By PAMELA GOULD
At the age of 22, Edgar Coker thinks it’s normal to go straight to work and then straight home every day to spend all of his free time hidden behind closed doors.
It’s a frame of reference the former North Stafford resident forged from living nearly one-third of his life with the undeserved label of rapist and having that information available to all via Virginia’s online Sex Offender Registry.
Coker’s perspective is one Nicole Pittman has seen repeatedly in studying how children and teens are impacted by being listed on sex offender registries across the country. Pittman, a national expert on the topic, authored the 2013 Human Rights Watch report “Raised on the Registry: The irreparable harm of placing children on sex offender registries in the U.S.”
Juveniles on sex offender registries must continually re-register, are limited in where they can go and are publicly ostracized, all of which create a sense of imprisonment, Pittman said.
- It's the same for adults as well.
“It’s almost an institutionalized feeling,” she said.
Like a prison without walls.
It took a team of attorneys five years of legal battles to correct the injustice that began in June 2007 when a 14-year-old girl told her mother that Coker raped her inside their Aquia Harbour home.
After he was sentenced, the girl admitted she lied to avoid getting in trouble for having sex with her friend.
The legal team’s efforts resulted in a Feb. 10 ruling by Judge Designate Jane Marum Roush, who vacated Coker’s convictions and ordered his name removed from the state’s Sex Offender Registry.
But nothing can erase the 19 months he was confined in juvenile detention, or the nearly seven years he and his family have endured harassment and the fear of making some misstep that leads to additional charges.
And while they celebrate the legal victory, neither Pittman nor Coker’s team expect he will ever recover from being labeled a rapist.
“That damage has been done,” Pittman said. “It’s sort of a lifelong sentence that will be with him.”
A ‘HAPPY-GO-LUCKY’ CHILD
Growing up in a household with five siblings, Edgar Coker was outgoing and “a little jokester,” his mother, Cherri Dulaney, said during an interview shortly after his exoneration.