WSAZ | West Virginia | News

UPDATE: U.S. Supreme Court Denies Rehearing in Joseph Lavigne Case

By: Brooks Jarosz, Anna Baxter, WSAZ News Staff Email
By: Brooks Jarosz, Anna Baxter, WSAZ News Staff Email

UPDATE 6/4/13 @ 2:15 p.m.
PUTNAM COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A man convicted of sexually assaulting his five-year-old daughter will not get out of prison, and his chances for an appeal are over.

The U.S. Supreme Court says they will not hear Joseph Lavigne's case.

The Putnam County man was convicted of raping his daughter in 1996.

He was freed in 2011 when a Putnam County judge overturned the conviction.

Last year, the West Virginia State Supreme Court reversed the decision sending him back to prison. That's when his attorney appealed to the US Supreme Court.

Lavigne will now serve the remainder of his 60 year sentence.



UPDATE 1/11/13 @ 1:55 p.m.
PUTNAM COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The man sent back to prison after his rape conviction was overturned and set free will not get out of prison.

Joseph Lavigne spent 15 years behind bars after being convicted of raping his daughter. She went back on her original story and in May of 2011, his conviction was overturned and he was set free.

However, in November 2012, the West Virginia Supreme Court reversed that Circuit Court ruling and sent Lavigne back to prison.

Shortly after that decision, Lavigne's attorney filed a petition for a rehearing for the court to reconsider its decision to send him back to prison. On Friday, the court voted to deny that petition, meaning Lavigne will serve his remaining prison sentence.



UPDATE 11/27/12 @ 6:35 p.m.
PUTNAM COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- One man will not be home for the holidays this year because he's headed back to jail.

Joseph Lavigne spent more than 15 years behind bars before he was released. He was convicted of raping his 5-year-old daughter, Katie Haught.

Years later, she came forward and said it wasn't him, but the Supreme Court didn't buy it and overruled it.

On Tuesday, Lavigne walked into the courtroom with his family by his side. He left the courtroom in custody.

“I've been full of anxiety not knowing what was coming up. Today I know exactly what's coming up, so it's a lot easier for me to maintain myself,” Lavigne said.

While out of jail, Lavigne was able to reconnect with Katie and even witness the birth of her daughter.

“I'm glad I had the holiday at least. I'm glad I had this year and a half,” Lavigne said.

Knowing they won't be together this Christmas is tough on the whole family.

“This is worse than a death,” Laurel Haught, Lavigne’s sister, said. “When somebody dies, they're at peace. You know, the suffering's done with.”

“I don't have to prove that I didn't do this at all. I know that I’m innocent. That's not a factor,” Lavigne said.

The focus for Lavigne now is to keep looking for ways to get back with his family.

“We're gonna keep fighting. We got to regroup ourselves, figure out the next steps,” Haught said.

Lavigne was sentenced on charges of first-degree sexual assault, incest and child abuse. His attorney said they do plan to file a petition for a rehearing before the Supreme Court.

If that doesn't work, Lavigne said they'll file more paperwork involving issues that weren't addressed in court.



UPDATE 11/21/12 @ 10:49 p.m.
PUTNAM COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- After more than a year as a free man, Joseph Lavigne is heading back to prison.

He spent 15 years behind bars after being convicted of raping his daughter.

She went back on her original story and in May of 2011, his conviction was overturned and he was set free.

But now, he’s headed back to jail after the West Virginia Supreme Court reversed that Circuit Court ruling.

"I always felt the evidence was there to support this conviction and I felt very strongly that the jury's determination should be upheld," Putnam County Prosecutor Mark Sorsaia said.

But it wasn’t at least until May of 2011.

"One issue that they raised, they said that when he was convicted by the jury in the first place, that there wasn't sufficient evidence to support the conviction. Quite frankly that the jury was wrong," Sorsaia said.

That’s why he’s so glad the West Virginia State Supreme Court has overruled the Circuit Court’s decision.

"And that's what bothered me about this case was it was reversed, quite frankly, on issues of fact. In my opinion that kind of usurped the authority of a jury -- in our country juries decide who's guilty and who's not, not judges or prosecutors," Sorsaia said.

