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Convicted rapist’s family distraught over his return to prison

WINFIELD, W.Va. - Family members watched in tears Tuesday as convicted rapist Joseph Lavigne Jr. was led out of a courtroom, headed for prison for a second time.

Lavigne, 54, was convicted in 1996 of raping his 5-year-old daughter, Katie Haught. She never identified him as her attacker during trial, but witnesses said she did so the night of the rape.  

Last year, now-retired Judge O.C. Spaulding released Lavigne on bond pending a new trial. Haught rejoiced at Spaulding's decision and said at the time she was "100 percent confident my father is innocent."

But the state Supreme Court reversed Spaulding's decision, ordering Lavigne back to prison immediately.

Lavigne, who already has served 15 years of his 22- to 60-year sentence, appeared before Putnam Circuit Judge Philip Stowers to have his sentence amended Tuesday afternoon.

Stowers, in concurrence with the high court decision, ordered Lavigne back to prison.

He will get credit for the 5,553 days already served but will have to make up the time lost since his release last May.

Haught sat in the courtroom Tuesday with her own young daughter and other family members. Lavigne played with the little girl in the lobby while waiting for the hearing to begin as his daughter watched with a smile.

She watched with tear-filled eyes as bailiffs led her father away. She declined comment after the hearing.

Haught's grandmother, Sondra Lavigne, sobbed and leaned on her other son, Scott. Joseph had lived with his brother since his release.

Lori Haught, who adopted Katie after her father was sent to prison, wiped away tears as her brother was led from the courtroom.

They wore white ribbons in honor of victims of childhood sexual abuse. The ribbons were for courage, strength and hope, Lori said.

She said the last few days, since the Supreme Court decision, had been like a roller coaster and that their family still was in shock.

"It's been so hard," Lori said after the hearing. "We've had to relive the rape, relive the search. . ."

The high court said Spaulding's decision did not give proper weight to the prosecution's credibility, stating that Spaulding "sought instead to dismantle the theory upon which the State successfully prosecuted Mr. Lavigne."

Defense attorney Greg Ayers filed a motion in the Supreme Court Monday to stay the execution of the court's unanimous decision, but Putnam Prosecutor Mark Sorsaia said Tuesday during the hearing that the motion had been refused.

Ayers said during the hearing he intended to file a petition for another hearing.

"Joe has maintained his innocence from day one in this case," Ayers said, "throughout his trial and throughout the post conviction proceedings, and he continues to maintain his innocence."

Lori said Katie was not allowed in the courtroom for any of the previous proceedings and that on her first visit she had to watch her father being taken away. She said Lavigne being sent back to prison was "worse than death."

"When somebody dies, the suffering is done," she said. "He's still suffering and we're still suffering."

She said the family would regroup and work toward figuring out the next step. They recently met with representatives from West Virginia University's Innocence Project, a legal clinic tied to a national organization that investigates claims of incarcerated men and women who believe they are innocent.

"We're going to do anything and everything we can to bring attention to this," she said.

Joseph Lavigne was taken to Western Regional Jail Tuesday.

Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at or 304-348-4850.


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