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Daughter said she lied and sent dad to prison for rape, but DA upholds conviction

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A man serving 40 years for raping his eight-year-old daughter has lost his bid to be released from prison, even though the alleged victim has insisted for the past 15 years that the crime never happened, and that she only said it had because her drug-addicted mother threatened to beat her.

In a letter to Daryl Kelly's attorney, Orange County D.A. Francis Phillips said he stands by Kelly’s 1998 prosecution, because of the findings of a re-investigation conducted at his request by the Committee on the Fair and Ethical Administration of Justice of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York (DAASNY).

“After a thorough investigation, the CFEAJ has determined that Kelly was not wrongfully convicted,” wrote Phillips. “That conclusion is, in my opinion amply supported by the evidence and the reasoned analysis in the report.”

Read the DAASNY report here.

“I’m absolutely devastated,” said alleged victim Chaneya Kelly, now 25, who first told her story to NBC News in August. “My father didn’t rape me, and I don’t know why they just won’t believe me.” She vowed to continue fighting on behalf of her father, and has written a letter to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo saying she was “completely insulted” by the re-investigation. “Every time I told them that my father did not commit any of the malicious crimes he was convicted of,” she wrote in the letter, “they treated me as if I was lying.”

Read the original NBC News report on Chaneya and Daryl Kelly.

The DAASNY reinvestigation included extensive interviews with nearly everyone involved in the original prosecution. The report, which Phillips received last month, says “every conceivable effort has been undertaken to find the unvarnished truth regardless of how or whom it impacts.”

Daryl Kelly’s attorney, Peter Cross, disagrees. “Anyone who looks at the facts of this case will see that Daryl is obviously innocent,” said Cross. “Based on information I’ve gathered since this report was written, it is provably biased.” One of the individuals interviewed by the state committee sent Phillips a letter saying the report contains “misleading and inaccurate quotes,” and an expert he hired sent Phillips a letter calling the committee’s rejection of Chaneya’s recantation “unscientific.”

Representatives of the DAASNY did not respond to requests for comment.

Chaneya Kelly, her son and her father Daryl at Green Haven Correctional Facility in New York, 2012. Courtesy of Chaneya Kelly

It all began in October 1997 in Newburgh, N.Y., where Daryl Kelly was living with his wife, Charade, and their five children. Chaneya, their oldest child, was two months shy of her ninth birthday.

At the time, Daryl -- a Navy veteran -- says he was trying to kick a drug habit to take care of his kids. But Charade was at rock bottom, even turning to prostitution to feed her addiction.

Chaneya remembers being downstairs with her father one morning before school when she had to use the bathroom. When she was done, she went upstairs, and that's when Chaneya says her mother asked her a question that came out of the blue.

"She repeatedly asked me, has my dad touched me," recalled Chaneya. "I was like, 'What do you mean, did he touch me?' And she was like, 'Did he touch you in your no-no spot?' And I would repeatedly say no."

Chaneya says the more she denied any abuse, the more irate her mother became - and even threatened her with a belt. According to Chaneya, her mother said, "If you don't tell me the answer that I want to hear, I'm going to beat you." To avoid a beating, says Chaneya, she told her mother that her father molested her even though it wasn't true.

Chaneya repeated the charge of molestation to police, and was examined by nurses and doctors. They issued a report in which they determined there was "possible sexual abuse" because of some redness -- but Chaneya's hymen was intact even though she claimed her father had penetrated her.

But with both Chaneya and her mom telling police the same story, Daryl Kelly was charged with multiple counts of rape and sodomy.

Kelly refused a plea deal that would have made him eligible for parole in six years, and within a year he faced a jury, was found guilty and sentenced to 20 to 40 years.

Six months after her father's conviction, however, Chaneya came forward to her grandmother, saying she was never raped, and that the story had been born out of fear of her mother.