But he says there’s more to it -- saying a decade and a half is too long to wait after a conviction when the judge is basing the decision on court transcripts.

"I didn't agree with the legal precedent that we should be second guessing juries. We should let juries make determinations. If a jury says someone's not guilty, as a prosecutor -- I accept that, but when the jury says someone is guilty then I'm going to fight for that. And that's what I did," Sorsaia said.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 11/21/12
CHARLESTON, W.Va (WSAZ) -- Joseph Lavigne is heading back to prison.

Wednesday, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals reversed a lower court ruling, that overturned Joseph Lavigne's 1996 rape conviction. In May of 2011, he was released after 15 years in prison.

Now he's going back. The high court ordered him back to prison with an amended sentence. Lavigne's sentence picks up where it left off - he received no credit for when he was released, back in 2011.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 10/23/12 @ 7 p.m.
BUCKHANNON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A father's fate is now in the hands of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals after a rape conviction was overturned and prosecutors appealed.

It's been more than a year since Joseph Lavigne was released from jail. Putnam County Circuit Judge Spaulding overturned the 53-year-old Lavigne's 1996 rape conviction and called for a new trial. That ruling came after Lavigne served 15 years behind bars.

The Supreme Court heard the case Tuesday at West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon.

Putnam County Prosecutor Mark Sorsaia filed the appeal with the Supreme Court in August 2011. He wants the high court to overturn the ruling and send him back to prison to serve the remainder of his sentence.

Sorsaia says allowing the overturned conviction to stand would encourage other criminals to file similar appeals.

Lavigne's retrial has been postponed until after a ruling is made by the Supreme Court.

"What the circuit court did in this case is they just focused on the verbal testimony of the child in the courtroom and completely disregarded the other evidence," Prosecutor Mark Sorsaia said.

Sorsaia laid out his case against Lavigne, knowing that since the 1996 conviction Lavigne's daughter, Katie Haught, has claimed her dad didn't do it.

"I never should have been convicted of this in the first place," Joseph Lavigne said. "I never should have been tried on this in the first place. There wasn't any evidence saying that I did this."

Lavigne was released in May 2011. Prosecutors maintain Haught identified her rapist just hours after in happened in 1996. But in trial, prosecutors say she was trapped and pressured to not name her father.

"Behavior and acts can speak a lot louder than words," Sorsaia said. "When you see the fact that the child was bombarded with pressure from the mother from the very beginning that she should recant and not incriminate her dad."

Lavigne's attorney says there are three constitutional problems that came up during the original trial prompting the overturned conviction. He says if the high court agrees there's insufficient evident in the case, it won't be able to be retried.

However, if the Supreme Court grants the appeal, Lavigne would go back behind bars.

"I think he made several misstatements in this," Lavigne said. "He's trying to put the best spin you can on the case that he has."

The high court is left to decipher whether or not the ruling was constitutional and ultimately decide if Lavigne will be free, go back on trial or back behind bars.

"I'll go back to trial in a heartbeat," Lavigne said. "I'm not the same naive person that I was when I was convicted of this crime."

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case in the coming weeks. Lavigne's retrial is on hold until the high court makes a decision.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 10/23/12 @ 11:40 a.m.
BUCKHANNON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The fate of a Putnam County father convicted of raping his own daughter is in the hands of the West Virginia State Supreme Court.

The high court heard arguments at West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon on Tuesday in the case involving, Joseph Lavigne Jr., the man who who spent 15 years in prison, but was released after a circuit court judge overturned his conviction.

Putnam County Prosecutor Mark Sorsaia disagreed with the judge's decision and filed an appeal, asking the Supreme Court to overturn that ruling.

Sorsaia says he fears that allowing the conviction to be overturned is dangerous... because he says it could encourage other criminals who are locked up to file similar appeals.

Lavigne was convicted in 1996 of raping his daughter, Katie Haught.

Haught came forward later, saying her dad didn’t do it. Then in April 2011, a judge overturned the conviction, citing numerous issues with his trial.

Judge O.C. Spaulding cited several issues in his ruling, including Haught making inconsistent out-of-court statements about who committed the rape.

