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'I'm sending an officer'
A short time later, a Little Rock police officer called Alle on her phone. She said she couldn't talk and hung up. With information from the phone company, the officer then called Alle's father, who had the contract for the phone. Powell was just coming home for lunch.
He recalls: "Zay had brought her lunch. He'd showered, and a few minutes after I got there, he left. My phone rang and somebody asked for Zay. When I said he'd just left, they asked for his number. I asked Alle, 'Do you know Zay's number?'
"The voice on the phone said, 'Is Alle with you?' Then, 'How long have you been there?' I said, 'About two minutes.' The person on the phone said, 'I'm sending an officer to your house.' That was the first I knew that something was going on."
Alle's own memory of that day is blurry. When she heard that police were coming, "I was freaking out," she says. "I was pacing. Then the police came."
"They took Alle into a room alone," Powell says. "When they came out, they told me that Alle had called a hotline. They said she was denying ever saying this man was raping her.
"I sat down next to Alle and I said, 'Alle, has Zay touched you?' She fell apart. She said she was afraid if she told me I'd hurt him and I'd go to prison. The police officer was wonderful. She held Alle while she cried. Then she said we had to go to the hospital."
"I got tested—that whole thing," Alle recalls. "I felt grossed out. They were touching me in places I don't want to ever be touched again.
"And then came telling my story. I told it like 37 times. On top of that, I was sick. I had a sinus infection. That's why I was home from school. I was feeling terrible, and they would wake me up between naps and stuff. The police, the DA's office. Over and over again. I got over it because I knew they were doing it for my own good. But it felt like..." She doesn't complete the sentence, then adds:
"This is like the last time I'm going to tell this story. Maybe I'll tell my grandchildren."
'I wasn't really a person'
While it is known that many, perhaps most, sexual assaults of children go unreported, and that follow-up is sometimes patchy, action in this case was swift. The day after Alle's call, police further questioned her parents. "I've been investigated by everyone from Day 1, which is fine," Powell says. "I should be investigated. But they couldn't find anything."
During questioning, Powell and Annette told detectives that Alle had recently begun seeing a therapist—at Whitaker's suggestion. Powell told the police, "Well, Zay said that she had been talking to him and telling him that she was wanting to talk to somebody."
When Powell didn't promptly make an appointment, Whitaker raised the issue with him again, Powell said. He said that Whitaker said Alle had mentioned it again, adding that now she was talking about suicide. This time, Powell immediately made an appointment for her. Neither he nor Annette could explain why Whitaker might have taken the apparent risk of encouraging Alle to speak with a therapist.
"I did want to talk to someone," Alle says. "I felt like I was worthless. I didn't really have a purpose. I felt that no one really cared about me, that I didn't really matter, that I wasn't really a person. I started thinking about it when I was 10. I wanted to die, my heart to shatter."
But in her meetings with the therapist, Alle did not mention the abuse. "I couldn't tell that one thing," she says, "because I was scared." She says Whitaker was confident of his power over her—that she both loved and feared him—and that she wouldn't tell. "He made me promise I wouldn't," she says. "And he thought I wouldn't. But I did."
The day after Alle's call, a Little Rock judge granted a temporary order of protection, which was later made permanent. Whitaker was not to go within 500 feet of Alle, her home or her school.
In March, Whitaker was charged with rape and sexual assault. Circuit Judge Herbert Wright set bond at $100,000. Whitaker was jailed, declared indigent and appointed a public defender. Three months after his arrest, Whitaker wrote a letter to the judge complaining that his court-appointed attorney was not preparing adequately for his Aug. 11 trial.
In April, police received reports from the State Crime Laboratory. Tests showed a high probability that DNA found on cuttings from a comforter taken from a bed in a trailer where Whitaker was living had come from both him and Alle. She had visited the trailer often. However, because the trailer was small, it seemed possible that the bed was one of the few places a person could have sat, even to watch television.
Prosecutors had to decide whether to go to trial or offer Whitaker a plea deal. When the trial date arrived, officials of the Pulaski County prosecuting attorney's office offered a deal. The rape charge would be dropped if Whitaker pleaded guilty to sexual assault in the second degree, a Class B felony. Whitaker agreed.
John Johnson, the county's chief deputy prosecutor, says, "It was a hard decision for us." One consideration was that "the girl" did not want to testify, he says, and her parents supported that decision. (Alle says, "I did want to testify.") Another factor, Johnson says, was that, "Aside from her statement, there was no evidence that directly pointed to his guilt."
Whitaker was sentenced to the time he'd already spent in jail, plus five years' probation and a $1,000 fine. He was free, but was required to register as a sex offender.
In the four months between Whitaker's arrest and guilty plea, Alle attempted suicide twice. When she was hospitalized for a week after the first attempt, she remembers thinking, "Why am I here? I'm not mental. I'm not anything. I'm just wanting to die."
She was hospitalized again after the second attempt, this time "on total lock-down." Nothing seemed to help, she says, until she began seeing a counselor at Safe Places, a Little Rock non-profit that works with victims of sexual assault, child abuse and family violence.