Chaneya’s grandmother took her to Kelly’s appellate attorney, who videotaped her recantation. On the tape, Chaneya looks uncomfortable, mumbling short, hesitant answers like, "No," and "I think so." The prosecutor argued that the recantation looked coerced, and the same judge who oversaw Kelly’s original trial a year earlier agreed. He refused to vacate Kelly's conviction.

When NBC News spoke with Chaneya's mother in August, she said she'd been drug-free for many years, and said that she had threatened her daughter with a beating, blaming the incident on a drug binge. "I was really deep in the grip of my addiction." When asked why she would threaten her daughter if she didn't lie, Charade said, "I have no idea, I really don't."

Over the years, Chaneya says she never gave up on her father. When she was 15, she convinced the courts to allow her to once again have contact with him -- and that’s when she went to visit him in prison.

“The first thing my dad did was that he hugged me and he told me that he loved me and … that he doesn’t blame me for anything,” Chaneya recalled. “It was priceless to me.”

Since then, she’s been talking to anyone who would listen about her father. Ultimately, the case was reopened at Chaneya’s request, but it didn’t end the way she hoped.

This combination of two screen gabs taken from video shows Daryl Kelly, left and daughter Chaneya Kelly during recent interviews with NBC News. Chaneya says that in 1997, she falsely accused a man of raping her. That man - who has always maintained his innocence -- is Daryl Kelly, Chaneya's father. credit: NBC News NBC News

The district attorney association’s report lists various reasons to support its conclusion that Daryl Kelly is guilty:

-- A judge evaluated the same evidence 15 years ago and has already decided the recantation wasn’t credible.

-- In a recorded prison phone call, prosecutors found it disturbing that Kelly once greeted Chaneya by saying, “Hey, sexy."

-- Kelly lied about being awarded a purple heart when he was in the Navy, showing his true character.

-- Experts caution to be wary of recantation, especially in a case like this. “The relationship between the defendant and his recanting accuser — father and daughter — is renowned at law and in social science as one most likely to breed a false recantation,” said the report.

-- Most of all, the report claims that despite Chaneya’s insistence that she wasn’t raped, her story is not credible, saying she “can neither explain why she falsely advanced such a horrible allegation, nor why she adhered to it for so long and repeated it to so many different people.”

James Winslow, Kelly’s original trial attorney in 1999, is quoted extensively in the DAASNY report, suggesting that Kelly might be guilty and that the case against him was strong. After reading the report, Winslow wrote a critical letter about its contents to District Attorney Phillips. “It has raised grave concerns for me regarding the attribution of certain opinions and loose, misleading or inaccurate quotes alleged therein to be from me,” wrote Winslow.

Most troubling to Peter Cross, Kelly’s current attorney, is that only lawyers – not mental health professionals -- assessed Chaneya’s credibility as a witness. So Cross hired a mental health expert, Dr. Roy Lubit, who interviewed Chaneya, found her “highly credible” and sent his report to DA Phillips. Lubit’s work was paid for by the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice, which tries to reverse allegedly wrongful convictions.

Lubit said that he believed Chaneya’s recantation, say there was “no corroborative evidence of the alleged abuse. “ He cited the lack of psychological trauma, the consistency of her recantation over time, and the lack of grooming of the alleged victim by the perpetrator. “To a reasonable degree of medical certainty CK’s recantation of her allegation her father sexually abused her when she was 8 years of age is not only credible but true,” wrote Lubit. “The basic scenario leaves more than reasonable doubt that the child was sexually abused by her father.”

In Phillips’ letter upholding the conviction, he said he had taken Lubit and Winslow’s criticisms into account. “We have considered the letter of Mr. Winslow and the report of Mr. Lubit. Our decision is based on all the information we have reviewed.”

As for Daryl Kelly, he says he won't truly be free until he's vindicated. "This fight will never end," he said. "I will continue to fight for this. This is my reputation. This is my decree. This is the truth. It's not just for me. It's for my daughter as well."

Do you believe you know someone who was wrongfully convicted? Email Dan Slepian at Daniel dot Slepian at NBCUni dot com.

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