Feathered Bastard

The fight to free Courtney Bisbee: Her supporters rally at the Arizona state capitol.

Courtney Bisbee's supporters at the state capitol yesterday. Courtney's mom Camille Tilley is in the center.

The mothers of the disappeared. That's the first thought that came to mind upon seeing the supporters of Courtney Bisbee on the lawn of the state capitol this Valentines Day. Though unlike those Argentine mothers who gathered in Buenos Aires' Plaza de Mayo in the late '70s to protest the disappearance of their children in that government's "dirty war," Bisbee's supporters know exactly where she is, in Goodyear's Perryville prison, where she waits and waits for justice.

You can read all about Courtney Bisbee's case at www.justice4courtney.com, and the more you read, the more disturbed you will become by what you learn. Bisbee was convicted of child molestation, and on April 14, 2006, sentenced to eleven years for supposedly inappropriately touching a teenage boy by the name of Jon Valles. There was no physical evidence, and Bisbee had passed a polygraph. Reading the transcript of the trial, there seems more than enough room for reasonable doubt. Unfortunately, there was no jury. Bisbee's attorney convinced her to waive jury trial and put her life in the hands of Judge Warren Granville. In hindsight, that was a tragic mistake.

Since Bisbee's conviction, new, exculpatory testimony and evidence has come to light. The most convincing of these is the recantation of Nik Valles, Jon's brother. In the affidavit dated January of last year, Nik Valles alleges that he was coerced by his mother Janette Sloan not to contradict the testimony of his brother during trial. According to Nik, his mother's motive was financial gain through lawsuits. His father, Eugene Valles, backs up his son's allegation against the mother, who no longer lives in Arizona.

"My mother threatened and blackmailed me so the truth would not come out," states Nik in the affidavit. "And if I did not follow her instructions, there would be consequences...my mother's boyfriend beat me up and put a chokehold on me. A police report was filed and I feared for my safety in their household."

He goes on to reveal that he witnessed his brother, his mother and other state witnesses discussing their testimony, sculpting it to lead to a conviction. He denies that his brother had any sort of relationship with Bisbee, or that anything untoward occurred. Now that he's no longer a minor, he explains, he can speak freely, and believes Bisbee should be released and exonerated.

"Courtney Bisbee was a helpful and friendly person," states Nik, later adding, "Anything portraying her any differently would be a lie."

Powerful stuff. You can read the affidavit in its entirety, here.

Fox 10's Linda Williams did an excellent piece on Bisbee's story last year. The video is also on the Web site, and I encourage you to watch it. Currently, Bisbee's case is on appeal, and she has filed a pro per motion for her own release. The authorities, including County Attorney Andrew Thomas, whose office prosecuted Bisbee, are aware of the new evidence in this case. So why does this woman continue to languish in prison?

Bisbee's long-suffering parents, Camille and Tom Tilley, moved to Arizona to be near their daughter and work to have her freed. They've lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and other expenses. And they've lost access to their granddaughter Taylor Lee, who is in her father's custody. They are ordinary, middle-class, law-abiding American citizens whose lives, along with their daughter's, have become a Kafkaesque nightmare.

There's a lot more to this case, and I intend to continue peeling back the layers of this rotten onion. Suffice it to say that an innocent person is not convicted and sent away without the collusion of various government entities.

The public is titillated by cases involving grown women and teenage boys. There's a creepy obsession people have with these incidents, and an immediate assumption that the accused is always guilty. Prosecutors play upon this assumption, as they did in Bisbee's case, to obtain convictions. But Bisbee's case does not fit the mold. At the very least she deserves a new trial, and considering Nik Valles' recantation, she deserves to wait for it as a free woman.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons