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Convicted sex offender cleared on a technicality

10:13 PM, Dec 5, 2013   |    comments
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Editorial note: As a policy, typically, 9NEWS doesn't identify victims of sexual abuse. The victim in this case, as well as her sister, allowed 9NEWS to identify them to more effectively tell the story.

ARAPAHOE COUNTY - If there was a way to re-write history, Meaghan Scull would choose a different childhood.

The one she is left with is too painful.

"There are things I don't remember about the past," Scull said. "But the abuse is something that is so incredibly vivid, and for lack of a better term, cut deep into my childhood. That's really all I can remember from childhood in many ways."

Pictures from that time still make the 34-year-old cry.

"That's me and my sister," she said, showing 9NEWS one photo. "We're so young here and so innocent."

THE DAY LIFE CHANGED FOR MEAGHAN

Scull would love to start over in 1985 when she was six.

"I remember I met this man at a birthday party," she said. "He introduced himself as a puppet man and that he also knew my mom."

In 1985, Scull met Michael Fleenor. He was 25 then and already a convicted sex offender.

Court records show Fleenor was arrested in 1984 on sexual assault on a child charges in Lakewood. Police records say he admitted to inappropriately touching a 12-year-old girl at Casa Bonita while working there. He pleaded guilty to a sex assault on a child charge, complied with the terms of his two-year deferred judgment and the case was dismissed. That judgment is not something the current leadership of the Jefferson County District Attorney's office would agree to today. But back then, court records show, Fleenor essentially walked away from one victim in one crime and walked into the home, with his new girlfriend and her two small daughters. Scull was one of them. According to an arrest affidavit, shortly after that, Fleenor started abusing the two girls.

Scull said her mother didn't know about the Lakewood case at the time.

"He had very limited boundaries. He would tickle us, roughhouse with us and play with us. That very quickly turned into him putting his hands up our shirts, and down our pants and tickling us in areas that were wrong," Scull said.

She told her mother, but Fleenor was able to explain his behavior.

"He was always able to manipulate his way out of those accusations and say it was an accident," Scull said.

Scull told 9NEWS over the years she told a teacher, a counselor and her biological father about Fleenor's alleged behavior, but it wasn't until much later in life that anyone did anything about her claims.

During the years he lived with Scull in the home, Fleenor was registered as a puppeteer. According to the Colorado Secretary of State Business registry, shortly after being convicted of sexual assault on a child and moving in with Scull's family, Fleenor formed a company called "Puppets Alive." It was registered from 1986 through 2004.

A DARK DECADE

By the time Scull was a teenager, she found a way to cope.

"I had my first drink probably around 14," Scull said. "And it became my best friend, because it was the only way I could escape and feel better about the hell I was living in."

Scull would especially like to re-write this chapter in her life for several reasons. Not only did the alleged inappropriate touching continue, she said years later, a jury would use the drinking against her.

"I felt mad at myself for drinking and going that route for a coping mechanism," she said, crying.

DAY IN COURT

But in 2009, Scull finally got to tell her story to an Arapahoe County jury.

"It was like a part of me was set free," she said.

After years of alleged abuse, she came forward and the District Attorney's Office charged Fleenor, now living under the name Michael Storm.

Storm was charged with 14 counts of incest and sexual assault on a child for incidents ranging from July 1, 1985 to Dec. 31, 1996.

Scull faced the jury.

"It was very stressful and traumatizing to relive what I had never verbalized other than to therapist," Scull said. "It was hard to say it out loud, but it made it real, and to be believed was an amazing feeling."

Jay Williford is the senior deputy district attorney in the 18th Judicial District. He prosecuted Storm.

"There were a total of four victims that had been abused by this particular defendant," Williford said.

The arrest affidavit included other victims, but Williford was only able to prosecute Storm for molesting Scull.

"There was a various series of acts, some that occurred when she was much younger, some occurred when she was in high school. We were able to proceed on all of the counts," Williford said.

In May 2009, the jury convicted Storm on three of the 14 counts. He was acquitted on several counts and other counts were dismissed by the court or the DA.

Remember, Scull drank as a teenager. The jury acquitted her stepfather of the charges stemming from those years.

"To this day, I am sorry the jury couldn't reconcile that," Scull said, wiping tears off her face.

Storm received probation for being convicted on three counts of sexual assault on a child.

"It was a mixed feeling of victory and frustration," Scull said.

COLORADO LAW

The problem is the abuse Storm was found guilty of happened before July 1, 1996. That's essentially the cut-off date, for punishing child sex offenders in Colorado. Offenses prior to that date can't be prosecuted.

That's how the Colorado Supreme Court interpreted what lawmakers wrote.
Colorado legislators re-wrote the law on child sex offenders several times.

Prior to 2006, the statute of limitations for prosecuting sex assaults against children was 10 years. Effective July 1, 2006, legislators changed that, taking away any limitation. But in doing so, they didn't specify what happens to cases like Scull's, dating back to 1985.

"Lawmakers screwed up when they passed the new statute of limitations law," said 9NEWS legal analyst Scott Robinson. "It was clear they meant for it to be retroactive to include the incident in question."

Williford said he was in the middle of Storm's trial, when the Colorado Supreme Court clarified what lawmakers meant. The court effectively made July 1, 1996 the cut-off date for prosecution.

Williford said he still went forward with Storm's trial, because some of the counts Storm was charged with were after July 1, 1996.

But the jury acquitted on those counts.

And the conviction on the counts prior to July 1, 1996 is now out on appeal. The appellate court recently cleared Storm because of the statute of limitations.

"In the eyes of his criminal history and the eyes of the law, these counts will have never existed," Williford said. "We have a conflict, the conflict between the legal system and justice, and unfortunately in this circumstance it's not justice. I feel like we failed this victim and that personally, I failed this victim."

Scull wishes she could re-write this part of her story, too.

"I feel that I've been robbed of justice," she said.

By speaking out, she hopes she still can.

"I think it could be very difficult for survivors and victims to work within this justice system to find resolution," Scull said. "My hope is that by telling my story, we can make just a little more stride for victims' rights and to help others come forward and have a voice and be able to face their perpetrators in the court of law."

Storm didn't want to speak to 9NEWS about this story.

Both his trial and appellate lawyers declined comment as well.

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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