BINGHAMTON, NY – (WIVT/WBGH) A former Waverly dance teacher who was twice convicted of child sexual abuse and had both cases thrown out, is suing the people who put her behind bars.
Sammie Werkheiser of Binghamton has filed a lawsuit seeking 10 million dollars in damages, claiming her wrongful convictions cost her 4 and a half years in prison. Werkheiser was originally found guilty of criminal sexual abuse in 2013 but an appeals court overturned that conviction two years later saying the prosecution relied on hearsay evidence. So, special prosecutor Tom Jackson was brought in to try Werkheiser again in 2017. During that bench trial, Judge Joe Cawley found her guilty again. However, in 2019, the appellate division threw it out once more, saying Jackson should have sought a new indictment.
Werkheiser is represented by Arthur Larkin, a civil rights litigator who specializes in wrongful conviction cases. The lawsuit targets not only Jackson, but the City of Binghamton and the police officers who initially brought charges against her. Larkin says investigators ignored the history of hostility between Werkheiser and her ex-husband and the custody battle involving the two alleged victims. Larkin says police did not adhere to accepted standards while interviewing the girls or conducting the investigation.
“Other than those interviews, essentially the detectives did very little investigation of the underlying family relationships or the case. They relied almost exclusively on the interviews of the two kids” said Larkin.
Werkheiser claims the entire case against her was fabricated by her ex-husband as retaliation for a sexual assault charge she brought against him in 2000. She says he poisoned the girls against her and her wife Julie Werkheiser.
Sammie says one of the girls has since recanted and admitted that the abuse allegations were made up. She says her wrongful convictions cost her her friends, her dance studio and her reputation. She says it’s hard to combat people in authority.
“Once one person has started that process, it’s very difficult to be able to go back and say, ‘Let’s take a look at this. I don’t think this is quite right.’ Once those charges are filed, it’s very difficult. It’s not hard to land yourself in prison with false charges. It’s very difficult to get yourself out” said Werkheiser.
Werkheiser says she believes the criminal justice system was more suspicious of her and treated her more harshly because she’s in a same-sex marriage. Her wife Julie Werkheiser is currently serving prison time on another child sex abuse charge that Sammie says was also fabricated.
Sammie says Julie recently had a hearing to argue for a new trial. While Sammie says the second alleged victim has recanted, the first alleged victim spoke forcefully at the second trial about the abuse she had endured. Werkheiser argues this alleged victim is suffering from parental alienation that was orchestrated by her ex-husband.
Since her release, Werkheiser has become an activist for incarcerated women. She says the lawsuit is an attempt to build her life back up again.
NewsChannel 34 reached out to attorney Tom Jackson and the City of Binghamton for comment but did not receive a reply.