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 Local News  -   Thursday, October 19, 2006

Ex-con trying to rebuild life
After 15 years in prison, Dorsey still denies sexual abuse charges

The Times


Convict James Dorsey is scheduled to be released in May.



"A lot of people have been supportive since I got out. Pretty much my faith in God and some supportive people got me through some pretty tough times." -- Marilyn Dorsey, convicted of sexual abuse

Marilyn Dorsey is starting her life over again. It's been 15 years since Dorsey, a former Gainesville City Schools counselor, was convicted in a sex abuse case that drew widespread attention.

She and husband James, former director of the Chestatee Regional Library System, were found guilty in separate jury trials of sexually abusing a young woman with multiple personalities who lived in their home.

Three weeks ago, Dorsey walked out of Lee Arrendale Correctional Institute in Alto, after serving every day of her 15-year sentence on charges of aggravated sexual battery, rape and aggravated sodomy. She walked into a different world, at least for convicted sex offenders.

"It's very hard to find a job," Dorsey said Wednesday, standing in the doorway of the small room she rents at the Georgianna Motel, located along a stretch of Atlanta Highway dotted by used car dealerships and Hispanic supermarkets.

Dorsey, 59, could live with either of her adult children, instead of a pay-by-the-week motel, if not for the restrictions on where sex offenders can live and who they can be around.

Her son, 27, lives next door to a community center, and her daughter, 29, recently adopted a little girl.

Dorsey found a job as a telemarketer the first week after her release. But when she notified sheriff's officials where she would be working - as required of sex offenders - they told her the job was too close to a church.

She can't get a job in education, her former profession, because she's barred from being around children. She notes with irony that the victim in her case was not a child.

The problems she's encountering aren't unique to her, Dorsey said.

"It's a whole lot of people," Dorsey said. "There needs to be different levels of (sex) offenders, instead of just lumping us all into one category."

To this day, Dorsey denies the allegations that were made against her.

Prosecutors said Dorsey and her husband manipulated a mentally unstable young woman who they took into her home, first in Swainsboro, then when they moved to Gainesville in 1987, where James Dorsey was director of Hall County's library system for four years.

By drawing out the persona of a 5-year-old girl inside the body of a 19-year-old woman, they were more easily able to sexually abuse her, prosecutors told a jury. Prosecutors contend the abuse went on in Hall County from the time the victim was 19 until she was 22.

The victim, now in her late 30s, moved away from Gainesville around the time of the convictions.

The scandalous story involving prominent residents was heavily covered by The Times and other news media outlets in 1990 and 1991.

"Those articles buried us before we got anywhere near a courtroom," Dorsey said of the saturated news coverage. "I'm not the person that was presented that way."

Some will disagree.

Hall County District Attorney Lee Darragh, who was an assistant district attorney when he prosecuted Marilyn Dorsey and her husband 15 years ago, said she got the sentence she deserved.

"I would simply say the sentence of the court was justified by the facts of the case, and the fact she served the full 15 years is justified as well," Darragh said.

Marilyn Dorsey tried and repeatedly failed to win an early release. She was turned down by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles four times, most recently in November 2005, according to pardons and parole officials.

Like her husband, who has been denied parole five times, she filed numerous court appeals seeking to overturn the conviction. Her appeals reached the state Supreme Court, but went no further.

"I pretty much had given up at that point," she said. "Every answer was, 'no.'"

The Dorsey case was among the first in the nation to use the testimony of a multiple-personality witness in a "disassociated state" to win a conviction. Prosecutors brought out the victim's 5-year-old persona on the witness stand in order to prove the offenses.

In court appeals, the Dorseys said the testimony of these alternate personas violated their constitutional rights to confront witnesses. At least one federal judge agreed.

In a 2001 dissent to an opinion by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upholding James Dorsey's conviction, U.S. Judge John T. Noonan wrote, "it was a travesty of justice for the state of Georgia to convict a man on the testimony of less than one person."

Darragh said this week that prosecutors were "confident with the evidence of the case and its admissibility."

Marilyn and James Dorsey are still married, and have communicated "indirectly" while in prison, she said. Asked if she will see her husband when he is released next May, after serving his full 15-year sentence, she replied, "I don't know."

She is quick to note that she doesn't feel vilified in Gainesville. She points to many people who have helped her and continue to help her, including sorority sisters from her time at Brenau University.

"A lot of people have been supportive since I got out," she said. "Pretty much my faith in God and some supportive people got me through some pretty tough times."

Her children, despite growing up with their parents in prison, have done well for themselves, she said.

"I think they're a whole lot stronger than they would have been, because of this," she said. "I'm proud of them."

Fifteen years in women's prisons, most of it spent in Washington State Prison in Davisboro, taught her patience, she said. She says she's not bitter.

And while she still hasn't found work, and the restrictions on her as a sex offender continue to throw up roadblocks, she tries to stay positive.

"I've got to be hopeful, in spite of it all," she said. "I don't feel like an outcast. No one's treating me like an outcast."

Contact: sgurr@gainesvilletimes.com, (770) 718-3428

Originally published Thursday, October 19, 2006

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