Selfie saves man from potential life sentence after ex-girlfriend falsely accuses him of violent attack

'I was constantly fearful as to what could happen the next day . . . I was going to sleep hoping I wouldn't wake up, just to get away from it'

Michael Brice-Saddler
Friday 16 November 2018 20:57
Emotional interview with man who faced 99 years behind bars until a selfie saved him

When 21-year-old Christopher Precopia met with a recruiter to enlist in the US Army in October, he was rejected because of the violent offence for which he had been charged last year.

Mr Precopia, of Williamson County, Texas, was arrested 22 September 2017, after his ex-girlfriend told police he had broken into her home and assaulted her – using a box-cutter to carve an “X” just below her neck, Texas ABC-affiliate KVUE reported.

Except there was one problem: Mr Precopia did not do it.

In oral and written statements to police, his accuser detailed how Mr Precopia had forced his way into her home, pushing her to the ground before punching her in the face and slicing her with the box-cutter.

That was news to Mr Precopia.

He was given minimal information when police took him into custody, according to his attorney Rick Flores.

When Mr Precopia asked police why he was being arrested, Mr Flores says police told his client, “Don’t act like you don’t know.”

And when police said they had a warrant for his arrest in Bell County, Mr Flores said Mr Precopia’s response was: “Where is Bell County?”

He was charged with burglary of a habitation with the intent to commit other crimes, a felony offence that carries the possibility of a life sentence.

“I had no idea who accused me of this, I had no idea why everything was happening,” Mr Precopia told KVUE. “I was constantly fearful as to what could happen the next day . . . I was going to sleep hoping I wouldn’t wake up, just to get away from it.”

After spending more than a day in jail, Mr Precopia’s parents took out loans to post his $150,000 bond and pay for a lawyer in an effort to prove their son was innocent, Mr Flores said.

As Mr Precopia’s family worked to clear his name, his mother, Erin, realised she possessed a piece of evidence that could exonerate him: a selfie taken at 7:02pm on 20 September 2017 at the Renaissance Austin Hotel.

His accuser had told police she was attacked by Mr Precopia at 7:20pm that same day in her Bell County home, nearly 70 miles away. Cell-phone towers also helped pinpoint Mr Precopia’s actual location, Mr Flores said.

“He was very fortunate that she chose a date and time that he just happened to have a rock-solid alibi for,” Mr Flores said. “He and I have talked many times about how lucky he is, whether you believe in a higher power or good old-fashioned luck.”

If his accuser had claimed the attack had taken place the day before or after, Mr Flores said, his client’s only excuse would have been he was sitting at home watching TV – a much less convincing alibi.

The charge was dropped on 21 June after Mr Flores took the evidence to Bell County District Attorney’s Office, he said.

“We were able to corroborate the basis of what was presented to us, and in due course, we determined the proper action was to dismiss the charge, and that’s what we proceeded to do,” Bell County District Attorney Henry Garza said in an interview on Thursday.

Mr Garza added that the Bell County Attorney’s Office will ultimately determine if charges will be made against Mr Precopia’s accuser for making a false statement. KVUE reported on Tuesday that Mr Precopia’s accuser has not been charged with a crime.

The Temple Police Department did not return a call on Thursday afternoon requesting comment on the case.

Up until the charge was dropped, Mr Flores said Mr Precopia and his family were terrified for his future. While they are not planning any civil action against the police department, Mr Flores said the family is exploring a lawsuit against his accuser.

His accuser told police the two had a “troubled” relationship in high school, which she cited as the reason she reported that Mr Precopia assaulted her, according to KVUE. Mr Flores said he had not spoken with the accuser and could not comment on this allegation.

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

“His entire family had trouble sleeping at night, wondering what was going to happen, if anyone would believe them, if there would be a trial, prison time or a life sentence,” Mr Flores said, adding he does not blame police for taking action on the accuser’s allegations.

“We’re more upset with this person that blatantly made up a lie and got him in this mess to begin with,” he said.

Even though Mr Precopia’s name was cleared, he and his family now wonder how the accusation will impact him moving forward.

“While [his family] is happy it ended up with a dismissal, and that it will be expunged from his record, the damage is kind of done,” Mr Flores said. “Nothing will ever be completely scrubbed from the Internet.”

Mr Flores pointed to Mr Precopia’s encounter with the Army recruiter as “a small example of how this will follow him around forever.”

He added Mr Precopia’s application to enlist is “currently being reviewed by someone higher up at the US army.”

The Washington Post

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments