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Justice due for accused deputy

The longer this goes on, the more ridiculous it seems.

The closer Monday's trial gets, the more we find out, the more the accused -- George Avery -- looks like the victim of a frivolous but soul-crushing charge.

The county sheriff's deputy was accused in January of raping a man whom he had taken into custody on a driving while impaired charge. It started a descent into emotional hell.

Avery hit bottom four months ago, when a grand jury -- lacking key evidence not revealed until later -- indicted him.

The guy with 20 years in law enforcement had already turned in his badge and gun. He already felt the daily shame of questioning eyes. He already stood accused of an act that violated his professional ethics and his personal morality. Now he would be arrested. Now the divorced dad with two kids would be further humiliated.

"I'm a family guy, a heterosexual," Avery said. "Can you imagine being charged with sodomy against a man?"

His lawyer called with the bad news from the grand jury. The next day, March 23, Avery had to turn himself in, stand before a judge, face the TV cameras.

Alone in his condo, he poured himself one drink. Then another. Then another.

"I said, 'Screw it, there is no way out,' " Avery said over coffee on a recent morning. "I did not want to put myself and my family through this. I did not want to face that next day. I would rather wake up in heaven."

He followed the drinks with sleeping pills. He wrote a farewell note proclaiming his innocence. He was found unconscious, rushed to ECMC, and survived.

Avery is 52, with sandy brown hair, everyman looks and a machine-gun chatter. The man bent on self-destruction four months ago is now tan, fit and ready for Monday's nonjury trial. The lack of DNA evidence and recent revelations about the supposed victim's character shredded the accuser's credibility. A questionable case has become a borderline farce. The only "crime" I see is a good man's name has been smeared.

Evidence uncovered in recent months backs Avery's claim of innocence.

Authorities say the supposed victim -- I can't reveal his name, because of the sexual nature of the accusation -- recently falsely accused a friend to avoid a bad-check charge. He has been charged with 12 misdemeanors or violations in the past seven months. He was arrested for driving while impaired in January -- the night after Avery arrested him for driving while high on a cocktail of prescription drugs. Gerald Biles, the friend betrayed in the bad-check scheme, told investigators: "I've known [him] for a long time, and he's lied about everything."

This is the 24-year-old "victim" around whom the prosecution built its case. It would almost be funny, if the shame of the accusation had not left Avery staring into death's eyes.

"I never felt such deep sadness," said Avery. "I'd wake up at 3 a.m., and the first thing I would think of was this. It was always on my mind."

Help came. Fellow deputies backed him. Checks -- from 50 bucks to $500 -- arrived from friends who believed in him and from strangers who heard of his plight. A friend got him handyman jobs, to keep the unemployed Avery busy and bankrolled. The work of pulling weeds and painting walls freed his mind. The emotional burden led the straight-ahead, midnight-shift cop to plumb a deeper part of his soul. Each piece of favorable evidence lifted Avery's psyche.

"I started thinking, 'Why am I feeling bad? I'm not the bad guy here,' " he said.

Avery is nervous but confident about Monday's trial. The same justice system that put him through hell now can free him from it. George Avery is ready. I hope that justice is finally ready for him.


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