UPDATE: This story has been updated to include comments from Tara Reade and her attorney.
Sometimes it’s the smallest lies that haunt us.
Tara Reade, who also goes by Alexandra McCabe, became a household name across the country in 2020 after she alleged that, in 1993 when she was an intern, then-Senator Joe Biden sexually assaulted her. Amid swirling questions about her credibility – and Biden’s assertion the accusation was untrue – reporters began digging into Reade’s past, searching for an answer as to whether the public should believe her.
Among those seemingly minor revelations about Reade was that she claimed to have earned a degree from Antioch University, but the university reported she never did.
There’s no telling whether that piece of evidence made a difference to voters – should they not believe Reade’s claim about Biden because of a false claim about her degree? – and there’s also no telling whether it made a difference to jurors. But that question is enough for the justice system to set at least three people convicted of felonies free, years early.
Reade was called as an expert witness to the stand in Monterey County Superior Court on 10 domestic violence cases between 2006 and 2019. Expert witnesses provide factual testimony about a range of topics, from interpreting crime scene evidence to medical history to patterns of abusive relationships.
It was after the national investigation into Reade that the Sixth District Appellate Program reached out to local defense attorneys asking them to review cases in which Reade, aka McCabe, had testified. In at least some of those cases, she stated under oath that she had a degree from Antioch.
One of those cases was against James Sloop who was convicted on charges of domestic violence, false imprisonment and witness intimidation, after threatening his girlfriend’s cousin with a gun, forcing his girlfriend into a car and bringing her to an isolated wooded area on Jacks Peak where he punched her repeatedly. At age 41, he was sentenced to 17 years and eight months in prison in 2019; his sentence was reduced to eight years.
In 2018, a jury found two women, Jennifer Vasquez and Victoria Ramirez, guilty of attempted murder of four people; arson; assault and stalking, after a years-long, volatile relationship between Vasquez and her boyfriend. Prosecutors said Vasquez made a habit of showing up in the middle of the night at his Seaside home and screaming at his mother and grandmother. It came to a head on July 24, 2017, when Vasquez beat her ex-boyfriend’s new partner with a bottle and, with Ramirez, broke windows of the family home, poured gasoline around the perimeter, then set it on fire. The four people inside survived after the ex-boyfriend put out the fire.
In 2019, both women were sentenced to life in prison; Ramirez was 21 at the time, Vasquez 35. Vasquez’s sentence was reduced to nine years and eight months; at a hearing on Nov. 4, Ramirez’s sentence will be reduced to 10 years.
“Jennifer is supremely grateful for how this has all worked out for her,” says her attorney, Joe Doyle of the Sixth District Appellate Program. “She has a family and children and everyone is very excited she will be coming home.”
Prosecutors cooperated in each of these cases, essentially entering into a post-conviction plea bargain, realizing that Reade clearly lied on the stand.
“There’s no doubt she lied under oath, there’s no question about it,” says Chief Assistant District Attorney Berkley Brannon. “We know she didn’t have [an undergraduate degree]. She testified that she did.”
But no matter how small the lie, it matters to the integrity of the justice system. “It’s critically important that we rely on accurate, truthful testimony,” Brannon says. “We don’t want to infringe even in the slightest way on someone’s right to a fair trial.”
Reade says she did indeed earn her degree, and maintains that claims to the contrary are part of a coordinated effort to discredit her allegation against Biden.
"It's just astounding I've been accused of a crime I did not commit because I came forward about Joe Biden," she says. "It's really having a chilling effect [on victims of sexual assault].
"I was an expert witness, I'm proud of the work that I did, and I did not lie under oath."
Her attorney, Washington, D.C.-based Daniel Hornal, also disputes the DA's characterization. "Ms. Reade is being targeted for political reasons, because she spoke publicly about what Joe Biden sexually harassing and assaulting her in 1993 when she worked in his Senate office…[The District Attorney's Office] knew from the beginning they had no case against Reade. But even though they could not prove perjury in a court of law, that hasn't stopped them from publicly claiming that she lied under oath. It's repulsive behavior."
Reade’s more substantial testimony as an expert witness has not been called into question. She was on the stand to help jurors see that it’s not uncommon for a victim of domestic violence to remain in a relationship, and persuade jurors not to discredit victims in these emotionally complex cases.
At least two other defendants have also filed a writ of habeas corpus. Brannon says the DA’s Office is not likely to compromise on those because Reade did not testify about her degree.