For four long days in late January of 2005, Grovetown parents lived the worst kind of fear.
A 14-year-old girl said she had been abducted from a school-bus stop by a knife-wielding man, dragged into the woods and raped.
As the girl was treated at the hospital for minor injuries, Grovetown investigators began an urgent investigation and the Columbia County Sheriff's Office used tracking dogs to comb the woods. Anxious parents followed their children to bus stops or drove them to school.
The girl gave investigators a description of her attacker, and a couple of days later she came up with a name; Paul Matthew Colohan III was arrested, and eventually indicted for kidnapping, rape and aggravated assault.
Colohan sat in jail for 16 months while judges repeatedly refused to grant bail. Why should they? He was accused of heinous crimes, the kind that strike the worst sort of door-locking fear in a community.
Police and prosecutors moved on to other cases. DNA tests stalled on the backlogged Georgia Bureau of Investigation's low-priority list. Colohan sat in jail.
Suddenly, on May 24, all the charges were dropped. DNA tests finally proved Colohan had nothing to do with the crime.
More than a year of a young man's life has been stolen. Why? There are only two possible answers:
• The accuser, who investigators knew was "deceptive" on a polygraph test, lied about the rape allegation. If so, she should be prosecuted as harshly as the law will allow - and identified.
• If she wasn't lying, this delay means a violent rapist has had a 16-month head start on getting away from justice while an innocent man sat in jail.
Sickeningly, the likely answer is that the purported victim was lying. Her reasons for making up an abduction and rape scenario aren't known, and don't really matter; the simple fact that someone would cry wolf and strike such fear in a community is so low as to defy moral gravity.
It appears the real victim is a 26-year-old man whose only crime was not having enough money to hire an attorney to demand faster test results.
A GBI spokesman says its lab has more than 1,000 cases waiting for testing, and no one ever asked them to hurry Colohan's tests. How many other innocent people similarly are being ground up in the slow-turning wheels of injustice?
He no longer needs a criminal lawyer, but it should be easy for Colohan to find a civil attorney to sue into poverty the unnamed teen who sent him to jail. Now that there's a profit motive, and not just an innocent man's freedom at stake, maybe someone will finally come to his aid.
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