Their crusade began when Amanda Johnson visited the church of her childhood and saw a picture of her father on the wall.
She froze in fear, and felt the blood draining from her face. Then, she told the Observer, “I literally ran back to the car.”
For five years, she didn’t tell her older sister, Miracle Balsitis, who had asked her family not to mention her father’s name or any news about him.
But earlier this year, when Johnson found out from a friend that the photo was still on the wall, she finally told her sister.
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Balsitis was shocked. Didn’t Matthews United Methodist Church know that Lane Hurley, their father and the church’s former pastor, was in prison because of child sex abuse crimes committed three years after he left the Matthews church?
Why, the sisters asked themselves, would a framed photo of him still be hanging next to pictures of other past clergy in a place of honor reserved for what a nearby plaque called “The Faces of Spiritual Leadership”?
The two sisters had left the Charlotte area 24 years ago — Balsitis, 39, now lives in California; Johnson, 35, in Kernersville.
They decided it was time to confront Matthews United Methodist about the picture.
“It’s about standing up for the truth,” Balsitis said later. “And standing up for people who have been hurt.”
She and Johnson came up with five requests. They personally delivered the list in late July to current leaders of the church and of the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Request number one: “We ask that the photograph of Lane Hurley come down.”
‘Be on the lookout’
Matthews United Methodist was still a small suburban church in downtown Matthews when the Rev. Lane Hurley, then 35, arrived as the new senior pastor in 1984.
When he left 10 years later, the Observer reported at the time, the church had nearly tripled its membership to more than 2,600, was in the midst of spending $7.5 million to build a new campus, and was drawing more than 1,200 people on Sundays — then, the highest average attendance at any United Methodist church in the Western North Carolina conference.
Hurley was handsome and debonair, said his then-boss, the Rev. Don Haynes, adding that some in the congregation “worshiped the ground he walked on.”
His sermons were the real magnet. He could “charm the birds out of the trees,” a former member of the Matthews church told the Observer years later.
Hurley’s wife, Melody, was also a United Methodist minister. The couple would sometimes team up to deliver sermons as a dialogue.
“People constantly gave me accolades about my parents,” their daughter Miracle recalled. “Especially my dad — that he was such a gifted speaker, that he really drew people in.”
But even as Hurley packed the pews and the coffers, church and conference officials were hearing rumors about him and other women. When the Rev. Chuck Wilson became associate pastor in 1987, he said, a member of the church’s personnel committee alerted him to “be on the lookout. ... They mentioned that there may have been some sort of relationship with another woman.”
‘You two need to talk’
In the spring of 1994, Melody Hurley felt her 20-year marriage was coming apart, she told the Observer in a recent interview. Phone calls to their home — some callers hung up, others asked if she wanted to know where her husband was — fed her suspicion that he was having affairs.
There was also a cache of pornography she said Hurley brought back from a clergy trip to Italy and Greece earlier that year.
“I told him to get it out of our house,” she said. She thought he had, until their daughter Amanda, then 11, happened upon it in a closet. Hurley’s wife said she put the X-rated magazines and videos in a box, then hid it in the attic.
The box was later passed along to then-Bishop Bevel Jones, who headed the Western North Carolina conference of the United Methodist Church.
Still hoping to save her marriage, she agreed in the summer of 1994 to accompany Hurley on a retreat for clergy in Marble, Colo.
During group sessions with other couples, she said, Hurley acknowledged that he’d not been faithful in their marriage. The counselors agreed to let Hurley stay alone an extra week, she said, “to work on his own issues.”
When that week was over, one of the counselors called Haynes, Hurley’s boss as superintendent of the United Methodists’ Charlotte district.
‘He told me,” Haynes recalled recently, “’If you’re his supervisor... you two need to talk.’”
Upon Hurley’s return, Haynes and Bishop Jones insisted on meeting with him.
They talked about extramarital affairs, Haynes said. United Methodist ministers pledge in their ordination vows to stay faithful to their marriage.
“If there are issues of moral turpitude,” Haynes remembered the bishop saying, “tell us what you want to do.”
Hurley had two options.
Try to clear his name in a church trial, a rare, last-resort proceeding during which 13 clergy within the conference determine guilt or innocence, as well as any penalty, including expulsion from the denomination.
Or Hurley could decide to voluntarily surrender his credentials as a United Methodist minister.
He chose the latter, which would keep the exact nature of his transgressions secret for years.
The following Sunday, congregants at Matthews United Methodist streamed into both services, expecting to welcome Hurley back after his time away. Instead, Haynes showed up in the pulpit.
He told them their pastor of 10 years had decided to give up his credentials and would not be returning to the church.
Haynes said he offered no further explanation to Hurley’s surprised flock, telling the Observer recently that “I was not going to get into the gory details.”
‘Failure to keep vows’
On the front page of the Observer two days later, Hurley said in an interview that he was leaving because the stress and long hours of leading a megachurch had taken a toll on his health and on his wife and three children — Josh, 17, Miracle, 14, and Amanda, 11. He said neck surgery and marital stress helped convince him to leave.
According to the article, Hurley “said no hidden motivation led to his decision — no charges of wrongdoing.”
Instead, the Charlotte native, then 44, said he’d been pondering the move for awhile. “You don’t turn in your credentials without a tremendous amount of prayer and reflection,” he said then.
The next Sunday, Fred DeVore, then chairman of the administrative board at Matthews United Methodist, said he read the congregation a two-page farewell letter from Hurley that acknowledged struggles in his marriage, but stopped short of admitting to extramarital affairs.
In the letter, Hurley spoke of the retreat in Colorado, which he said had centered on the “difficulties” in his marriage and on his “need for honesty and new beginnings.”
“I looked deeply at my own brokenness, my own shortcomings, my failings in relationships, and my sin,” he wrote. “As a minister of the United Methodist Church, I took a vow of covenant with my brothers and sisters in Christ, and my God. I am truly sorry that I have broken that covenant. It has caused unnecessary hurt and pain in my life and the life of others.”
Current leaders of the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church refused the Observer’s request to view its decades-old file on Hurley. But the Rev. Amy Coles, assistant to Bishop Paul Leeland, told the newspaper recently that, in his letter surrendering his credentials, Hurley cited his “failure to keep my marriage covenant and my ordination vows.”
Coles said there is no record of any complaints being filed against Hurley during his time at the Matthews church. But she did find a two-word note in his file that appeared to be in Bishop Jones’ handwriting. It read: “The box.”
Haynes said his memory is Jones didn’t get the box of pornography until after Hurley was, officially, no longer a United Methodist minister. So, Haynes said, they didn’t do a thorough inventory of what was in the box.
Hurley’s sister, the Rev. Lucretia Browning, told the Observer that she and her parents and siblings met with the bishop. She said they pleaded with Jones to give Hurley a second chance at Matthews United Methodist since he had helped grow the church.
“They did not give any reason for the surrender of his credentials,” recalled Browning, also a United Methodist minister. “They said it was his choice.”
‘A hidden life’
With Hurley gone from the Matthews church, his wife and children left him and the Charlotte area to relocate in Michigan, where she soon got a clergy job.
Just a few months later, in late 1994, she flew to Cape Cod in Massachusetts, where Hurley had retreated for therapy at a place called the Community of Jesus. She said he wanted to return to her and the kids.
Hurley’s parents and siblings had blamed her for his marital difficulties, she said, so he agreed to write them a letter.
In it, Hurley acknowledged that “I have a sexual addiction” and admitted to affairs “from the early years of our marriage. There have been numerous women in my life.”
“I have not been a good father to the children for I have acted with deception,” he also wrote in the Nov. 11 letter, a copy of which was given to the Observer. “I have not been honest with Melody. I have not been honest with the Bishop or the church. I have lived a ‘hidden’ life’ for a long time.”
Melody Hurley watched her husband write, seal and send the letter, she said. Then, at the urging of his therapist, she said, he confessed to affairs with many women. She remembers being appalled. “I’m done,” she said she told him, and left for good.
After that, Hurley contacted his parents and siblings about the letter, Browning, his sister, said.
“He asked us to not read it,” said Browning. “He said, ‘You can, I’m giving it to you.’ But, according to him, it was written under duress.”
Browning said she heeded her brother’s request. It’s a decision she would come to deeply regret. “Oh my God, yes,” she said recently. “I was so fooled by him.”
‘Trying to get out’
Less than nine months after telling the Observer he could no longer cope with the stress of leading Matthews United Methodist, Hurley was named pastor of First Christian — a Disciples of Christ church in Charlotte that had about 150 members. He stayed there a little over a year.
Haynes remembered getting a call from First Christian, asking about Hurley’s time in Matthews. “I didn’t tell them any details,” he said.
By the summer of 1997, Hurley and Browning, his sister, had embarked on a plan to open A Place of Grace, a retreat center for stressed-out clergy in an idyllic rural patch of central Pennsylvania.
Hurley moved in with Browning and her family — husband Jim and their two young children. For the summer, Hurley was given the master bedroom, near where his 10-year-old niece, Jessica, slept.
“That’s where the abuse happened,” Lucretia Browning said.
Jim Browning, her husband, later testified in court that, during that summer, he had noticed peculiar behavior by their daughter, Jessica. She started locking her bedroom door, he said, and she had removed the screen from her window. “She said she was trying to get (out),” he said, according to court papers.
Four years later, in 2001, Jessica Browning, then 14, started having nightmares, she later testified in court. At school that year, she had what her father called a “meltdown.” It was triggered when someone touched her shoulder or back, Jessica Browning later testified, “and all of a sudden ... all these memories of what happened to me were just there.”
She said it was “as if this cloud had been lifted,” leaving her “really really scared.”
In April 2002, Hurley, then pastor of a First Christian Church in Virginia, turned himself in to police in Cumberland County, Pa., where he was charged with sexually abusing Jessica Browning.
Just over a year later, a jury found Hurley guilty of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, indecent assault, and corruption of the morals of a minor.
After his conviction, Hurley faxed the Observer a statement saying that his exodus from Matthews United Methodist nine years before stemmed from adult sexual relationships. In his statement, the Observer reported, Hurley denied sexually assaulting his niece or being a pedophile.
Early in 2004, he won a new trial after arguing that his first lawyer had not properly represented him.
‘Wasn’t even aware’
The second trial began on Oct. 31, 2006.
Jessica Browning, by then a 19-year-old college student, testified about her memories of what happened that summer when she was 10 — including, she said, her uncle molesting her in his room during the day, near a computer featuring pornography, and in her room at night.
Hurley’s lawyer argued that her memories were unreliable, citing other parts of her testimony in which she said that, prior to the 2001 incident at her school, “I wasn’t even aware I had sexual abuse.”
The lawyer called witnesses from academia who testified that the process of recovering memories that were supposedly repressed for years could yield false memories.
The prosecution argued that the case wasn’t about recovered repressed memory. First Assistant District Attorney Jaime Keating said that what mattered was the memory she had on the stand.
The second jury also found her testimony convincing. On Nov. 2, 2006, after deliberating for 2 1/2 hours, it found Hurley guilty of the same offenses.
Hurley was given a sentence of up to 10 years and is now a state prison inmate in Somerset, Pa. He’s scheduled to be released from prison in 2019.
According to his current lawyer, Jeremy Gutman, “Mr. Hurley has consistently maintained his innocence, even though doing so prevented him from being released when he became eligible for parole in 2014.”
His latest appeal, which argues that basing a conviction on repressed and recovered memories alone violated his constitutional right to due process, is before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia. Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for Oct. 9, Gutman said.
Keating prosecuted Hurley both times. He recently told the Observer that he had anticipated that, because Hurley had no prior criminal record, his lawyer might try to call character witnesses. And, as a minister who had gone on to serve at a series of non-Methodist churches after leaving Matthews, there could be former congregants willing to vouch for him.
So Keating said he lined up potential rebuttal witnesses who’d be ready to testify, under oath, about Hurley’s dark side. Among them were two young women he flew to Pennsylvania and asked both to stand as he introduced them to the jury as possible witnesses.
They were Hurley’s daughters, Miracle and Amanda.
‘Did you abuse me?’
Both women allege that their father sexually abused them when they were children.
In recent interviews with the Observer, Balsitis, now 39, said her father began molesting her “when I was a small child” and it continued until she was 12 or 13.
Memories of what happened began to emerge “in pieces,” she said, starting in high school.
“I would have memories of something really horrible happening, but it would be like flashes,” she said. “And then they kept coming. It became very clear who it was.”
As she grew older, the memories eventually formed a more complete picture, she said. But she kept silent about the abuse for years, not even telling her mother. She said she remembered her father threatening her if she told anyone.
“A lot of it was just so unbelievable to me,” she said. “It was almost like a dream, but I knew it wasn’t.”
In high school, she said, she developed an eating disorder. And in college, depression landed her in the hospital. She said she finally told a therapist what had happened, then told her sister and their mother in 2000.
The same year, Balsitis, then 21, and a friend stopped at her father’s house, then in Virginia, on their way to Charleston for spring break. One evening, she said, she confronted him.
