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Hunting Camp Rape Case: Charges Against 3 Men Dropped as Defense Denounces Prosecution’s “Lies”

| April 29, 2014

No high-fiving today as defense attorney Marc Dwyer, left, led a news conference with his client, Daniel Goggans, Goggans's brother Frank, and Frank's attorney, George Pappas. (© FlaglerLive)

No high-fiving today as defense attorney Marc Dwyer, left, led a news conference with his client, Daniel Goggans, Goggans’s brother Frank, and Frank’s attorney, George Pappas. (© FlaglerLive)

Six months after four men were accused of charges ranging from kidnapping to gang-raping a woman they had met in Flagler Beach and taken to a hunting camp at the western end of the county, and 13 months after the alleged incident, the State Attorney’s Office has dropped the charges on three of the four men for lack of evidence. Charles Cowart and brothers Daniel and Frank Goggans will not be prosecuted.

“This is by no means a happy day. We are not in a celebratory mood,” Marc Dwyer, Daniel Goggans’s attorney, said Tuesday morning in a brief news conference at Dwyer’s office. He was flanked by both Goggans brothers and by George Pappas, the attorney representing Frank Goggans.

“I lost my job, my house, and all my family except my immediate family, behind lies,” Frank Goggans said. “And we brought the truth to them, and they drug us through nine circles of hell. For what?” He added later: ““We’re the victims here, drug out for a year, falsely prosecuted.”

“I didn’t lose anything I can’t get back but my time,” Daniel Goggans said.

“There’s no high-fiving or hand-grabbing,” Dwyer continued. “This thing has all around been a very tragic situation. We have witnessed what I deem to be a demonstration of the worst example of the abuse of public trust and what our original prosecutors did with this case. But to give credit where credit is due, the new prosecutors that came in and objectively handled this situation are a demonstration of the best use of the public trust, and so we do want to give credit where it’s due. We also wanted to just let the public know that we are ready to move on, and while at this point there are no concrete plans for a civil suit, neither has it been ruled out.”

The reversal followed an unusual progression at the State Attorney’s Office, where the case had initially been investigated by prosecutors Ben Fox and Scott Westbrook, based on interviews and investigations conducted by the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office. As first reported by the News-Journal’s Tony Holt on Monday, State Attorney R.J. Larizza removed Westbrok and Fox from the case, appointing Melissa Clark and Christina Opsahl instead. When Clark and Opsahl were done analyzing the case, they concluded that while the woman and the men had met that night at Finn’s, and that while she engaged in sexual acts with some of them, no rape had taken place.

One of the Goggans brothers had shared images from his cell phone showing the woman horseback riding with the men the morning after the alleged incident. Lab reports showed that the woman had not, contrary to claims she had made, been drugged. The woman herself told investigators that she could not remember large segments of time the night of the incident and was confused about her whereabouts the morning after, but not in fear for her welfare. Last week Mike Lmabert, Cowart’s attorney, filed a motion to dismiss all charges of sexual battery, kidnapping or false imprisonment. Larizza agreed. Lambert also asked a circuit judge to sanction the two original prosecutors on the case. Westbrook has since been transferred to Putnam County. Fox has retired.

The fourth man accused in the case, Kurt Benjamin, 26, had agreed to a plea, which reduced his charges to false imprisonment and reduced what might have been a lengthy prison term, had he been found guilty, to mere probation. Dwyer could not explain the plea on Tuesday but said it was illustrative of the coercive tactics the prosecution used, as well as “the lies that were used to coerce Mr. Benjamin to give certain testimony.” Benjamin has a court hearing in mid-May where he’s expected to withdraw his plea. “We expect from what we’ve seen that he will have an opportunity to withdraw that and to benefit from the decisions that have been made correcting the previous mistakes that were made by the state attorney’s office,” Dwyer said. (Neither Benjamin nor Cowart were at Dwyer’s office on Tuesday.)

Dwyer then went further, suggesting that Benjamin’s testimony ended up unraveling the prosecution’s case, not helping it. It was as a result of the plea, and that he could more freely speak during his depositions, that Benjamin provided information that buttressed the version of events presented by the Goggans brothers. “That was a revelation that helped the new prosecutors to understand that all the facts that were corroborated by all the witnesses pointed to what they knew was the case from the beginning, and that no crime was committed that night, and I think it helped toward that end,” Dwyer said.

Pappas, Frank Goggans’s attorney, said the deal was neither surprising nor unusual, given the way the system works. The outcome, however, turned out to have effects contrary to those the original prosecutors had hoped for.

“That is what was so troubling,” Dwyer said, “and that is how little evidence there was in the beginning, and the fact that the state examined this case for seven months and no new evidence came in from the date of this incident until the arrests, they took seven months to tell you all that you need to know about the strength of the evidence from the beginning.”

