Judge Accused of Decades-Old Sexual Abuse | Courthouse News Service
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Judge Accused of Decades-Old Sexual Abuse

SALT LAKE CITY (CN) - A prosecutor turned federal judge sexually abused a 16-year-old witness during the 1980s trial of white supremacist serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin, the woman, now 51, claims in court.

Joseph Paul Franklin's killing spree began in 1977 and continued until his arrest in Lakeland, Florida in October 1980.

Although he is perhaps best remembered today as the gunman who shot and paralyzed Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt in 1978, Franklin is reputed to have killed more than 20 people over a so-called "race war," including Utahns Ted Fields and David Martin in August 1980.

He was subsequently convicted of several murders, given six life sentences, and a death sentence in the state of Missouri. He was executed by lethal injection on Nov. 20, 2013.

In a complaint filed in the Salt Lake City Federal Court, Terry Mitchell, a teenage witness to Franklin's killing of Fields and Martin and a victim herself, having been wounded by shrapnel during the shooting now says she was also victimized by Richard Warren Roberts, the prosecutor in the case who was appointed to the federal bench in 1998.

Mitchell, "who is half Latina and half Caucasian," was walking with Fields and Martin when Franklin shot the men in a Salt Lake City crosswalk.

Mitchell claims in her March 16 lawsuit that she was "emotionally and physically isolated after the murders, leaving her extremely vulnerable to a predator who pretended to be on her side, like defendant Roberts."

Roberts, then 27, allegedly "had knowledge of and assessed Mitchell's vulnerabilities and exploited them in interacting with her and gaining her trust."

Specifically, Mitchell claims, Roberts "used his authority, his education, his sophistication, and his affluence to make it appear to Mitchell, Mitchell's mother, personnel in the U.S. Attorney's office, and others that he was safe and to be trusted with Mitchell."

Mitchell viewed Roberts "as different than anyone she had previously known: he was well-spoken, well-dressed, well-educated, and seemingly very king and compassionate," the 20-page lawsuit states.

Mitchell claims Roberts took her to dinner during the Franklin case, placed his hand on her thigh, and "sternly insisted" that she later go to his hotel room.

In the hotel, Mitchell claims, Roberts "locked the door, took off her jacket, began kissing her neck, and said, 'You aren't going anywhere until I get a taste of you.'"

Mitchell claims that she told Robert that she was "not ready for this," to which Roberts "kissed her as if his sexual abuse were somehow a romantic seduction."

Roberts "continued to manipulate and control Mitchell for his own sexual, emotional, and ego gratification throughout the rest of his stay in Salt Lake City before, during, and shortly after the trial," the lawsuit adds.

Mitchell claims that Roberts convinced her "that his continued child sexual abuse was somehow her fault."

And, he allegedly said at times, "after placing Mitchell in front of a mirror, that he could not stop himself because of how attractive Mitchell was."

The complaint claims Roberts routinely picked Mitchell up from her home or the courthouse during the Franklin trial and took her to dinner and his hotel room, where they had "intercourse nearly every day for several weeks."

Roberts, Mitchell added, would allegedly strip her in front of a mirror, "so he could watch himself having sex and watch himself being interviewed about the trial at the same time."

"It was all very creepy and disturbing to Mitchell," the lawsuit states.

Mitchell claims that on Roberts' last day in Utah, he met with her and took Polaroid photos of her, clothed and naked, and gave her the clothed photos and kept the nude ones.

Franklin was convicted of the Utah murders in March 1981; Roberts has not returned to the state since, the complaint says.

On Wednesday, Roberts on Wednesday announced his retirement as chief judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Roberts' counsel at Washington, D.C.-based Steptoe & Johnson called Mitchell's claims "categorically false."

"Roberts acknowledges that the relationship was indeed a bad lapse in judgment," the firm said in a statement. "However, the relationship did not occur until after the trial and had no bearing on the outcome of that trial."

Mitchell dropped out of high school as a result of Roberts' abuse, the lawsuit states, "resulting in a tragic end to her remarkable record as a student and in a significant decrease in her earnings and earning capacity."

Mitchell seeks $25 million in damages for sexual abuse of a child, assault, battery and emotional distress.

She is represented by Ross Anderson with Lewis Hansen.

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