ENDICOTT, NY – (WIVT/WBGH) The cousin of a woman who claims she was railroaded by the criminal justice system is planning to picket her performance, saying she’s been distorting the truth.
Samantha Werkheiser is staging a performance of her semi-autobiographical production called Sunflowers in Razorwire Friday evening at the Cider Mill Stage in Endicott. It recounts Werkheiser’s 5 years imprisoned at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility along with the stories of other formerly incarcerated individuals and activists, performed in the form of monologues, poetry, prose, performance art, song, and dance.
Werkheiser, then known as Samantha Stone, was twice convicted of sexually abusing two young girls, although both convictions were subsequently thrown out on appeal. This has lead Werkheiser to file a $10 million wrongful conviction lawsuit against the City of Binghamton and the police officers and a prosecutor involved in her case.
Now, Werkheiser’s cousin Elizabeth Mitchell says she’s planning a protest to set the record straight. Mitchell argues that Werkheiser won her appeals on technicalities and that the court never exonerated her nor deemed her to be innocent of the charges.
Mitchell says she still considers her cousin, who works as a children’s dance teacher, to be a child molester. “I think she poses a danger to children, families, communities, physically, emotionally and financially.”
Mitchell says her mother and Werkheiser’s mother are sisters and that they grew up around each other. Mitchell says her cousin has always been manipulative and controlling.
Mitchell pushes back on Werkheiser’s assertion that the initial child sex abuse charges were fabricated by her ex-husband as part of a custody battle. Mitchell says Werkheiser had already lost custody of her daughters based on a complaint not brought by the ex-husband but by Albany Medical Center which alleged that Werkheiser, then Stone, had failed to pick up critical medications the girls need to treat PKU, a genetic metabolic disorder.
Mitchell says she’s organizing her protest because her cousin can’t be trusted. “Because the truth. Nobody is standing up for the truth and screaming the truth, as much as she is screaming her claims.”
Werkheiser continues to maintain her innocence but says she harbors not hatred for her cousin Eliza. Werkheiser says her mother’s side of the family had a difficult time accepting her decision to leave her husband for another woman back in 2000 and she’s been estranged from them ever since.
Sammie Werkheiser says, “After I became an out lesbian and also gained a lot of weight and wasn’t a beautiful little dancing star, my family changed the way they felt about me. But I have continued to fight these charges. And although she says that I am tricking the public, that hasn’t been at all my experience. I have been embraced by the city of Binghamton of whose children I have taught for decades.”
Sammie is at home with her wife Julie Werkheiser who herself was just released from prison after a judge threw out her conviction for sexually abusing the same two girls. The judge’s decision cites 4 disinterested witnesses who testified that the younger victim had recanted her allegations against both women, indicating that they were fabricated at the urging of their father and step mother. The younger victim refused to testify in court while the older victim continues to maintain the child abuse allegations.
As for the custody battle, Sammie admits that she served her daughters expired formula.
But she points out that 4 years after losing custody, she petitioned family court for increased visitation or joint custody.
Less than 4 months later, the alleged victims brought their accusations to Binghamton Police. Werkheiser says, “This has been a rolling nightmare and family dynamics which just continue to this very day where I am standing in my living room defending myself against a cousin.”
Werkheiser says her play is not about her charges, but her experience being incarcerated and the impacts that has both during and after on the person and their family. She says she plans to dedicate it to her cousin.
Meanwhile Mitchell says she plans to go forward with her protest, even if she is the only person out on the sidewalk.