The case raised questions from the start—not just about the way investigators went about gathering evidence and in the subsequent delays before they acted on it, but in the many conflicting testimonies they had gathered from the men and the woman, as well as others who had been around Finn’s or a beach-side house the men had visited the night of the alleged incident. Just as odd: while the men had been extensively interviewed by Flagler County Sheriff’s investigators, they initially thought the matter was over after the interviews and went about their lives, only to realize months later that they were the subject of a manhunt. The defense attorneys on Tuesday virtually sneered at the alleged manhunt, as the men, who had neither fled nor sought to flee after they’d been interviewed, turned themselves in soon after they learned that warrants had been issued for their arrests.

As soon as the men were under arrest, Dwyer cast doubt on the strength of the evidence against them.

The alleged incident took place the evening and night of March 20 and the morning of March 21, 2013, starting with Cowart going with the Goggans brothers and Benjamin to Flagler Beach and meeting the woman at Finn’s. The woman, Benjamin and Daniel Goggans then went to the beach and allegedly engaged in some sexual activities there. Daniel, according to the investigators’ reports, never denied having sex with the woman, but said it was consensual. At no point were allegations made that the acts on the beach were forceful. The woman ended up appearing naked at the beach house where the group had gathered earlier, and where Flagler Beach police knocked at the door in a follow-up to a disturbance report. That led the group to drive to the Cowart family ranch in western Flagler, where the woman remembers only waking up the next morning. The men were smoking pot, throwing hunting knives and talking about horseback riding—which they subsequently did, with the woman tagging along, until the five drove back toward Palm Coast, dropping Cowart off at the Beer House in Bunnell, then Benjamin in the P Section and then the woman at her own home.

Tuesday, Dwyer declined to characterize the role of the sheriff’s office in the investigation. As far as the state attorney’s office is concerned, “the matter is closed, and we see no reason not to take them at their word,” Dwyer said. “We assumed that everyone in law enforcement was trying to do their jobs.”

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23 Responses for “Hunting Camp Rape Case: Charges Against 3 Men Dropped as Defense Denounces Prosecution’s “Lies””

  1. Anonymouse says:

    ‘Tuesday, Dwyer declined to characterize the role of the sheriff’s office in the investigation. As far as the state attorney’s office is concerned, “the matter is closed, and we see no reason not to take them at their word,” Dwyer said. “We assumed that everyone in law enforcement was trying to do their jobs.”’

    See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

    • Wolley Segap says:

      From the first article on the incident:

      “Our detectives have tenaciously worked on gathering the facts in this case so we could charge these four with these felony offenses. The victim was violated and held against her will.
      These men should pay a price,” said Flagler County Sheriff James L. Manfre.

  2. Justin says:

    Classy guys, share one drunk woman with each other, then wear a mohawk to meet with attorneys. Then say they were made to look bad due to the allegations??. You’re making yourself look bad buddy.

  3. anonymous says:

    I hope that these young men have learned a valuable lesson. I also am so relieved for the parents and families of all involved. Especially Chuck and Peggy for they hold a dear place in my heart. God bless all involved.

  4. blondee says:

    Hey Frank, who wears a mohawk to court!

    • Dirtyblonde says:

      A 29 yr old fool. Hey google machete and frying pan palm coast.
      These 2 morons and Momma got into it 2 mos before this incident. Made National news.
      All 3 were arrested. Apple don’t fall to far from the tree.

    • MiaMi says:

      An immature arrogant idiot does. They may have gotten off because of lack of evidence but Flagler Cty knows these annals still took a naked girl out to a cabin in the woods and had sex with a less than coherent person. In my book….that constitutes a lowlife .
      Go back to Texas!

  5. honestly says:

    Omg! I just knew this would happen. Cowarts dad has alot of money and their are alot of favors that are due. They must have pulled all their resources together to get this guy out of trouble. This lady must be in fear now that she’s learned that she lives in a town where people that commit crimes like this can wash their hands of it because their parents have friends in high places. These criminal minded individuals will commit the same crime except next time someone wont be here to accuse them of it. Scary!!!!

  6. notasenior says:

    Police misconduct?!? Must be a typo, that never happens!

  7. A.S.F. says:

    And now, for breaking news: People with character disorders, impulse control issues and substance abuse problems don’t get any better when they wiggle out of having to face the consequences of their actions. I don’t feel a whole lot of sympathy for their families, if they are enabling their loved ones–that’s actually the worst thing they can do. It will be interesting to see how the Prosecutor’s Office will handle it if/when these guys mess up again and possibly hurt someone (perhaps themselves) even worse.

  8. A.S.F. says:

    File this under “clueless”: According to an article in the Palm Coast Observer, Frank Goggins commented that this is what he lost as a result of the charges that were brought against him…”(Your) character, your respect, your house and your life.” Even IF his own version of the events of that night in question happen to be true, I would have to say that his own actions led to the forfeiture of the first two. NO lesson learned there, obviously. Here’s some advice for you, young man: Try to keep a low profile and shut your mouth for a while.