“I said, ‘I have had a lot of memories of you touching me. I remember you abusing me. Did you abuse me?’”
She said her father said no, then laughed — not in a mocking way, but in a way that seemed to dismiss her allegation as not credible.
Soon after that, she said, she wrote her father a letter, saying she wanted no further relationship with him.
In 2001, two years before Hurley’s first trial, Balsitis said she became alarmed when she heard her father was working with a youth group at a church in Virginia.
That September, she said she flew from Wisconsin, where she’d been attending graduate school, to Charlotte. Then she drove to the Matthews Police Department.
There, according to a document released by Matthews police, she met with an officer and reported being a victim of sexual assault when she was a child living in Matthews.
Balsitis said Matthews police proposed that she call Hurley, record their conversation and try to get him to admit he had molested her. But she declined to make the call.
She didn’t believe her father would confess, she said. And she had promised herself that she would never again get in touch with him.
“Crossing that boundary of contacting him,” she told the Observer, “would open up something in my life that I had tried to really hold back.”
The Matthews department would not comment on the now-closed case. Its incident report, a copy of which the department recently sent to Balsitis who emailed it to the Observer, indicates only that “Victim Refuse(d) to Cooperate.”
Amanda Johnson, now 35, also spoke to the Observer. She alleged that her father sexually abused her during the time the family lived in Matthews. It ended when she was nine or 10, she said.
“My memories are that there was definitely inappropriate touching,” she said.
She said she experienced a flood of memories one night when she was a freshman in college.
“I was having — I guess you’d call them flashbacks — of my dad being at the end of the bed. I was terrified, I couldn’t move,” she said. “The next day, I just realized what was happening. I was having flashbacks of my dad. I literally dropped to the floor and started bawling.”
Like her sister, she said she has cut off all contact with Hurley. Unlike her sister, she said she never reported the alleged abuse to the police.
Johnson said the abuse made her life difficult for a long time: “I built walls around me. I didn’t let people too close to me. And I drank a lot.”
After Hurley’s first conviction, The Virginian-Pilot reported in 2003 that both Balsitis and Johnson said they had been sexually abused by their father.
In August of this year, the Observer wrote a letter to Hurley with questions about his daughters’ allegations and his reason for leaving Matthews United Methodist.
In response, his New York-based attorney, Gutman, sent the Observer a statement and a copy of Hurley’s latest appeal of his 2006 conviction.
The statement says that Hurley is “unequivocal in disputing any suggestion that he has abused his children in any way.”
It also reads, in part:
“Mr. Hurley loves his daughters and is sorry for any suffering they may have experienced as a result of ‘memories’ that they have become convinced are true. He is also troubled by the possibility that these memories originated and were reinforced during a period in which they were in close contact with their cousin Jessica. It is nonetheless our hope that fair-minded readers will recognize that the very notion that they were able to repress memories of traumatic events and then recover them years later is based on an unproven and discredited hypothesis and that, consequently, there is much reason to question the reliability of their accusations.”
‘Felt like truth’
On July 29 of this year, Balsitis and Johnson returned to Matthews United Methodist to see whether the picture of their father was still on the wall.
The next day, they met with local church and United Methodist officials, to tell them how heartbreaking it was to see it hanging there.
“Please imagine what the impact is for a sexual abuse victim to stand in a church, and to look up, and staring back at them is their perpetrator hung in a place of honor on the wall,” Balsitis said, according to a copy of her remarks given to the Observer. “The church, God’s refuge for the hurting, is still putting a pedophile in a place of power even at this very moment.”
Balsitis and Johnson also charged during the meeting that the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church had failed them, their cousin Jessica, and other churches where Hurley later served.
“Because the Methodist Church didn’t make my father’s sexual addiction public, he went on to hurt people who could have known who they were really dealing with,” Balsitis said.
The sisters told the officials that, “in spite of everything,” they continue to be active members of their home churches. And that faith, they said, was propelling them to seek not vengeance, but truth-telling and support for others in pain.
“When you’ve been molested by your father, who is also a minister, you struggle to figure out who you are and who Jesus is,” Johnson said she told those at the meeting. “My prayer is that this congregation, this conference, and community, will see and experience truth and reach out to people with knowledge of who (Hurley) is as he will return anywhere he can find support.”
In addition to asking for the removal of their father’s picture, they also requested that the church publicly explain why it was coming down and offer licensed counseling and “a chance to have their pain acknowledged” to any victims of sexual misconduct who come forward.
