The liberal judge nominated by Gov. Hochul to lead the state’s highest court tossed a rape conviction last month because of a delay in getting DNA evidence — leaving the victim shattered and wondering why the jurist is even being considered for such an important post.
State of Appeals Associate Judge Rowan Wilson wrote the majority opinion vacating the conviction that sent Andrew Regan to prison for 12 years for raping the victim in her own bed — even though he conceded the ruling would create the “genuine risk that a guilty person will not be punished or, as in this case, not finish out his full sentence.”
“It’s devastating,” said the now-37-year-old woman, who is not being identified by The Post because she still fears for her safety. “I would ask [Wilson] if he would make the same decision if it was his daughter who was the victim, because I bet he wouldn’t.”
The victim, who was 22 at the time, had been out drinking with her boyfriend and another couple after an Aug. 9, 2009 wedding reception and invited them all to stay at her upstate Norwood home afterward so they wouldn’t have to make the drive back to their houses.
She woke up in the middle of the night with Regan on top of her, raping her, she said.
His weight was crushing her so she couldn’t move and when he saw that she was awake he got off of her, she said. She then went to get her boyfriend, who had been outside on the porch making a phone call.
The boyfriend immediately called a friend to come get the couple out of her home, she said. He also called her parents, who drove her to the hospital, where a nurse performed an exam and took a rape kit.
Cops showed up at the hospital and she reported the rape to them.
Police immediately questioned Regan, 42, a former Army sergeant and Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran, and he denied having sex with her, but told cops “he wished he had,” according to court records.
Delays in the case continued for more than three years until November 2012, when a warrant application was submitted and Regan’s DNA was finally taken. Regan was free and living in the same town as the terrified victim, who saw him out at restaurants and at stores, she said.
On Feb. 23, 2015, six years after the attack, a 12-person jury finally convicted Regan of first-degree rape. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
The victim recalled her nightmare waiting for justice.
As the New York State Police and Lawrence County District Attorney’s Office investigated, the case dragged without an arrest. New investigators were assigned to her case at least three or four times. Prosecutors kept telling her they still hadn’t gotten Regan’s DNA, she said.
The prosecutors blamed delays on “incompetence,” according to the court record. It wasn’t made clear whose incompetence they were citing.
“I was frustrated that nobody was doing anything and that nothing was happening,” she said. “I felt like I wasn’t being taken seriously.”
Regan filed an appeal and on March 16, Wilson and the six member Court of Appeals vacated the conviction in a 4-2 ruling, citing “inexplicable delays” that violated Regan’s right to a speedy trial. He was sprung from prison that day.
In the majority opinion, Wilson wrote the decision would protect “vital societal interests” and that the legal system must spur “prosecutors to take crime seriously and give all parties the prompt closure they need to move on with their lives.”
He blamed the delay on prosecutors, writing that police had “complainant’s sworn statement and witness interviews immediately; the only missing
evidence was the DNA evidence from defendant, which could have been obtained with speed and ease.”
But in a strongly-worded dissenting opinion, Judge Madeline Singas argued that “if law enforcement negligently delays rape investigations, women’s voices will continue to be stifled, rapists held unaccountable, and jury verdicts discarded.”
The victim was floored by Regan’s release four years early.
She slammed Hochul for choosing Wilson as her nominee for chief judge of the Court of Appeals — a move critics said was meant to appease left-wing Democrats who sunk her first choice, centrist appellate Judge Hector LaSalle, in February. He would have been the state’s first Latino in the seat.
“With all the changes that she’s trying to make to make the world better for sex assault victims, she’s definitely not making the right choice by picking this judge,” said the woman of Wilson.
Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo nominated the Pomona, California-born Wilson, 62, to serve as an associate judge on the Court of Appeals in 2017. He is Harvard educated and a registered Democrat, records show.
Regan’s defense attorney Matthew Hug said his client continues to defend his innocence and never refused to give his DNA, blaming delays on law enforcement.
“In this case, the police and the prosecution didn’t do anything for four years and as a result the case had to be dismissed, and he served a substantial sentence,” Hug said.
Victims’ advocates are now worried the case sets a dangerous precedent.
“It shocks the conscience,” said Sonia Ossorio, president of NOW New York. “There is now an opening for convicted rapists to appeal convictions on the basis that they were not indicted soon enough, or that they were under suspicion too long. I believe to most New Yorkers this decision disqualifies Judge Wilson to have the most powerful position in the court system.”
Former sex crimes prosecutor Jane Manning called the decision “really horrible” for victims.
“He’s being considered for chief judge,” said Manning, director of the Women’s Equal Justice Project. “Is anyone going to hold him accountable for absolutely dismissing the rights of rape victims?”
Wilson couldn’t be reached for comment.