All charges against Deborah Furst dropped in sexual assault case
Deborah Furst looks toward te jury during the first day of her trial on sexual assault charges at Merrimack County Superior Court; Monday, June 24, 2013. ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
Two months after a mistrial was declared for a Bradford woman accused of molesting her young stepson, the county has dropped all charges against her, ending speculation that it may retry the case.
County attorneys filed Tuesday to retract the four felony counts against Deborah Furst, who was accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting the boy between 2006 and 2011. Furst has vehemently denied those claims and has suggested they were a fabricated ploy to block her from obtaining custody of the child and his sister from her estranged wife, Judy Parys.
The three-day trial in Merrimack County Superior Court ended June 26 without a verdict after a 12-person jury determined it could not reach a consensus.
Furst’s attorney, Robert Hunt, indicated yesterday that he and his client were ecstatic with the decision.
“Finally, it appears that the state has recognized the truth and knows Deb Furst is innocent,” he said.
But Assistant County Attorney Rachel Harrington said the move does not prove Furst’s innocence. Instead, she said, the county concluded that no new evidence would be admissible in court should it decide to retry the case, and therefore, it had no indication that a retrial would end in anything other than another hung jury.
Harrington said the county also weighed the effect a retrial would have on the boy.
Furst was originally indicted last September on two counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault. Two additional counts were filed in December following recorded statements the boy gave at the Child Advocacy Center, where minors are often questioned in relation to criminal investigations.
Furst was accused of having routinely touched the boy inappropriately at home and in various public settings. According to testimony offered in court by the now 11-year-old child, she often did so while others were present, such as in restaurants or beneath blankets in the family’s home.
Furst lived in Bradford with Parys and the couple’s two children until December 2011. According to prosecutors, the boy disclosed the abuse last spring. But in court Hunt urged the jury to question the timing of that disclosure, which he said was just 16 days after Furst had filed for custody of the children and for possession of the family home.
According to the boy’s testimony, which was taken in court with Furst seated nearby, the abuse started the year before he entered preschool and continued almost daily for several years. He said it never involved him being forced to remove his clothing.
Though the jury deadlocked, one member who spoke with the Monitor disclosed that eight panelists had favored acquittal, based largely on inconsistencies between two previously recorded interviews with the boy, which Hunt had highlighted during the trial.
Hunt said yesterday that Furst had “gone through hell” over the course of the trial. She had been working part time as a tutor at New England College in Henniker but was placed on administrative leave in January. He said it’s unclear whether she will be allowed to return to that position.
Furst’s access to the home and to her stepchildren are part of a pending divorce proceeding that neither she nor Parys are legally permitted to discuss, Hunt said.
Hunt did not rule out yesterday the possibility of a civil action against what he described as “anyone who facilitated in these false allegations.”
“The next step is to make sure that other people know the truth about the situation, and that’s a tough road,” he said.
Meanwhile, Parys expressed both disappointment and relief yesterday with the state’s decision.
“There is good and bad,” she said. “I think it gives my son an opportunity to move on.”
(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)