Her father is serving a life sentence for raping her as a child. This Va. woman now says the crime never happened

Grown daughter recants; Virginia AG argues life sentence should stand

The life sentence being served by a Virginia father was for a vile crime — raping and sexually battering his young daughter with the assistance of his wife and allowing other adults to do the same.

Alfred “Rick” Alessi was sentenced to life in prison plus 40 years in October 2016, after a Louisa County jury found him guilty of rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery of his daughter, when she was in first and second grades. Alessi’s then-14-year-old daughter took the stand during the trial as a key prosecution witness and detailed the abuse.

Now 21 years old, Vanessa Alessi says the crimes against her never happened.

Rick Alessi’s attorneys have filed a petition for writ of actual innocence with Virginia’s Court of Appeals, including a three-page affidavit from Vanessa Alessi, in which she acknowledged she was lying on the witness stand during her father’s trial.

“I have regretted my actions since it happened. I have decided to come forward now and tell the truth because I feel tremendous guilt and regret about lying that my father and mother sexually abused me,” Vanessa Alessi wrote in her affidavit signed July 11, 2022.

“I feel terrible that my father has been sentenced to life in prison for a crime he did not commit,” she wrote.

Shortly after Rick Alessi’s sentencing, Vanessa’s mother, Maria, was acquitted in a bench trial by the same judge who oversaw her father’s jury trial.

WTOP typically doesn’t publish the name of sexual abuse victims, unless they prefer to be identified. However, given her recent public affidavit stating she was never a victim, and her current status as an adult, WTOP is reporting her name.

Sexual assault, including child sex abuse, is the second most common crime associated with wrongful convictions, after homicide, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

Years later, daughter recants testimony against father and mother

When she was 14 years old, Vanessa Alessi testified about sexual abuse at the hands of her parents. She said that several times, they undressed her, sexually abused her and allowed other adults to abuse her.

In her 2022 affidavit, Vanessa Alessi said when she was 8 years old, because of financial hardship and other personal problems with her parents, she began living with her father’s brother and his then-wife.

Shortly after moving in, she said her aunt walked in on her and her younger sister playing with dolls.

“She thought we were playing inappropriately. After this incident, she asked us all the time if we had been sexually abused by our mother and father,” Vanessa Alessi said in the affidavit. She said her aunt never seemed to like her father.

“Her constant questions felt like encouragement to lie and say that I had been abused. I believed it was what she wanted me to say,” Vanessa Alessi wrote in her affidavit.

She added that she used the false allegations of abuse to manipulate her aunt.

“It was an excuse for my bad behavior. I knew that if I did something wrong, but said it was because of the abuse, I wouldn’t get in trouble.”

When she was still a young girl, Vanessa Alessi also lied to her therapist, since her mental health provider spoke often with her aunt.

“If I had been contacted by the defense attorneys for my father, mother or anyone else connected with the case before, during or after the time of their trials, I would have lied to them,” she wrote. “I would not have informed them that my statements were false.”

Vanessa Alessi said she met voluntarily with her father’s attorneys, Doug Ramseur and Emilee Manzi Hasbrouck, in April 2022, to inform them that her testimony was not true and to see what could be done to correct the result.

“I am coming forward because I want to do the right thing,” she wrote.

Virginia attorney general says daughter coerced to recant

The office of Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares argues the conviction should remain in place, and the request to have the appeals court declare Rick Alessi innocent should be dismissed.

“This actual innocence case, brought by a man convicted of raping and molesting his daughter, is predicated exclusively on an alleged recantation that the convicted rapist’s attorneys wrote for his daughter,” writes Special Assistant to the Attorney General Brandon Wrobleski.

In its partially redacted motion to dismiss filed December 2023, the attorney general’s office argued Rick Alessi’s attorneys failed to satisfy the elements required for a court to determine that a convicted defendant is innocent.

“The alleged recantation was not just written by Petitioner’s attorneys — it was the result of years of Petitioner begging and cajoling his relatives into talking to and ‘working on’ his victim,” according to the attorney general’s motion.

Wrobleski writes the daughter’s 2022 admissions aren’t new — she had testified to many of the details at her father’s trial. “Evidence that existed before the petitioner’s conviction and was part of the trial proceedings is not new.”

In addition, Wrobleski said the fact that Maria Alessi was found not guilty by the same judge who oversaw Rick Alessi’s jury trial “should not be considered ‘evidence’ in this case.”

The attorney general’s filing said Vanessa Alessi’s recantation doesn’t alter whether Rick Alessi is guilty: “A rational trier of fact would again convict Petitioner. The Commonwealth’s new evidence demonstrates the credibility of Vanessa’s years of reports of Petitioner’s sexual abuse,” the attorney general’s office said.

Father seeks evidentiary hearing, but AG says it’s not warranted

Rick Alessi’s attorneys argue a judge, and not the state attorney general, should determine the credibility of Vanessa Alessi’s recantation.

“Rather than being ministers of justice and seeking to ensure one of (the Commonwealth’s) citizens has not been wrongfully sentenced to serve the rest of his life in prison, the Attorney General seeks to prevent meaningful inquiry into this issue by proffering these arguments that rely on an unfaithful application of the law,” wrote Ramseur and Hasbrouck.

The attorney general’s office said Vanessa Alessi’s affidavit came after repeated contact from her father, and that she had been coached. Rick Alessi’s attorneys said many of the attorney general’s allegations of contact should be inadmissible. And while prosecutors say he sent his daughter 12 emails, only two mention her trial testimony.

“There was no attempt to coerce Vanessa into lying. He asked her to tell the truth. There are no threats or promises made,” according to Rick Alessi’s defense attorneys.

“Under the Attorney General’s interpretation of these statements, Tim Robbins from The Shawshank Redemption and Dr. Richard Kimball from The Fugitive, are villains for maintaining their innocence and hoping that one day they would be exonerated,” wrote Ramseur and Hasbrouck.

It’s unclear whether the Court of Appeals will schedule oral arguments, in which Rick Alessi’s attorneys would ask that the case be sent back to circuit court for an evidentiary hearing. That’s when a judge would consider the credibility of Vanessa Alessi’s recantation. The attorney general would argue that the petition be dismissed without a hearing.

If that evidentiary hearing happens, the Louisa County Circuit Court judge would make findings of fact and refer them to the Court of Appeals, which would decide whether to grant or deny Rick Alessi’s petition to be declared innocent.

Contacted by WTOP, Rick Alessi’s attorney Ramseur said, “We call on the State of Virginia to help right this wrong. An innocent man is condemned to die in prison and a young woman is trying to atone for the childish mistakes that she made. Each of them suffers while this injustice continues.”

Vanessa Alessi’s attorney, Miriam Airington-Fisher told WTOP, in a statement:

“Vanessa was a child when the case was prosecuted, and now she is an adult. She stands by her affidavit and will continue to tell the truth throughout the process. Our hope is that, ultimately, all parties can agree that getting justice for this family is more important than upholding a conviction.”

Chloe Smith, spokeswoman for the Office of Attorney General told WTOP, “Due to ongoing litigation, we have no comment.”

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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