Decades after ‘lie’ puts dad on sex offender registry, he’s pardoned

After 27 years, Earnest Leap of Oakview (right) was pardoned Friday for a sex offense he said he never committed. His son Brodie Leap (left) pushed for his father’s exoneration for years.
After 27 years, Earnest Leap of Oakview (right) was pardoned Friday for a sex offense he said he never committed. His son Brodie Leap (left) pushed for his father’s exoneration for years.

Earnest Leap, a Clay County father who has long denied that he was a sex offender who molested his own son, received a telephone call Friday that he has wanted for nearly half his life.

The call was from the office of Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon. The news: Leap had been pardoned of the crime he said he never committed, and he was told his name would no longer appear on Missouri’s sex offender registry.

“I’m still overwhelmed,” Leap, 57, said Friday afternoon. “I am just really, really thankful.”

Leap’s pardon was one of seven Nixon announced Friday.

“The executive power to grant clemency is one I take with a great deal of consideration and seriousness,” Nixon said in a prepared statement. “In each of these cases warranting a pardon, the individual has demonstrated the ability and willingness to be a contributing member of society.

In Leap’s case, the governor wrote, “the information that has come to light more recently and the fact that he has been a law-abiding and productive member of society were compelling enough for me to grant a pardon.”

Chief among the facts is that Brodie Leap — the son whom in 1989 Earnest Leap was accused of molesting — has for decades said his father did no such thing.

Brodie Leap, now 32, has long worked for his father’s exoneration. He has said his mother forced him to falsely accuse his father of sexual abuse during his parents’ divisive divorce. She stands by her story that the abuse occurred.

As recounted in October in The Kansas City Star story “The Lie,” Brodie Leap said that his lie led to charges against his father.

Earnest Leap subsequently followed what he came to realize was a public defender’s flawed advice to cease pleading innocent and instead plead “no contest” to the charge and incur no jail time.

While maintaining his innocence, Leap took the deal under the guarantee that any record of the plea would disappear within three years and that his son would not have to endure a difficult trial. At the time of his plea, there was no state sex registry.

But in 1994, that changed when federal law created public sex offender registries in every state, including Missouri. Since that time, Leap has been required to register as a sex offender, limiting his life and movements and haunting him and his family.

In the wake of The Star’s story, Missouri state Rep. Jim Neely, a Republican from Cameron and a physician who is vice chair of the House Children and Families Committee, took up Earnest Leap’s cause. Neely began to fight for Leap’s exoneration, placing his plight before the governor.

“I think we need to correct this wrong. It’s as simple as that,” Neely said at the time.

In May, Neely delivered a letter of support for Leap to the governor signed by no fewer than a third of Missouri House representatives.

“It just brings to light that we need to take a hard look at the judiciary and the way we do business,” Neely said Friday. “This man got caught in a bad situation, and he was looking out for the best interests of his child.”

Neely said he has since heard from others in similar circumstances.

“We need to take a look at our sexual offender registry and perhaps create a tiered situation,” Neely said. “In Earnest Leap’s case, he was innocent to begin with. I’m elated that the governor made this pardon.”

So is Brodie Leap, who on Friday celebrated with this father.

“I think it’s about time, but it’s great,” Brodie Leap said. “Better late than never. A big weight has been lifted.”

Eric Adler: 816-234-4431, @eadler