Scott McMahon, who moved to the Philippines in 2003, has been held in filthy conditions in a case one lawyer says is so flimsy it wouldn’t have warranted an arrest in America.
A Seattle-area man living in the Philippines has been held in an overcrowded jail in suburban Manila for more than four years, waiting most of that time to stand trial on rape allegations that he and his supporters claim are false.
Scott McMahon, 44, a former heavy-metal guitarist-turned-construction worker from Renton, contends he’s innocent and has been wrongfully imprisoned on the word of a woman bent on retaliation after he filed a criminal complaint against her.
“It’s just preposterous,” McMahon said in a telephone interview from the Muntinlupa City Jail. “It’s just a complete frame-up. I haven’t done anything wrong.”
The Seattle Times could not locate the Filipino woman who has accused McMahon. A Muntinlupa City prosecutor involved with the case declined to comment.
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No physical evidence exists that a rape occurred. Records show prosecutors have pursued the case largely based on the 48-year-old woman’s claims that her estranged husband and McMahon sexually assaulted her at her home early one morning in February 2010.
“Even if I wanted to fight and wrestle free from their tight hold, my strength was useless against their strength,” the woman alleged in an affidavit translated for this story.
The woman, who has said she is a tabloid reporter who met her husband several years earlier in a South Korean bar, first made her allegations in August 2010, six months after the rape allegedly occurred. The claims emerged a month after a judge ruled that a criminal case based on McMahon’s child-abuse complaint against the woman could proceed, records show.
This is the second time a Filipino woman has accused McMahon of rape. In 2008, prosecutors dropped charges against him after a different woman withdrew her complaint, swearing in an affidavit her rape claims were “not true.” McMahon’s supporters say that case, like the current one, involved someone trying to extort McMahon.
McMahon contends that since his latest arrest in April 2011 — an event broadcast by a Manila TV news station — an associate of his accuser has repeatedly visited him in jail, trying to persuade McMahon to pay the woman money and withdraw his complaint against her in exchange for her dropping the rape claims.
McMahon said he told the man, “That ain’t gonna happen.”
Instead, McMahon said he expects to be vindicated of the charges, which are punishable by a life sentence.
The trial of McMahon, an American citizen who moved to the Philippines in 2003, began only last month. After the court postponed several hearings, he testified April 28. Among other things, he told the court about his accuser’s alleged extortion attempts, and that he and his family were out of town for 11 days in February 2010, including the day the rape reportedly occurred.
McMahon’s testimony came after the case dragged on for months. The court has postponed several hearings, and supporters say they’re not sure when a judge might decide the case.
“Unfortunately, I would say that being detained for long periods of time while awaiting trial in the Philippines is fairly typical,” said Carlos Conde, a Filipino researcher for Human Rights Watch, an international human-rights advocacy group.
Meantime, McMahon, whose fiancé and two children are Filipino citizens, remains in jail. In September, a judge denied his bail petition from three years earlier.
“The court holds that there is strong evidence of guilt against the accused which warrants the denial of his motion for admission to bail,” the judge wrote.
Shelley Campanella, McMahon’s mother, described the drawn-out proceedings as a kangaroo court. “We’re stuck relying on a legal system that’s clearly broken and corrupt,” she said.
Campanella and McMahon’s sister, Jennifer Smith, who both live in the Seattle area, have launched a campaign to free McMahon, enlisting the David House Agency, a Los Angeles-based crisis-management firm.
The agency, which specializes in helping Americans imprisoned abroad on dubious accusations, helped Tacoma’s Jason Puracal win an acquittal of a wrongful drug- trafficking and money-laundering conviction in Nicaragua. The agency’s director, Eric Volz, also advised Seattle’s Amanda Knox, who last month was cleared of the wrongful conviction of a 2007 murder in Italy.
“It’s factually impossible for Scott to have committed this crime the way the prosecution says it happened,” said Volz, who was once vindicated from a wrongful murder conviction in Nicaragua.
McMahon grew up largely in Kent and Renton and attended the Art Institute in Seattle to pursue a music degree. In the mid-1990s, he started a heavy-metal band called Indika hat gained modest popularity around Seattle, Campanella said.
In the late 1990s, he traveled to the Philippines and landed a construction job through family connections. He married a Filipino woman, and the couple had a son. A few years later, McMahon split from his wife and met another Filipino woman, Marnelli Abad. The couple had a daughter in 2007.
By 2008, McMahon, his fiancé and his two children, then 4 and 1, lived in a gated subdivision in Muntinlupa City, a suburb of Manila.
That fall, when a neighbor — a Belgian national named Jan Vermeulen — separated from his wife, McMahon said he let the man stay at his home. But McMahon’s generosity apparently upset Vermeulen’s wife, McMahon and his supporters contend.
In December 2008, Vermeulen’s wife complained to police that her husband and McMahon beat her during an argument at her home. Both men were arrested, though charges eventually were dismissed, court records show.
A few weeks after the arrests — while McMahon was still in jail based on the assault claims — the Philippines’ Bureau of Immigration raided McMahon’s home, records show.
Vermeulen, who was staying at the home at the time, said in a telephone interview his ex-wife orchestrated the raid through her police contacts after he separated from her. “She came in with a TV news camera team and two guys from immigration,” Vermeulen said.
During the raid, Vermeulen said he was arrested and McMahon’s family traumatized. Eventually, Vermeulen was deported with no charges pending against him, he said.
Meantime, McMahon was released from jail. Soon, his son began suffering nightmares and grew generally fearful in the raid’s aftermath, records say. A psychologist later diagnosed the boy with post-traumatic stress, and McMahon filed a complaint against the woman for causing it.
In August 2010, a month after a court ruled a criminal child-abuse case could proceed against the woman based on McMahon’s complaint, she went to police to claim McMahon and her husband had raped her, records show.
In court papers, the woman claimed the rape occurred six months earlier at her house but that she didn’t tell police about the rape earlier partly because her husband had threatened her.
Based on her allegations, McMahon was arrested in April 2011 — shortly before a hearing on the woman’s child-abuse case.
Volz, the David House Agency director, has recruited legal experts to McMahon’s cause, including the California Innocence Project (CIP), a California Western School of Law program dedicated to vindicating wrongfully convicted inmates.
Michael Semanchik, a CIP attorney who last fall attended some of McMahon’s bail hearings, said the case against McMahon is so flimsy it wouldn’t have warranted an arrest in America.
“If the authorities in the Philippines would have done even a shred of an investigation, they would’ve quickly realized that Scott couldn’t have done this,” he said.
During a bail hearing, a witness told the court he and his family had been with McMahon and his family on the day of the alleged rape in a town eight-hour drive from the woman’s home. A prosecutor countered McMahon could have taken an hourlong flight back to Muntinlupa City to commit the crime.
In October, McMahon’s legal team sent a brief to the U.S. State Department detailing due process violations and other case flaws. A State Department spokesman acknowledged the department is aware of McMahon’s case, but declined to comment about it.
Conde, the human-rights advocate, said he has visited McMahon in jail, describing the conditions there as “filthy and overcrowded with an overpowering stench.” That’s not uncommon for Philippine jails, he added.