Arena Will Not Have To Register as a Sex Offender

Lawyers strike a disposition a month after Michael Arena was released from prison

John Arena holds a photo of his brother Michael
John Arena holds a photo of his brother Michael (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Just over a month after he was released from prison – after spending nearly 13 years behind bars for a crime that even the alleged victim now says never happened – Michael Arena and his lawyer, Clint Broden, negotiated a disposition in his case that would credit him for the time he served behind bars and waive his having to register as a sex offender for life.

As teens, Arena and his brother, John, were accused of sexually assaulting their then-7-year-old cousin, Stephanie. But Steph­anie soon recanted and steadfastly maintains that no crime ever occurred, but that a plot against her cousins was devised by her mother, LaVonna, who at the time was going through a bitter divorce. Claiming sexual abuse was a way for her mother to avoid being sent to jail, Stephanie says she was told. Nonetheless, the Arena boys were sent to prison; John spent seven years behind bars while Michael served over half of his 20-year sentence.

After years of appeals, the Texas Supreme Court in May ruled that Michael should be given a new sentencing hearing, after finding that William­son County psychologist Frederick Willoughby had given false testimony during Michael's trial. That hearing won't happen, however, now that the state has agreed to dispose of the case by crediting Michael Arena with time served. Importantly, the state also agreed to recommend that Arena not be required to register as a sex offender – a huge victory, according to Mary Sue Molnar, founder of Texas Voices, a statewide advocacy group for sex offenders and their families. "Being registered is one of the most horrible lifetime punishments you can get," she says. "I think it's a great first step and probably just the icing on the cake."

Michael has agreed not to appeal the disposition but can still pursue exoneration, though that may be tough, unless new evidence comes to light, says Broden. Still, Molnar says Michael could still be an advocate for the falsely accused. "He can still pursue exoneration; he can still profess his innocence and can still get the word out about the wrongly accused," she says. "He can still work for change."

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Michael Arena
Guilty Until Proven Innocent
Guilty Until Proven Innocent
Falsely accused of sexual assault as a teen, Michael Arena is free but not exonerated

Chase Hoffberger, Oct. 9, 2015

Court Orders Michael Arena Freed
Court Orders Michael Arena Freed
Man spent a dozen years in prison for a sexual assault even the alleged victim now denies

Jordan Smith, June 8, 2012

More by Jordan Smith
'Chrome Underground' Goes Classic Car Hunting
'Chrome Underground' Goes Classic Car Hunting
Motoreum's Yusuf & Antonio talk about the biz and their reality TV debut

May 22, 2014

Eighth Inmate of the Year Set to Die
Eighth Inmate of the Year Set to Die
Eighth inmate of the year set to die

May 9, 2014

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Michael Arena, sex offender, Stephanie Arena, Fred Willoughby

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle