On Friday, 23 October 2020, Oklahoma district judge Dennis Morris revoked Benjamin Lawrence Petty’s probation and sentenced him to 15 years in prison because he allegedly failed two polygraph “tests” and denied having committed the crime for which he was on probation.
In 2016, Petty pleaded guilty to raping and sodomizing a 13-year-old girl at a church summer camp as part of a plea agreement that spared him prison time while subjecting him to 15 years of probation that included a requirement that he register as a sex offender and enter a treatment program. At the time, the Petty case sparked outrage because of the perceived leniency of the sentence and was reported both nationally and internationally.
Petty, who suffers from type 1 diabetes and is legally blind, insists that he is innocent of the crimes to which he pleaded guilty and that he entered the plea agreement because he feared for his life if sent to prison.
Court-ordered sex offender therapy programs typically include a requirement that the individual admit guilt and pass a series of polygraph “tests,” typically at the offender’s personal expense.
On 14 February and 14 May 2019, Petty submitted to two polygraph “tests” conducted by James R. Kelly of Pauls Valley, Oklahoma. In both instances, Petty denied that he had committed the crimes to which he had pled guilty, and in both instances, Kelly opined that Petty “was attempting deception.”
In 2020, Petty contacted AntiPolygraph.org about his polygraph experience, and AntiPolygraph.org co-founder George Maschke prepared a written critique and evaluation based upon Kelly’s written reports of his polygraph examinations of Petty. That critique shows that Kelly, departing from common polygraph practice, constructed relevant questions that presupposed Petty’s guilt, making his “failing” more likely.
Maschke was unable to perform a complete review because Kelly refused to release the computerized polygraph data file, or even a printout of the charts, to Petty. Kelly told Petty that no data beyond the written report was available, even though Oklahoma law requires that polygraph operators in the state maintain on file all polygraph records for a minimum of two years. In the absence of such documentation, a thorough review of a polygraph examination is not possible.
Despite polygraphy’s complete lack of scientific underpinnings and the specific shortcomings associated with James Kelly’s polygraph examinations, District Judge Dennis Morris relied on those polygraph reports and Petty’s refusal to admit guilt in therapy to revoke his probation and sentence him to 15 years in prison.
Among other things, Ellis reveals previously unreported information that bolsters Petty’s claim of innocence. According to a Department of Human Services report, the alleged victim originally denied that any sexual incident had occurred but admitted having told other girls at the camp that she engaged in sexual acts with Petty.
Petty also “provided The Oklahoman with copies of medical record notes that indicate he is legally blind and suffers from erectile dysfunction, diabetic neuropathy that has resulted in the amputation of two toes, fecal incontinence and other ailments.”
Petty has appealed Judge Morris’ revocation of his probation. The case is State of Oklahoma v. Benjamin Lawrence Petty, No. CF-2016-00159 in the District Court in and for Murray County, Oklahama.