Among those attending the meeting at the United Methodists’ Western North Carolina Conference offices in Huntersville was the Rev Chuck Wilson. He had worked alongside Hurley at Matthews United Methodist from 1987 to 1992. Then he took a job with the conference. And in 2016, he returned to the Matthews church as pastor.
Wilson told the Observer that, “from my experience, it was just hard for me to conceive that” Hurley had sexually abused a child.
In 2006, Wilson said, Hurley approached him, arguing that Jessica Browning’s memories were false and asking him to write a letter to the judge who was considering Hurley’s sentence. Wilson wrote the letter.
But Wilson said the “very powerful” meeting with Balsitis and Johnson changed his view of Hurley.
“I asked them, ‘Are you saying to me that your father sexually assaulted you?’” he recounted. “And without batting an eye, they said yes. And that’s what really felt like truth to me.”
‘I needed it down’
One night a week later, Wilson climbed onto a bench near the church offices and took down Lane Hurley’s framed photo.
“I just needed it down was what I was feeling in my heart,” he told the Observer.
The following Sunday, Aug. 12, Wilson told the congregation at Matthews United Methodist why Hurley left in 1994.
“He surrendered his credentials as a United Methodist pastor because he was involved in marital infidelity and pornography,” Wilson said from the pulpit.
Wilson told church members about Hurley’s 2006 conviction for child sex abuse and about the allegations by his daughters.
He saluted their courage for speaking out, and announced that the church would take a series of steps to try to help heal victims of sexual abuse.
Wilson said that, during Hurley’s time in Matthews, neither the church nor United Methodist leaders were aware of any sexual abuse of children by Hurley.
Wilson also told his church about the sisters’ first request: Take down the photo.
“They said to me, ‘Chuck, how could this church give unrepentant Lane Hurley a place of honor with all he has done to our family?” he said. “Even though that was not the intent, frankly they were right. I have removed the picture.”
When Miracle Balsitis heard that Hurley’s picture was down, she said “I instantly started crying.”
It was emotional for her sister, too. “To feel that you finally have a voice,” Amanda Johnson said, “is very empowering.”
Other United Methodist officials who met with the sisters have echoed Wilson’s words of support.
“ I would have believed them without (Hurley’s) conviction,” said the Rev. David Hockett, the conference’s new district superintendent of the Charlotte-metro district.
But he and others have pushed back on the sisters’ charges that Matthews United Methodist and the the Western North Carolina conference acted improperly 24 years ago.
A statement from the conference said that “there is no indication that the conference received any complaints or had any knowledge (or) suspicion of abuse” while Hurley was pastor at the Matthews church.
And DeVore, who was chairman of the administrative board at Matthews United Methodist Church when Hurley left in 1994, told the Observer in an email that he believes the church “handled this situation appropriately.” By reading Hurley’s farewell letter to the congregation, he said, “the church disclosed ... that Hurley was leaving because he was deeply troubled and facing issues in his marriage. We had no idea of the unthinkable pain he has inflicted on so many.”
Coles, assistant to current Bishop Leeland, said “I’m not sure that we knew the depth of addiction.”
Hockett said allowing Hurley to surrender his credentials and avoid a church trial was “within our tradition,” as long as there were no issues law enforcement should be told about. “He is, at that point. a layperson again. ... The ability of a bishop or a superintendent to have some kind of oversight over that person essentially ends.”
As for why Hurley’s photo stayed on the church wall for more than a decade after he was convicted of child sex abuse, Wilson said his research indicated that “it was just one of those pieces ... that just kind of melted into the fabric of a wall there. And nobody paid any attention.” He said the 51 photos on the church walls are a record “of nearly 150 years of the life and ministry of this church.”
Wilson said Matthews United Methodist has already had two events “designed to foster conversations and provide resources to learn more about issues of abuse.”
Both Hockett and Coles acknowledged that Hurley’s case would be handled somewhat differently today.
“Right now, we would tell the congregation the general nature of what happened,” Coles said. “I’ve been involved in one situation where we shared that there were multiple instances of marital infidelity.”
Hurley’s ex-wife, now Melody Johnson, and Lucretia Browning, his sister, said they believe the conference should have found a way to better inform his family, future employers and the Matthews congregation about his sexual misdeeds.
“Had I known the sexual acting out ... and the perversion that Lane was involved with,” said Browning, “there was no way I would have had him in my home. And I would have worked my tail off to get him into a treatment program.”
