The Utah Supreme Court has reversed a child rape and sodomy conviction against Tony W. Matsamas, ruling the trial judge erred in permitting hearsay testimony.
In a unanimous decision released earlier this month, the court found that testimony from the child's mother, social worker and a psychologist failed to meet legal standards for reliability. The justices remanded the case to the lower court.Matsama was convicted of rape of a child and sodomy of a 4-year-old girl for incidents that occurred in 1986.
During a 1987 trial before 3rd District Judge Raymond Uno, the child testified that Matsamas had "touched her." The child's mother later testified her daughter had told her that Matsamas had touched her and that she had nightmares about it.
Social worker Jan Foutz and psychologist Ann Tyler both testified that the child identified specific acts with the use of anatomically correct dolls.
Matsamas was convicted of both first-degree felonies and sentenced to concurrent, minimum-mandatory prison terms of 10 years to life.
Associate Justice Michael Zimmerman wrote that the hearsay statements first were questioned nine months before the trial, but a judge rejected the defendant's motion to suppress the testimony.
The issue arose again at trial, when Uno ruled that the testimony would assist the jury in deciding whether the incident took place.
The judge, Zimmerman wrote, "made no specific findings as to what the facts relevant to reliability were, nor explained how these facts supported the conclusion of inadmissibility."
The judge "admitted the testimony based only on the supposed need for it. This was clear error," Zimmerman wrote.