Arena Finally Going Home
Homeward bound after more than a decade in prison
By Jordan Smith,
11:22AM, Fri. Jun. 1, 2012
After spending almost 13 years in prison for a sexual assault that the victim says never happened, Michael Arena will be released today into the custody of his father.
Arena and his brother John were each accused as teens of sexually assaulting their cousin, Stephanie Arena, when she was just seven. Stephanie quickly recanted, and has maintained that she was coerced into accusing her cousins by her mother, LaVonna, who was embroiled in a bitter divorce from Stephanie's father and had illegally removed Stephanie and her brother from Texas in violation of a court order.
Read about the case against the Arenas here.
After years of appeals, the Texas Supreme Court last month ordered a new sentencing hearing for Michael, ruling that Williamson County psychologist Fred Willoughby* provided false testimony about whether Michael could be considered a pedophile. Subsequent to Michael's conviction, Willoughby was reprimanded by the state psychologist licensing board for failing to substantiate his in-court opinions.
Read about the Texas Supreme Court's May 19 ruling here.
According to an order signed this morning, Michael is to be immediately released from prison into the custody of his father, Robert, with whom he will live in Harker Heights until Bell County decides whether to hold another punishment hearing, without the aid of Willoughby's false testimony.
*The original version of this story incorrectly identified the psychologist in question as Charles Willoughby, when in fact, his name is Fred Willoughby. We regret the error.