She said she turned over the unopened “sexual addiction” letter Hurley wrote to his parents and siblings to the district attorney’s office in Cumberland County, Pa. That office provided a copy of it to Balsitis, who emailed it to the Observer.
Browning said she remembers then-retired Bishop Jones calling her and tearfully apologizing after Hurley’s conviction. The bishop, who died in March 2018, also talked to the Observer about Hurley in 2003, calling him a gifted preacher but a “sad creature” brought down by his own problems.
‘OK to tell the truth’
Jessica Browning, now 31, lives in Aix-Les-Bains, France, where she plays the harp. It’s her job, her art — and a balm in her recovery from the sex abuse that sent her uncle, Lane Hurley, to prison.
“Music is a way I helped myself heal,” she told the Observer during a recent interview on Skype. “I’ve kind of spent my whole adult (and) teenage life trying to work through this.”
She’s still in therapy, she said, and that’s helping her recover from the abuse. “But it destroyed my life for many years,” she said. “I feel like I didn’t have a childhood after 10.”
It helped to go overseas, to get far away from Hurley, she said. In the nine years since she left the United States, she said she’s stayed in a Buddhist monastery, worked with people who are disabled, and spent time in India, Australia and New Zealand.
Speaking through tears from France, Browning said she wanted to tell other survivors of sexual abuse “how brave they are and that it was not their fault. ... There are people who will believe you and love you and help you work through this.”
The Observer usually does not publish the names of sexual abuse victims, but Browning said she wanted to talk about what happened.
Her cousins, Balsitis and Johnson, approached the Observer about their quest to have their father’s picture removed and volunteered their stories.
Both said they have been through years of therapy. Both are now married, with two children each. Balsitis is a birth doula who assists women — emotionally and physically — before, during or after childbirth. Johnson is an occupational therapist.
And they’ve grown closer.
“For me,” said Balsistis, “this is ... really about two sisters trying to find a home in their faith that feels safe and where they’re heard and they can help other people.”
“To me,” said Johnson, “(our) story is about putting a healthy closure on the past and seeking out the truth.”
At a time when the daily news often brings revelations of sexual misconduct, the sisters hope their story will be a call to hold people and institutions accountable, expose secrets, and support survivors of abuse.
Taking down a photo, in other words, should be the beginning, not the end.
“If there’s ever been an opportunity for restoration and healing, it’s now,” Balsitis told the Observer. “Thankfully we live in a culture now where we can deal with things directly and we don’t have to live under that fear. And if there should be any place where it’s OK to tell the truth, it should be inside a church.”
Maria Albrough contributed to this story
Full statement from Lane Hurley’s lawyer, on his client’s behalf:
“Lane Hurley is deeply saddened by the accusations that his grown daughters, Miracle and Amanda, have made against him. It appears that, like the allegations of their cousin Jessica that led to his prosecution and conviction, these claims are based solely on “memories” that were “repressed” for many years and then supposedly “recovered.” With regard to Jessica’s accusations, Mr. Hurley has consistently maintained his innocence, even though doing so prevented him from being released when he became eligible for parole in 2014. Mr. Hurley is just as unequivocal in disputing any suggestion that he has abused his children in any way.
“In 2017, a federal district court judge in Pennsylvania authorized review by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals of the constitutionality of his conviction because “. . . mindful of the growing consensus within the scientific community that the methods of memory recovery are highly unreliable, the Court finds that the conviction, based solely on “recovered” memories that were absent from the victim’s mind for several years, may be ‘so unsupportable as to fall below the threshold of bare rationality.’” [quoting Coleman v. Johnson, 566 U.S. 650 (2012)].
“As discussed in Mr. Hurley’s brief in the case that is now pending before the Third Circuit [a copy of which is submitted with this statement], decades of academic research have failed to adduce empirical support for the theory that a person can lose all conscious access to memories of traumatic events for many years, but subsequently “recover” those memories.
“Mr. Hurley loves his daughters and is sorry for any suffering they may have experienced as a result of “memories” that they have become convinced are true. He is also troubled by the possibility that these memories originated and were reinforced during a period in which they were in close contact with their cousin Jessica. It is nonetheless our hope that fair-minded readers will recognize that the very notion that they were able to repress memories of traumatic events and then recover them years later is based on an unproven and discredited hypothesis and that, consequently, there is much reason to question the reliability of their accusations.”