Lavigne was released on bond in May 2011.

Lavigne's daughter spoke with WSAZ.com after her father was released from prison.

"It was a comment that was made under duress... it was simply at the time of stress," Haught said.

The Supreme Court will now take the case under advisement and make a ruling on whether or not Judge Spaulding was correct in overturning Lavigne's conviction.

That ruling is expected in the next few weeks.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 6/30/11 @ 10:30 p.m.
WINFIELD, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The defendant in a high-profile sexual assault case is playing the waiting game as Putnam County’s prosecuting attorney appeals to the West Virginia Supreme Court.

Joe Lavigne, Jr. was convicted in 1996 of raping his daughter, Katie Haught. Haught came forward later, saying her dad didn’t do it. In April, a judge overturned the conviction, citing numerous issues with his trial.

Lavigne was released on bond in May, and was in court Thursday for a brief hearing.

Though it will be months before Lavigne finds out for sure what's next for him, he says that's not really bothering him right now.

"I got out, and I became a grandparent. And, I was there for the birth of my grandchild. It was fantastic. You couldn't do anything better than that ever," says Lavigne.

In court Thursday, his case was put on hold.

Prosecuting Attorney Mark Sorsaia says Lavigne never should have had his conviction overturned. He filed a notice of appeal in late May with the Supreme Court of Appeals.

Among the issues Judge O.C. Spaulding cited in his April ruling was Haught making inconsistent out-of-court statements about who committed the rape.

In the notice filed with the Supreme Court, Sorsaia criticizes the judge's ruling and says his conclusion is "...a gross oversimplification of the record in this case, and disregards the inherent complexity of a sexual assault case that deals with a six-year-old victim."

"If (the Supreme Court) rules completely against me, that's the worst possible outcome. I can go straight back to prison at that point, and start the whole process over again, which this took 14 years," Lavigne says.

Sorsaia has to submit his finalized appeal by the end of August. Then, Lavigne’s attorney will have 45 days to respond.

Lavigne says he's trying not to focus on the legal issues, instead enjoying the chance to be with his family once again.

"I'm not bothering to dwell on that, that much. I think I'll be able to win this. I think the Supreme Court will see that there's absolutely valid reasons why the judge ruled as he did and wrote such a good opinion," Lavigne said.

Since Lavigne was released on bond, he says he's started going to a program that helps people re-enter society.



UPDATE 5/12/11 @ 1:22 p.m.
PUTNAM COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The Putnam County man released from prison after a judge threw out his conviction is speaking out one week after his release. Joseph Lavigne, Junior says he's still getting acclimated to life as a free man.

Lavigne says the world has changed drastically while he was in prison for the past 15 years. Among some of the toughest tasks he's now faced with: learning to text on a cell phone, clicking his way around the World Wide Web and trying to find something to watch in the 1000's of TV channels on cable. While it may sound strange to most, Lavigne says these are all things he's missed since his conviction.

Lavigne says he's also spent the past week trying to catch up with family. He says he's tried to spend every second catching up with his kids, who are now all adults. Lavigne believes he'll never be able to make up for that lost time, but says he will sure try. He says he's yet to get to have a serious, sit-down talk with his daughter, Katie, who was raped back in 1996. At the time, Katie told people it was her dad, and then that it was someone who looked like him.

Lavigne is scheduled to be back in court on June 30 for an initial appearance. That is when the judge will set a date for his arraignment hearing. Lavigne says he's so confident in his innocence that he's ready to go back to trial right now.



UPDATE 5/5/11 @ 11:39 a.m.
PUTNAM COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- During a court hearing Thursday, a judge set bond for a man who was convicted in 1996 of brutally raping his five-year-old daughter in Putnam County.

This move follows a ruling issued last week that orders a new trial in the case of Joseph Lavigne Jr.

Lavigne has spent 15 years in prison for a crime he says he did not commit.

The Hurricane man was found guilty in the brutal rape of his five-year-old daughter, Katie Haught, in a church parking lot. A jury also found him guilty of incest and child abuse resulting in bodily injury. He was sentenced to up to 50 years in prison.