  9. Amanda says:

    Any response other than “yes” should be deemed NO including a non-response! Everyone, especially men need to learn that and follow it!

    • Teddy says:

      In this Orwellian world we live in a Yes can become a No days or even months after the fact. And the accused must then prove their innocence because there is no presumption of innocence with these types of cases, either in our legal system or our press, as our sheriff and county prosecutors have so well demonstrated. The real crime here was perpetrated against these young men, they are the victims. And those who committed the crime don’t have the decency to even blush.

      • Anonymous says:

        @Teddy says–Oh, yes, it is VERY gentlemanly to take advantage of an intoxicated woman. And only a misogynistic fool would think that any woman would go through the hell of a rape trial for no reason. At the very least, these (ahem) men are victims of their disgraceful attitudes towards women, as well as their own bad judgement. They.should be properly ashamed of their actions (although from the sound of it, they have learned absolutely nothing.) Talk about not having the decency to even blush!

  10. attorney for hire says:

    I hope the victim in this case has a good attorney. Because she has an excellent civil suit. Especially against Mr. Lambert who just said this was consensual sex on the front page of every newspaper. The burden of proof in civil court is much lower than criminal court and I would venture to guess that it has already been met by the fact that the police charged the men and a judge found enough evidence to not dismiss this case. This is money in the bank.

  11. B says:

    Are we all reading the same article? It did say three of the four acquitted, did it not?
    This was the result of some hopped up, underage, yuppie who accused four guys of something they didn’t do just to save face. Ain’t that great? Four lives for the price of sparred shame.

    Whether or not they happen to be scum bags is irrelevant! If they’re innocent of this crime, then that’s that, period.

    Please, correct me if I’m wrong

  12. corey says:

    As Amanda says “Any response other than “yes” should be deemed NO including a non-response”
    They’re disgusting.
    They didn’t just turn themselves in, LIE. There was a minimum of 7 police car stakeout in their neighborhood with Momma shouting obscenities at the Police & Fed Marshalls. Never in my life would I dream of cursing at a cop, much less lying to one, Her son Daniel took her car earlier and she knew where he was. Frank went to Orlando for a few days then turned himself in.
    Civil suit?!!Sure try it. The public would be outraged. They are not completely 100% innocent. The case was just too difficult to try..
    I wish they’d go back to Texas. They’re too scary to have around here.

  13. MiaMi says:

    Exactly Amanda! This is why they were arrested in the first place and it should be enough for some kind of charge.
    The State Attorney is being lazy.
    The message: Take caution all women. If you drink too much, it’s ok now for Florida men to have their way with you without repercussions. Heck they can drive off with you into a remote cabin in the woods and invite their friends.
    Say ou want about NY but these animals would be prosecuted!

  14. Happening now says:

    What happens now to the woman???? Her testimony not valid? Did she lie?

  15. The prosecutors who were kicked off the case, Fox and Westbrook, are immune from civil or criminal prosecution even if they had a malicious intent to harm the accused. On the other hand they also had an ethical duty to the people of the State of Florida and the people who they charged to be sure they had a rock solid criminal case on their hands before charging these young men with crimes. Sure the accused were not convicted, but they now have a permanent record and it will follow them for life. Imagine next time one of them is asked on a job application have you ever been arrested? What is their chances of getting a decent job? What are their chances of working for the FBI? Zilch

    As this case demonstrates, our society gives tremendous powers to people who claim to be victims. They can with one or two phone calls ruin someone’s life forever. Prosecutors need to be leery of filing cases and should not file unless they are positive of a conviction. In cases where the evidence stinks the Prosecutor should be able to dismiss the charges instead of forcing a plea bargain…I congratulate ASA Clark and Opsahhl for recognizing the need for professionalism which was so sadly lacking before they got into the case.

    I encourage SA Larizza to take another look at his unofficial policy requiring ASA’s to plea bargain instead of dismissing lousy cases. It may be good for his political career to show a high conviction rate but bad for the citizens who are trapped in a criminal situation and are innocent.

    • FBI screener says:

      I don’t think any of these men were ever going to be working for the FBI,, at least I hope not. I could be wrong but I am pretty sure they all had criminal or arrest records to begin with.

  16. anonymous says:

    and the incoherent victim who was mobilized out to a REMOTE cabin in the woods NAKED? so I guess the message is IF SHES TOO DRUNK ITS OK TO NOT ONLY GANG BANG HER BUT ITS OK TO TAKE HER ANYWHERE YOU WANT. That’s the message. Next time the police should ignore an incident like this and save the taxpayers money. Hide your daughters Flagler Cty.

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