'Abduction' case against teen reaches new low with evil smear campaign


It is frightening to watch the power of the state unleashed to destroy a 14-year-old boy.

He is Edwin McFarlane, the bumbling teen whose attempt to help a 3-year-old girl find her mother June 10 at a Burlington Coat Factory has him facing a first-degree felony charge of false imprisonment.

The case never has made sense. And confronted with the possibility they made a mistake in a high-profile arrest, Orange County sheriff's detectives and now state prosecutors have waged a campaign to save face by distorting evidence and smearing the kid.

When I began questioning the arrest, the Sheriff's Office told me surveillance cameras proved Edwin never contacted his mother before leaving the store with the girl, as she claimed. I checked the videos and found this wasn't true.

After I printed that, WFTV-Channel 9 ran a story that said while the store tapes may not indicate Edwin did anything wrong, detectives were concerned about Edwin's actions with the girl when they were off-camera for two minutes in the store parking lot.

Where do these people go to detective school?

Edwin was out of camera range for less than 1:40 in the parking lot off West Colonial Drive. For all but about 20 seconds of that, his mother also was outside because she followed him. And during the time she wasn't outside, she said she was watching him from inside the store. That makes sense when you watch the video. As she walks outside, she doesn't look around for him. She looks in the direction he was headed.

Also, the toddler's mother went outside to retrieve her girl, so she was outside for about half the time Edwin was out of range of a surveillance camera.

So if Edwin committed some unseemly act, he would have had to do it very quickly in an open parking lot in the middle of the day and in full view of his own mother. That would make his mother an accomplice.

Edwin had no criminal history to explain any ill intent. So detectives delved into his school files where, lo and behold, he had a discipline record.

Look what happened next. Edwin was scheduled for a court appearance Thursday. Two days before, the Sentinel was notified by the State Attorney's Office of unspecified issues in Edwin's past. We were advised to be at the hearing.

The night before the hearing, WFTV-Channel 9 came out with a blockbuster story about Edwin's confidential school records, including a sexual incident that the station said may have been criminal. The station also reported that Edwin flunked a polygraph about the incident with the girl.

It would appear someone at the Sheriff's Office or State Attorney's Office was leaking information about a confidential juvenile case.

I subsequently discovered that Edwin was not given a polygraph test but a voice stress test. This is a technology that dozens of studies have repeatedly shown is no more accurate than a coin flip.

But the damage was done. Edwin would face the judge already branded as a sexual offender and liar.

At the hearing, Assistant State Attorney Teri Mills-Uvalle delivered as promised. She told Judge Thomas Turner that while the state wasn't ready to file charges, he should know that Edwin has 18 school-based disciplinary referrals, including three for sexually related incidents.

When she was done, Judge Turner delivered the equivalent of a judicial smackdown. He released Edwin from home confinement.

Undeterred, Mills-Uvalle then went outside the courtroom and proceeded to pile on in front of reporters.

She created the image of Edwin as some dangerous kid prone to sexual offenses. And then when pressed for details to back this up, she hid behind confidentiality rules.

What an evil thing to do to a 14-year-old boy.

Meanwhile, WFTV has come up with its own term for Edwin's transgressions: "Sexually charged conduct.''

That includes making an obscene gesture at another kid in class — a boy, by the way.

When it comes to sexually charged conduct, Edwin would have been a slacker in the Catholic school I attended. Back then the teacher blistered your backside. In this era of "zero tolerance," everything is documented in a disciplinary report.

It seems Edwin has behavior problems but there's been nothing to indicate he is anything close to a predator.

"If they had a trial, none of that would be admissible,'' said Don Lykkebak, a veteran defense attorney. "The only way you can get evidence of other misconduct in is if that conduct is similar behavior to what occurred in this case.''

Lykkebak called the state attorney's actions "not very professional.''

A spokesman for the State Attorney's Office, Randy Means, said even if prosecutors can't prove a case against a juvenile, the state still can "put sanctions on him if he does have a problem."

What? You can arrest a kid for one thing, then punish him for completely non-related, non-criminal acts you happen to dig up in his past?

Prosecutors are trying to intimidate Edwin's mother into accepting the juvenile equivalent of a plea bargain. It's about saving face. It's about adult egos being vested in bringing down a young teenager who apparently was only trying to do a good deed.

I doubt State Attorney Lawson Lamar spends an hour a month in his juvenile division.

But it's time he took a personal interest in this case and examined the evidence closely. If he thinks it proves Edwin intended to abduct that girl and cause her harm, then it's his duty to file charges.

If not, it's time to leave this boy and his mother alone.

Mike Thomas can be reached at 407-420-5525 or mthomas@orlandosentinel.com.

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