However, last Friday Judge O.C. Spaulding tossed out the conviction and ordered a new trial, but the Putnam County Prosecutor says he’ll appeal this decision, adding that investigators did a “thorough” job in the case.

During Thursday's hearing, a Putnam County Judge set Lavigne's bond at $150,000.

Putnam County Prosecutor Mark Sorsaia was not prosecutor at the time, but he is handling the case now. Bill Rardin initially prosecuted the case.

In his 74-page ruling Friday, Spaulding questioned some of the evidence and the police work.

Spaulding points out Lavigne's daughter was inconsistent about who she thought raped her in a church parking lot. First, she told people it was her dad, and then that it was someone who looked like him. Spaulding says some statements never should have been admitted as evidence.

Lavigne posted bond shortly after Thursday's hearing. Lavigne tells WSAZ.com he's thankful to be out of prison and he plans to fight to prove his innocence.

"I knew this time would come, but I just didn't know when," Lavigne said. "It's great to be out. It's been a long time. I'm overwhelmed at this point."

He says he is very grateful to finally see his children after 15 years. He says he thought it was best to not have contact with them while he was in prison.

"I'm really happy I get to take him home. I'm so glad that we got the beginning of this being over. It's been so long," Katie Haught said. "I haven't seen him in 15 years. I don't know the specifics, if I was allowed or not, but we didn't in case we could get a new trial they couldn't contend we had been talking or anything like that or coaching me."

Lavigne has spent the last 15 years at the Huttonsville Correctional Center.

The $150,000 bond that was set on Thursday is the same amount that was set when Lavigne was originally charged with the crime.

Haught tells WSAZ.com she is 100-percent confident her father is innocent.

"I have never been afraid of my father, even as I said the things I did," Haught said. "I wasn't afraid of him. It was a comment I made under duress."

During the original trial, Spaulding said Lavigne's daughter was inconsistent about who she thought raped her in a church parking lot. First, she told people it was her dad, and then that it was someone who looked like him. Spaulding says some statements never should have been admitted as evidence.

Lavigne is scheduled to be back in court on June 30 for an initial appearance. That is when the judge will set a date for his arraignment hearing.

"I have no problems going back to trial again. I'm not the naive, stupid person I was at that point of time," Lavigne said. "I have had 15 years working on this case, working in a law library. I'm not the same person."

The only thing Lavigne says he will do different this time around is "fight, fight, fight."

Katie Haught gave WSAZ.com permission to use her name and identity for this story.



UPDATE 5/3/11 @ 10:15 p.m.
PUTNAM COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) – Putnam County Prosecutor Mark Sorsaia says he plans to appeal the decision to grant a new trial for Joseph Lavigne Jr., who was found guilty in 1996 of raping his 5-year-old daughter.

Lavigne has spent 15 years in prison for a crime he says he did not commit.

The Hurricane man was found guilty in the brutal rape of his 5-year-old daughter in a church parking lot. A jury also found him guilty of incest and child abuse resulting in bodily injury. He was sentenced to up to 50 years in prison.

Despite Judge O.C. Spaulding tossing out the conviction and ordering a new trial Friday, Sorsaia says he’ll appeal, adding that investigators did a “thorough” job in the case.

"After reviewing the transcript, I could understand why the jury did what they did, so it's kind of frustrating years later that we have to look at it again," Sorsaia says.

Sorsaia was not prosecutor at the time, but he is handling the case now. Bill Rardin initially prosecuted the case.

In his 74-page ruling Friday, Spaulding questioned some of the evidence and the police work.

Spaulding points out Lavigne's daughter was inconsistent about who she thought raped her in a church parking lot. First, she told people it was her dad, and then that it was someone who looked like him. Spaulding says some statements never should have been admitted as evidence.

The judge also takes issue with the limitation on the number of character witnesses who were allowed to testify on Lavigne’s behalf during his trial.

As for the police officers’ work, Sorsaia says, "I think they were extremely thorough."

But, some people don't share that view.

Freelance journalist Justin McLachlan started the website "Where Doubt Remains."

He investigated the Lavigne case a few years ago.

"I was shocked at the lack of evidence and lack of police work in this case," McLachlan says. "There was nothing that materialized at trial that linked him to the crime."

