Before Scott McMahon can return to Seattle, the Philippines wants him to pay thousands of dollars in fines for overstaying his visa.

Share story

A man from the Seattle area who has been jailed in the Philippines for more than five years was acquitted on rape charges by a Manila judge Tuesday, according to court records and the man’s supporters.

But Scott McMahon, 45, who spent four years in jail before even being granted a trial, now faces a new challenge: Paying thousands of dollars in fees to the Philippines government so that he can leave the country.

“Scott has been told that since his visa expired while he was in prison (as he was not able to physically visit the immigration office to renew), he will potentially have to pay thousands of dollars worth of penalties to the Bureau of Immigration before he is allowed to return to the U.S.,” Eric Volz, managing director of the crisis-management firm that helped in McMahon’s defense, said in an email to The Seattle Times on Tuesday.

McMahon and his supporters are asking the Philippines to waive the $1,000-a-year fines “to ensure this injustice is not further perpetrated,” and allow McMahon to return to the United States, Volz said.

McMahon, a former heavy-metal-guitarist-turned-construction worker who moved to the Philippines in 2003 and started a family there, has always insisted he was innocent.

“It’s just preposterous,” he told The Times in a telephone interview last year from the Muntinlupa City Jail. “It’s just a complete frame-up. I haven’t done anything wrong.”

McMahon claimed he’d been wrongfully imprisoned on the word of a woman bent on retaliation after he filed a criminal complaint against her.

No physical evidence exists that a rape occurred. Records show prosecutors had pursued the case largely based on the 49-year-old woman’s claims that her estranged husband and McMahon sexually assaulted her at her home early one morning in February 2010. She didn’t report the alleged crime for six months, records show.

In a 19-page acquittal handed down Tuesday, Judge Amelia A. Sabros-Corpuz found the actions of McMahon’s accuser dubious, adding that the rape allegations appeared to be “merely a leverage or afterthought” to the complaint McMahon had previously filed against the woman.

The prosecution’s case “is not sufficient enough to establish his guilt beyond reasonable doubt,” Sabros-Corpuz concluded.

After his arrest in 2011, McMahon’s mother, Shelley Campanella, and his sister, Jennifer Smith, both of whom live in the Seattle area, launched a campaign to free McMahon that included enlisting the help of Volz, through his Los Angeles-based David House Agency, to help investigate the case. The firm, in turn, brought in lawyers from the California Innocence Project to help pick apart the prosecution’s case against McMahon.

Still, Filipino authorities held McMahon in an overcrowded jail for years before granting him a trial. While incarcerated, McMahon said his accuser and her cohorts tried to extort money from him in exchange for dropping the charges, which could have resulted in a life sentence. McMahon repeatedly refused their propositions, he said.

Campanella, who attended Tuesday’s hearing in the Philippines, said that after her son’s ordeal, Tuesday’s acquittal caught her by surprise.

“When they finally read the verdict, of course Scott’s eyes became so wide and there were tears,” Campanella said in a telephone interview. “You could see his shoulders just loosen up, his whole body loosened. I know it sounds cliché, but it was like the weight of the world was lifted off of him, and I felt the same way.”

McMahon plans to return to the United States as soon as possible, Campanella said.

“There’s a lot of red tape to get through,” she said.

McMahon’s fiancée and two children, all Filipino citizens, eventually will join him in America, she said.

Volz’s firm, which specializes in helping Americans imprisoned abroad on dubious accusations, also helped Tacoma’s Jason Puracal win an acquittal in 2012 of a wrongful drug-trafficking and money-laundering conviction in Nicaragua. Volz also advised Seattle’s Amanda Knox, whose murder conviction was overturned last year in a 2007 slaying in Italy.

McMahon’s case was unique because of overwhelming evidence showing he didn’t commit the alleged crime, Volz said.

“We actually had proof of his innocence,” Volz said. “Scott was in a different city eight hours away at the time this rape supposedly happened.”

Last year, the United Nations investigated McMahon’s case and sent a letter to the Philippines government raising concerns about due-process and human-rights violations. Filipino officials never responded, Volz said.

Information in this article, originally published Aug. 1, 2016, was corrected Aug. 2, 2016. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated when Amanda Knox was cleared of the wrongful murder conviction.