When Jeff Simpson tried to sue Ed Murray a decade ago alleging sexual abuse, Murray's lawyer wrote back, “Your client is totally untrustworthy and will lie, cheat or steal as necessary to get what he wants.”
Brian Williams was Simpson’s attorney back then. He says the man who is now suing Murray better be prepared for more of that.
“It is neither uncommon nor illegitimate to question the credibility of the accuser,” Williams said.
The difference now is that Murray is Seattle’s mayor. In response to the lawsuit filed last month by Delvonn Heckard of Kent, Murray has denied ever having sex with any minor. He also says his accusers are not credible.
Some victims’ rights advocates have protested the tactic of dwelling on an accuser's criminal record. But Williams said that’s routine, before and during a trial.
Williams has represented victims and perpetrators in sexual abuse cases that are often beyond the usual statutes of limitations for crimes. People can now sue decades after the alleged abuse, although by that time evidence is scarce.
“When one person is accused of doing something to another person that is, by definition, something that occurred in private, coming up with the proof can be difficult for both sides,” he said. Whether the accuser is trustworthy will be intensely debated during trial — criminal history included.
Seattle attorney Rebecca Roe is a former prosecutor who now represents plaintiffs in sexual abuse cases. She said the accuser’s criminal record ties into the issue of damage awards and will be brought up by both sides. The accuser will tell the jury they deserve damages because the sexual abuse harmed their ability to work or get an education.
“The defense will say, ‘Well, no, there’s this criminal record, that’s what kept you from getting really good jobs,'” Roe said. “Then the plaintiff will come back and say, ‘Yeah, part of the reason for that criminal record is the abuse that set me into a really bad emotional place for coping.’”
But Roe said the defendant’s past can get brought up in court too, to argue that they have a pattern of behavior. “For instance [Murray's] defense is, 'This is all politically motivated,'" she said. But if other people who aren't politically motivated are making similar claims, those would be used to weaken Murray’s defense.
That's where the allegations from Simpson and another man, Lloyd Anderson, could come in. They aren't connected to Delvonn Heckard, and they also allege that Murray paid them for sex when they were teens. A fourth man now claims to have been abused by Murray after Heckard introduced them.
Simpson told KUOW his goal is for Murray to admit to these allegations.
“My biggest hope is that he gets the help that he needs and admits it so that the rest of us survivors that have survived what he has done to us as kids can finally get closure, some of us after 30-plus years,” Simpson said.
Simpson lives in a Portland suburb. He said he doesn’t know if he’ll be involved in the Seattle lawsuit. “I’m very leery of getting involved in that,” he said. “I don’t want anybody to have the misconception that me getting closure with this has anything to do with money.”
Simpson's former attorney Brian Williams said he found Simpson's claims credible in 2007 but realized the lawsuit couldn't go forward because of an issue with the statute of limitations. He said that back then, Simpson didn't seem fixated on obtaining money from Murray but was more intent on going public with his story.
But Murray's spokesman Jeff Reading said money was a factor in Simpson’s 2007 claims. A letter from Williams to Murray then said, "We assume you would prefer to resolve this matter before a lawsuit is filed.” Murray’s lawyer Katherine Heekin called that a demand for “hush money.”
In a recent op-ed piece, Murray wrote of Simpson, "The first accuser attempted to take his accusation public only after he sought payment from me."
Murray continued, “I would never suggest that those with criminal histories cannot be victims of abuse. Rather, his criminal history proves he cannot be trusted.”
Correction, 12:40 p.m., 5/3/2017: Delvonn Heckard is from Kent. An earlier version of this story misstated where he lives.