Falling Short: Child Sexual Abuse Convictions Vacated Against Cosio
By Brendan Smith
July 2, 2007
After more than two years of deliberation, the D.C. Court of Appeals issued a unanimous en banc opinion on June 21 that vacated multiple child sexual abuse convictions for Richard Cosio, who was sentenced to 33 years to life in 1998.
After a divided three-judge panel rejected Cosio’s appeal, the full court reversed that decision and stated that it was clarifying “the legal principles governing ineffectiveness claims based on counsel’s alleged investigative shortcomings.”
Cosio was convicted of eight charges for the alleged sexual abuse of his half-sister beginning in 1990, when she was 7 years old and he was 18. At trial, Cosio’s defense attorney from the D.C. Public Defender’s Office tried to discredit the victim in his opening statement, saying she was “attention-seeking” and a “deeply troubled teenager,” even though he presented no evidence at trial to support those claims. Cosio didn’t testify, and his defense attorney didn’t call any friends or family members to testify about Cosio’s relationship with the alleged victim.
The defense attorney, who is not named in the 51-page opinion, didn’t fully investigate the relationship between Cosio and his half-sister and failed to discover “potentially powerful impeachment” evidence about a possible “contradiction between her words and her deeds,” the opinion stated.
Cosio, an immigrant from Peru, retained attorneys Paul Kiyonaga and Jonathan Willmott on appeal. Kiyonaga hailed the decision as setting “the definitive standard for determining attorney competence in criminal cases, especially in the area of investigations, here in the District.”
Cosio has already served almost nine years of his prison sentence. The D.C. Public Defender’s Office couldn’t be reached for comment late last week.