During the trial, Lavigne’s daughter did not positively identify her dad as the one who raped her.

"As a prosecutor today, if I had the same evidence, the same kind of investigation on a matter that happened currently, I wouldn't have any reservation about going to trial and trying the case,” Sorsaia says.

Lavigne’s daughter came forward years after the conviction, and said her dad didn't do it.

"What the police did in this case really needs to be scrutinized, just the lack of police work," McLachlan says.

If Sorsaia loses his petition to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, he says may not be able to retry the case due to legal issues.

For now, Lavigne is in prison at the Huttonsville Correctional Center.

He has a bond hearing later this week.



UPDATE 4/29/11 @ 11:15 p.m.
PUTNAM COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A judge has tossed out the 1996 conviction of Joe Lavigne, who was found guilty of raping his 5-year-old daughter in Hurricane.

In a ruling issued Friday, Judge O.C. Spaulding vacated a jury’s conviction and ordered a new trial, citing concerns with evidence that was introduced, among other things. The ruling follows a court hearing in January 2010.

In addition to the first-degree sexual assault conviction, Lavigne was also found guilty in 1996 of incest and child abuse resulting in bodily injury. He was sentenced to up to 50 years in prison.

Since the initial crime happened, Lavigne and many of his family members maintained he was innocent.

In 2001, his daughter came forward and said her dad didn't do it.

"I think it's a just decision. It's a long time coming," Lavigne told WSAZ.com after the ruling was issued. "It's been a nightmare. It's almost impossible to describe."

But, some officials say there's no reason to reverse the conviction.

Putnam County Prosecutor Attorney Mark Sorsaia, who was not prosecutor in 1996, said he hadn't read the entire ruling, but he has reviewed the record of this case.

He told WSAZ.com, "I don't think there's any legal justification to give him a new trial."

But, in Friday’s 74-page ruling, Spaulding questions much of what happened at his trial.

Spaulding points out Lavigne's daughter was inconsistent about who she thought raped her in a church parking lot. First, she told people it was her dad, and then that it was someone who looked like him. Spaulding says some statements never should have been admitted as evidence.

"Joe is a very gentle, kind person. He was loved by his kids and everybody who knew him," says Greg Ayers, Lavigne’s attorney.

The judge also takes issue with the limitation on the number of character witnesses who were allowed to testify on Lavigne’s behalf during his trial.

Spaulding writes, “In limiting the number of character witnesses to only four, the trial court robbed Mr. Lavigne of an opportunity to prove his character.”

Following the brutal rape, Lavigne says in focusing on him as the primary suspect, police lost time investigating who truly committed the crime.

Ayers, says, "I wish that we knew who committed this crime because certainly they should be brought to justice. But, I am 200 percent convinced that it wasn't Joe Lavigne."

For now, Lavigne remains in the Huttonsville Correctional Center. He says, “I'm hoping that I can rebuild my life from here. I'm hoping that I can help other people in the same situation at some point in my life."

Lavigne is due in court next week for a bond hearing.



ORIGINAL STORY 4/29/11 @ 3 p.m.
WINFIELD, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The conviction of a man who is accused of brutally raping his 5 year-old daughter in Putnam County has been overturned.

Joesph Lavigne was convicted back in 1996 after he allegedly raped his 5-year-old daughter in the parking lot of a church near their home in Hurricane.

The girl had to undergo four hours of surgery after the assault.

In 2001, the little girl who was assaulted came forward and told an attorney, Lavigne did not rape her.

This morning, Circuit Court Judge O.C. Spaulding overturned the conviction and granted him a new trial.

Putnam County Prosecutor Mark Sorsaia tells WSAZ.com, "I don't think there's any legal justification to give him a new trial."

Keep clicking WSAZ.com for more updates.


WSAZ NewsChannel 3 645 Fifth Avenue Huntington, WV 25701 304-697-4780 WSAZ Charleston 111 Columbia Avenue Charleston, WV 25302 304-344-3521
Gray Television, Inc. - Copyright © 2002-2014 - Designed by Gray Digital Media - Powered by Clickability 120976749 - wsaz.com/a?a=120976749