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“Did Your Father Touch You?”

She’s regretted the lie that sent him to prison ever since.


When she was 8 years old, Chaneya Kelly lived in a pale-yellow house on Washington Street in Newburgh, New York. She was the oldest of five kids, with two brothers and two sisters, ages 2 to 7. Some nights, her father, Daryl, would cook dinner, and while Chaneya and her siblings were seated at the kitchen table, they’d see their mother, Charade, bolt toward the front door.

“Where are you going?” their father would ask.

“I’ll be back in a couple hours,” she’d say.

But everybody knew that a “couple hours” never meant just a couple of hours. The routine was always the same—her father would try to persuade her mom to stay, her mom would open the front door, and Chaneya or one of her siblings would start to cry.

It was the fall of 1997, and Chaneya didn’t know why her mother was leaving so often. She didn’t know that she had begun smoking crack, or that she was paying for her habit by working as a ­prostitute. Her father had a drug ­problem, too, though Chaneya didn’t know that, either.

All she knew was that the fun things they used to do together as a family—go to the movies, visit the park, toss bread to the ducks—never seemed to happen anymore. Her parents fought constantly, and her mother sometimes behaved so strangely that it scared her.

Like the time when her parents got into yet another argument, her dad stomped out of the house, and her mother began pacing, muttering, making no sense. She came into the bedroom that Chaneya shared with her sisters and, without explanation, wrestled their huge mirror off the dresser and heaved it through a window. The sound of smashing glass split the air.

“Fuck!” her mother yelled, nursing a cut on her hand as she walked out. Chaneya held her sisters back and carefully cleared away the shards.

On a Friday morning in October, Chaneya persuaded her mother to let her stay home sick from the fourth grade. She stretched out on a sofa in the living room and watched her father work; he was an electronics repairman, and the living room doubled as his workshop, with TVs and VCRs climbing the walls.

After a while, she recalls, she went up the stairs to the second floor and disappeared into her bedroom. She could never predict what sort of mood her mother would be in, and now when her mother came into her room, Chaneya thought she seemed agitated.

“Where have you been?” she asked, appearing more erratic than usual.

“In the living room,” Chaneya said.

Her mother didn’t believe her. “Are you sure you weren’t in the bathroom with your father?” She stared straight at her: “Did your father touch you? Did your father put his hands on you?”

Surprised and confused, Chaneya simply answered, “No.”

Her mother picked up a belt. “Did your father touch you? Tell me the truth!”

“No, no,” Chaneya kept saying. But after a few moments, seeing that her mother wasn’t appeased, Chaneya finally chose a different answer: “Yes.”

Twelve days later, on a Wednesday morning, Daryl woke up early, drove to his electronics shop downtown, dropped off all the equipment he’d fixed, then drove home, picking up a couple of beers on the way. By 10 a.m., he had returned to bed, having decided to give himself the day off. Around 11:30, Charade opened the front door and let three men into the house.

Daryl opened his eyes to find a large white man staring back at him. “Who are you?” he asked, his eyes darting up and down the stranger. “And what are you doing in my house?”

The man explained that he was a police detective and had come to take him in for questioning.

“For what?”

“Get dressed, and we’ll tell you when we get to the police station.”

It was a short drive to the station, and soon Daryl was seated inside an interview room across from Detective Thomas ­Mancinelli. He informed Daryl that his daughter had said he’d sexually assaulted her.

Daryl couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “C’mon, stop playing,” he said. “You’ve got to be joking.”

That day when Chaneya had stayed home from school, Charade had ap-proached him, claiming that their daughter said he’d touched her inappropriately. But at the time, his wife was drunk or high, and he thought she was just trying to antagonize him. “What are you talking about?” he’d said. “Tell Chaneya to come downstairs!” Charade had backed off: “Oh, no, no, that’s all right.”

He didn’t know that his wife had threatened Chaneya with a belt, and that a week later, she’d taken Chaneya for a late-night walk to the liquor store, asked her if her father had touched her again, and got another yes. And he knew nothing of the events that followed: His wife and her mother had brought Chaneya to a medical clinic; Chaneya told a nurse-practitioner her father had sexually assaulted her; the clinic notified child-welfare officials; they dialed the police.


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