In 2011, Marc Patrick O’Leary was arrested on charges that he’d viciously raped at least three women in the state of Colorado. In his home, police found underwear belonging to the victims, gloves and sneakers matching prints left behind in the victims’ homes, and a pink camera he’d stolen from one of the women. On the camera, among other things, were photographs of him raping a then-18-year-old girl, who had recently been prosecuted for filing a false police report about the rape.
The story isn’t new. In 2014, after O’Leary’s arrest, the 18-year-old victim—a young woman interchangeably referred to as “DM” and by her middle name, Marie—won a well-publicized $150,000 settlement from the county. But Marie’s account of her ordeal is new, and her story, summarized by Ken Armstrong and T. Christina Miller for the Marshall Project and ProPublica, is horrifying. How could a young woman get raped, try to report her crime, and end up pleading guilty to filing a false report? Apparently, all too easily.
Because O’Leary—who is currently serving 327 years in prison for the attacks—followed the same MO for each of his victims: He’d break into his victim’s home, tie her up, rape her, and leave with her clothes and bedsheets. He’d take photographs of him assaulting the women and would threaten to release them on the internet if they reported the attack to police.
While there would eventually be at least four victims in all (one of whom managed to escape), Marie was his first, and she filed a report with the police that very same day.
Then, three days after she reported the assault, the investigating officers—Sgt. Jeffrey Mason and Sgt. Jerry Rittgarn—called Marie back to the station. They explained to Marie that they thought she was lying and wanted her to confess. After a long discussion, she wrote: “When I went to sleep I dreamed that someone broke in and raped me.”
When the detectives returned, they saw that Marie’s new statement described the rape as a dream, not a lie.
Why didn’t you write that you made the story up? Rittgarn asked.
Marie, crying, said she believed the rape really happened. She pounded the table and said she was “pretty positive.”
Pretty positive or actually positive? Rittgarn asked.
Maybe the rape happened and I blacked it out, Marie said.
What do you think should happen to someone who would lie about something like this? Rittgarn asked Marie.
“I should get counseling,” Marie said.
Finally she wrote a second statement, apologizing for making the story up. A few days later, she tried to recant that statement, saying she’d been coerced.
Rittgarn asked Marie what was going on. Marie said she really had been raped — and began to cry, saying she was having visions of the man on top of her. She wanted to take a lie detector test. Rittgarn told Marie that if she took the test and failed, she would be booked into jail. What’s more, he would recommend that Project Ladder pull her housing assistance.
Marie ultimately left the police station without withdrawing her statement.
And then things got worse: She was charged with filing a false report. And to make matters even worse, Marie—who had grown up in foster care and was living on her own for the first time—did not have a lawyer. So she took a plea deal with probation that, among other things, required her to attend a mental health counselor for lying.
In the meantime, O’Leary continued to rape: First a 65-year-old fraternity house mother, then a 59-year-old widow. Then a 26-year-old student. He’d also tried to attack a 46-year-old artist, who escaped by jumping out a seven-foot window.
After a long and thorough investigation, detailed exhaustively in the Marshall Project report, police zeroed in on O’Leary. They’d had no idea Marie was a victim until they found the photos on his camera. One was a close-up of her driver’s license.
The two officers who charged her with lying were never disciplined, though Mason expressed regret for the way he handled the case, telling reporters, “It wasn’t her job to try to convince me. In hindsight, it was my job to get to the bottom of it — and I didn’t.” The police station says it follows new guidelines, among them: Investigators need “definitive proof” of lying to accuse the victim of filing a false report, and higher-ups have to approve false report charges.
But their actions hurt more than just Marie. O’Leary would later tell police, “If Washington had just paid attention a little bit more, I probably would have been a person of interest earlier on.”