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Prosecution upsets victims' rights groups

Prosecution upsets victims' rights groups

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MURPHYSBORO — Jackson County State’s Attorney Mike Carr said Wednesday he would continue felony prosecution against a Jackson County woman accused of a false sexual assault report.

The prosecutor’s decision comes despite a letter from almost two dozen victims groups asking him to drop the charge.

Melisa Beth Vistain, 29, made the report to the Jackson County Sheriff’s office March 31 after she spent the weekend with a longtime male friend at his residence in Murphysboro, her husband said.

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office investigated the sexual assault report. No charges against the man were filed by then-State’s Attorney Mike Wepsiec. However, Wepsiec filed a false report charge against Vistain, who was arrested May 6.

“My position is, there was certainly probable cause plus more when the (false report) charges were filed,” Wepsiec said March 1. “Unless something has happened with respect to the case, there is still probable cause plus more today.”

The Women’s Center in Carbondale and 22 other groups sent Carr a letter asking him to drop the charges because prosecuting “a sexual assault victim is devastating to the victim and chilling for current and future sexual assault victims.”

“The clear message of this prosecution is that survivors of sexual assault must be able to prove their own innocence or face prosecution when they report a sexual assault crime,” the March 6 letter to Carr stated.

Carr said he understands the concerns listed in the letter and does not want victims of sexual assault to stay silent. However, he said, probable cause to go forward with the charge against Vistain has been established.

“We don’t decide to prosecute or not prosecute on this because of a group’s demand,” Carr said March 1.

Vistain’s trial is set to begin March 18 at Jackson County Courthouse. She has a pre-jury hearing March 12.

The Southern Illinoisan does not normally list the name of a person making a complaint of sexual assault. However, Vistain has been formally charged with a felony, and her name was used in the letter to Carr and an accompanying news release.

dw.norris@thesouthern.com/618-351-5074

On Twitter: @DW_Norris_SI

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