For the past year, residents of Pike Lake, Sask., have come to know Denise Harvey as just another neighbour, an ordinary woman in a tightly knit community.
But for residents of Vero Beach, Fla., Harvey is a fugitive, a sex offender and — to many — a victim of an unjust justice system.
Harvey, an American, fled to Canada with her husband last year after being sentenced to 30 years in prison for having sex with her son’s 16-year-old friend. But the system caught up with her last week, when she was arrested by RCMP in Pike Lake. She made an appearance before an Immigration and Refugee Board adjudicator Monday and was released on a $5,000 bond.
She is claiming refugee status to avoid being forced back to Florida, arguing the 30-year-sentence she received was too severe.
Many others who have been following her case agree.
“She didn’t get any justice down here,” said Vero Beach flight trainer George Sigler, one of Harvey’s supporters.
In a town of 18.000 residents, Sigler gathered 2,000 signatures for a petition demanding the Florida governor give Harvey a pardon. Sigler says many people believe Harvey doesn’t deserve a jail sentence that should be reserved for killers.
“She’s a nice, soft-spoken woman who I believe made a mistake but that doesn’t mean she should go to jail for 30 years,” said Sigler. “No one in their right mind believes a 16-year-old wasn’t a willing participant.”
Chris Veeman, a Saskatoon immigration lawyer now representing Harvey, said a 30-year jail sentence was too high and provides some merit for her claim that returning to the United States would be cruel and unusual.
She never testified at her trial in Florida and denied any wrongdoing. The age of consent in Florida is 18. In Canada, the age of consent is 16 years old although it is 18 if the two people are in a situation defined as a power dynamic such as teacher and student.
Veeman said Harvey and her husband entered the country through the border and one of the conditions of her release is that she has to continue living with her husband. The couple has returned to Pike Lake, about 20 minutes southwest of Saskatoon.
One resident of Vero Beach who wants Harvey returned to Florida is Ron Barnett of Barnett Bail Bonds, which posted a $150,000 bail for the convicted woman.
When Harvey failed to showed up to begin serving her prison sentence in late February, a warrant was issued for her arrest.
“The Canadian authorities are protecting her and I can’t see their logic in letting her go,” said Barnett. “She skipped out on $150,000 bond and now she’s out on a $5,000 bond.”
In Pike Lake, one of the Harveys’ neighbours, Donna Nagus, said the community wants to give the couple their privacy.
“I really want to protect their privacy so we’re not talking about them at all,” said Nagus. “We don’t need a bunch of people gawking at their lawn.”
And, another article with additional information.
The autobiographical romance "Summer Of '42" depicts a coming-of-age relationship between 15-year-old Hermie and an older married woman. By the time "Dorothy" vanishes from his Nantucket vacation community, Hermie has matured from boy to man.
How much has changed in the 40 years since that movie was made. Today, rather than disappearing for parts unknown, Dorothy would be shackled and riding the bus to the nearest women's penitentiary.
But is it fair to sentence a woman to 30 years in prison for a consensual relationship with a willing teenage boy?
That is the question confronting Canadian authorities in the case of a Florida woman who is seeking refugee status in Saskatchewan. Denise Harvey fled the United States with her husband after she was sentenced to a 30-year prison term for a consensual relationship with her son's 16-year-old friend.
Denise Harvey (photo credit TC Palm)
In Canada, the age of consent is 16 so her conduct would not have been criminal. Saskatchewan authorities have not extradited Harvey because Canada does not extradite people unless the conduct is a crime in both countries. In appealing to the Canadian government for refugee status, Harvey claims her sentence amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, forbidden by the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
More than 10 percent of the residents of her home community of Vero Beach, Florida agree that her sentence was too extreme. They signed a petition demanding that Florida's governor pardon her.
"She didn’t get any justice down here," said petition sponsor George Sigler, a flight trainer. "She's a nice, soft-spoken woman who I believe made a mistake but that doesn't mean she should go to jail for 30 years. No one in their right mind believes a 16-year-old wasn't a willing participant."
Harvey rejected an 11-year plea bargain offer and went to trial. The teen testified that the two flirted and had a long kiss in a car before engaging in brief sexual interludes at his home and elsewhere. Harvey did not testify, but her attorney told jurors the boy stalked her after she rejected his advances. The jury heard a 20-minute recording surreptitiously recorded by police with the boy's cooperation, in which the two discussed what to do if their sexual encounters were disclosed.
After Harvey's conviction on five counts, prosecutors urged the lengthy sentence because she continued to deny wrongdoing. She fled after losing her appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.
With the case now making international headlines, the question becomes whether this is the most sensible face for a world leader to portray to the rest of the world.
Edited by Ken Singer, LCSW (04/16/11 03:51 PM)
Blissfully retired after 35 years treating sexual abuse