Rape charge dropped after accuser commits suicide

HURON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — Samantha Kelly endured merciless taunting from classmates after they learned that the high school freshman had accused a senior of rape.

The weeks of harassment eventually became too much. Samantha went home from school Monday and hanged herself in this community southwest of Detroit.

With their key witness dead, prosecutors on Wednesday dropped criminal charges against the older student, saying they had no case without the accuser’s testimony.

Samantha’s mother screamed at 18-year-old Joseph Tarnopolski after his brief court appearance and had to be restrained by a relative. She told reporters she was not consulted about the decision to dismiss the third-degree criminal sexual conduct charge.

“My daughter did not get any justice,” June Justice said.

Tarnopolski told the Detroit Free Press he was sorry to hear of the girl’s death. He told Detroit station WJBK Samantha was “a friend” and felt “a little bit” responsible, but said others were behind any taunts.

“If she was getting ridiculed, it’s not because it me,” Tarnopolski said. “It’s because of somebody else.”

Samantha’s accusations became known to many of her neighbors and classmates after she and her mother spoke to a local television station about the matter. Samantha’s face was blocked out, but word of her allegations quickly spread.

“People wanted to beat her up — people who were friends of Joe,” said Ayla Raines, who also attended Huron High School. “Not to her face. She heard from other people that they wanted to beat her up.”

Another student, Calie Bouchard, said 14-year-old Samantha was confronted once in the lunch room by a group of girls who insisted she was lying.

“She started breaking down in tears,” Calie said.

Principal Donovan Rowe said school officials investigated the alleged bullying and found nothing overt. Rowe said on occasion he walked behind Samantha as she went from class to class and witnessed no harassment.

Huron Township police said Justice brought her daughter to the station on Sept. 27, a day after the encounter with Tarnopolski, to file a sexual assault report. At the time it was considered a statutory rape case, meaning the pair had consensual sex but that she was under the age of consent.

Tarnopolski told WJBK that he had sex with Samantha, but it was a “mutual thing.”

Justice also met with school officials and asked to keep the matter confidential, the principal said. Initially, he added, there was no animosity between the two families.

School officials said they were blindsided by the Oct. 18 television report in which Justice criticized administrators for not taking action to protect her daughter.

Before the story aired on WJBK, Justice “was pretty complimentary of us,” Rowe said. “She indicated she wanted to move her daughter to another school, but Samantha wanted to stay here.”

Samantha had not been at school for about two weeks before returning Monday morning with her mother.

“Her mom had mentioned some harassment,” Rowe said. “I asked her specifically if it was happening here. She said no. It was happening in the trailer park.”

Samantha told close friends she was constantly being intimidated.

“She told me she was being extremely bullied, and it was extremely stressful,” said 16-year-old Devyn Waldecker, a neighbor in the Huron Estates mobile home park. “People bumped into her in the hallways at school. On two occasions after school, people tried to jump her.”

Waldecker, who attends another school, wanted to help the girl she had befriended just this past June, but “really didn’t know what to do.”

“I told her I was there for her — anything she needed from me,” Waldecker said.

Samantha didn’t deserve such an ordeal, said Devyn’s mother, Shannon Waldecker. “Sam was a very sweet, soft-spoken person and very honest.”

After school Tuesday, Devyn Waldecker learned from Samantha’s mother that her good friend was dead.

“I was shocked and heartbroken,” the girl said.

On Wednesday, Wayne County prosecutor’s spokeswoman Maria Miller said the case against Tarnopolski could not proceed “because the sole evidence ... was the complainant.”

Attorney Joseph Kosmala, a Detroit-area defense lawyer who was not involved in the case, said the prosecutor seemed to have no other choice.

“Sexual assaults are not crimes that typically take place in front of witnesses. They’re private crimes,” Kosmala said. “Unless the complainant can sit in the witness chair and point the finger, there is no case.”

Police notified school officials Monday night about the suicide. Students were told the next day that a schoolmate had died and that counselors were available.

Tarnopolski’s attorney, Jacqueline George, called the case “a sad situation” for all involved. “I hope both families can heal,” she said.

A Facebook page was created to memorialize Samantha and by Wednesday afternoon had more than 550 friends. It reads, “R.I.P., Samantha Kelly. You will be missed. We love you.”

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Associated Press writers Jeff Karoub and Ed White in Detroit contributed to this report.

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