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Child rape case from 1976 dismissed

May 17, 2006 | Rocky Mountain News

A 30-year-old child rape case against a Lafayette woman was dismissed Tuesday when the victim, now an adult, decided not to go forward.

Cheryle Dillard, 51, was to have gone on trial Tuesday at Dudley District Court, in Southbridge, Mass., on charges of rape of a child and indecent assault and battery on a person 14 or older, stemming from incidents dating back to 1976.

The policy of the Rocky Mountain News in most cases is to not print the names of sexual assault victims unless they waive their anonymity. But the alleged victim in Dillard's case, 45-year-old Sheila Benzer, of Provincetown, Mass., broke her silence in the case in January 2005, when her father, Lawrence Dillard - facing the same charges in the same case - died at age 77.

Karen Foley, an administrator in the office of John Conte, district attorney for the Middle District of Massachusetts, said Benzer "did not come to court today, and she had expressed that she did not want to proceed."

Cheryle Dillard, prior to Lawrence Dillard's death, said in a 2004 interview that the accusations against the couple were without foundation and that they were innocent.

Benzer had claimed her father sexually abused her regularly from the age of 3. But the acts for which he and Cheryle Dillard, his second wife, were charged allegedly occurred in 1976, when Sheila Benzer was about 15 and the family lived in Southbridge.

The statute of limitations in Massachusetts at the time of the Dillards' alleged crimes was six years. However, because Benzer's father and stepmother moved from that state in about 1978, that froze the statute-of-limitations clock at the two-year mark.

The Dillards moved to Colorado several years after leaving Massachusetts. The charges against them were filed in October 2003.

When Benzer's father died before the case reached a courtroom, Benzer, an artist and political activist, expressed frustration.

"I had the chance of a lifetime. I tried to do it the right way," Benzer said then. "Now, the rest of my life, I have to sit with this. I'm angry beyond words."

On Tuesday, she attributed her decision to a range of factors, including a sense that the district attorney's office did not truly support her and that serious health issues suffered by the lead detective on the case could limit his ability to testify effectively.

"Another reason," Benzer said, "is that because I started this four years ago, I'm so tired of getting all geared up and all prepared for what the defense attorney throws at me and then having it be continued.

"Keeping this so raw, for so long, I just couldn't muster it, this time."

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