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Picking up the pieces: Girl accused 'dad' but then recanted

By Deanna Hohler BottarRecord-Courier staff write Published: November 24, 1997 12:00 AM

The coffee mug he uses at work is inscribed with the words "The Very Best Dad," and he has a plaque in his mobile home that reads "Dad's Place." Both were gifts from the now 12-year-old girl who respected him like a father but later accused him of sexually abusing her.

When a deputy from the Portage County Sheriff's Office called in April to question him about allegations the child made against him, McCutcheon said he was shocked and didn't know what had hit him.

Two and a half months after the charges were dismissed when the child recanted her allegations in a Portage County Common Pleas Courtroom, McCutcheon still claims he is innocent and the child's mother agrees.

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McCutcheon and the girl's mother believe a former neighbor concocted the stories of sexual abuse and fed them to the child to get even with McCutcheon after a love affair between them failed.

They also claim the child was exposed to sexual information from several sources, including one of her girlfriends who was molested by a family member.

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"She doesn't deny what happened but she doesn't take responsibility for it either," the child's mother said of the woman she believes told her daughter sexually explicit stories.

A Portage County grand jury indicted McCutcheon on five counts of rape, two counts of attempted rape and two counts of felonious sexual penetration in April after the girl claimed McCutcheon engaged in sexual acts with her on more than one occasion.

The charges were dismissed in September because "the victim has recanted her original testimony, which was given to the police department, the department of human services, Akron Children's Hospital and the prosecutor's office," according to court documents.

Although McCutcheon was not prosecuted for the crimes with which he was charged, he still sees himself as a victim, having lost his relationship, his reputation and a lot of money.

"This mess almost cost me my job, too," McCutcheon said of his position as a technician in a Solon steel plant where he works third shift. "I'm still fighting for it. It also cost me the house I was saving to buy. I've spent $10,000 in all of this."

The days of the child, her mother and McCutcheon living together have ended. After the allegations were made, the mother moved with her child to an apartment and broke off her relationship with McCutcheon.

"We had a wonderful relationship," the girl's mother said of the years she spent with McCutcheon. "I don't think I could have asked for any man to love my child any more than he did. He took care of her. He treated her like his own. His family was absolutely wonderful with her.

"I usually talk to him once a day, but as far as seeing him, it's kind of just a sneak peek here or there," she said, adding that what has happened is more than she can overcome to get back together with him.

"I will probably be heartbroken for a good long time," the child's mother said.

Assistant Portage County Prosecutor Mark Hanna, who handles child sexual and physical abuse cases, said the child's decision to change her story just before the trial isn't atypical.

"It was one of those things, and I'm not sure if it was just the stress of having to testify or what have you," Hanna said. "It wasn't that he was proven innocent, but the little girl was basically the entire case. I think there was some pressure put on her by other people."

Hanna said the difficulties in prosecuting child sex abuse cases are the lack of witnesses, the intimate and scary nature of the crimes and the reliance on the child victim for the entire case.

"In these child sex abuse cases, this is common," Hanna said of the frequency of children recanting their original claims. "Actually the victims recant for various reasons. I know (this girl) was nervous that she would have to spend all summer in the courtroom testifying. She was comparing it to the O.J. Simpson trial."

McCutcheon said he respects the child even more now for standing up and telling the judge what he says is the truth.

"(The girl) respected me quite a bit," McCutcheon said. "She wanted to call me 'Dad.' I raised her. She's real bright and a real good kid. Me and (her) get along great."

Hanna said he has investigated McCutcheon's claim and the child's statement that the former neighbor set the child up to hurt McCutcheon and found no truth to the claims.

"I checked it out, and nothing panned out," Hanna said. "The only people who would know if it was true would be (the child) and him. We did all we really could have done."

As McCutcheon and the child's mother try to pick up the pieces of their lives separately, both say they would like to see the investigation into the incident resumed.

"She was so scared to death because she was put in the middle of something and she had no way to get out of it," McCutcheon said of the child he thinks of as a daughter. "She got right up on that witness stand and said who told her to do it. It took a lot of guts for her to go up there on that stand and say that."

The charges against McCutcheon could be refiled any time between now and 2003 if evidence surfaces that reveals abuse did take place, Hanna said.

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