feel like your client has been exonerated," he said. "He is an extraordinary young man, and I was inspired at times by the way he handled what was going on around him."

Johnson said Monday he's trying to resume his life. He's working on obtaining his GED and find a job, he said. "I think if they had properly investigated this, I would never have been in jail," Johnson said.

Johnson told investigators in January that he remembered the girl from the party in a home he shared in Marble Hill but did not speak to her and had not seen her before that night or afterward.

Johnson said he repeatedly told investigators that he didn't know anything about the crimes. "I was thinking, 'I'll get it cleared up and I will get out,'" he said. "In my mind, I didn't know what to think. I was lost. I had no idea what they were talking about -- they said I was sleeping with the girl and I never touched the girl."

Acting on a tip Johnson passed on about a month after he was freed from jail, deputies obtained a DNA sample from Primer, according to the affidavit from Stanley Petton Jr., chief deputy of the Bollinger County Sheriff's Department. The results, which were returned Thursday, showed a 99.999 percent probability that Primer was the father.

Petton wrote in the statement that Primer denied having sex with the girl and said he intended to seek private DNA testing to verify the results.

Johnson's mother, Sandra Reeves, said she's angry it took so long to free her son. She estimated that she spent $12,000 for Tilley's services, lost work and other expenses. "The only thing I am looking forward to is suing these people," she said. "I spent $12,000, and he lost eight months of his life."

The case against Johnson wasn't handled any differently than other cases, Gray said. The girl's accusation was specific, she stuck by her story, gave an accurate description of Johnson and Johnson admitted the girl was at the party, Gray said.

DNA testing while the girl was pregnant wasn't justified, Gray said. "When you have a 13-year-old pregnant girl indicating who the father is, the only person who the father could be, is someone 20 years of age, you are going to be expected to take some action."

Things could have been a lot worse for Johnson if the girl had aborted her child without any DNA testing, Tilley said. "Innocent people do get accused of crimes," he said. "This was a lucky time we were able to establish it. What gives me sleepless nights is the 'what if'."

Tilley would not speculate on why the girl named Johnson but said she, too, is a victim in the case.

Linda Redeffer of the Banner Press contributed to this report.

rkeller@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent addresses:

Marble Hill, MO

Patton, MO

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