Man, Stepdaughter Try to Heal Relationship After Her False Molestation Charges Put Him in Jail

A man says he wants to move on with his life after his stepdaughter recanted charges that he had molested her — a charge that landed him in prison for more than two years.

Kenneth Austin, 60, spent two years and two months in a prison in McAlester after being convicted in 1995 of molesting his then-12-year-old stepdaughter, Mandy Cowart. But Cowart, now 25 and living in Midland, Texas, recanted her story last fall.

Cowart said under oath that she had made up the story so that she could gain some freedom.

"I feel stupid now," she said this week. "I lied. Back then, I felt like I didn't have everything other kids had. When I made the allegation, I felt it was my only way out of the house.

"I felt guilt. At the time even, I had a lot of deep regrets. I just couldn't live with it anymore. I had to make things right."

Stephens County prosecutor Dennis Gay said he doesn't believe Cowart's new story.

"I didn't attend the trial, but I ready the transcripts," Gay said. "I have reviewed the evidence. Do I think an innocent man was put behind bars? No."

But in January, Gay dropped the charges after a judge ordered a new trial after Cowart recanted the allegation. The conviction has been expunged from Austin's record.

Gay also decided not to pursue perjury charges against Cowart, saying it would serve no purpose because Austin already had served his sentence.

"Besides, did she tell an untruth then? Or is she telling an untruth now?" he asked.

Austin now owns and operates four radio stations. His wife and Cowart's mother, Sherry Austin, said she always believed Austin was innocent. Sherry Austin, 47, made six-hour roundtrips every weekend to visit her husband in prison.

"My daughter was an avid reader," she said. "She took those allegations straight from the pages of the books she had been reading. She felt we were too strict. She wanted out, and she felt like that was her only way."

Both mother and stepfather say they still love Cowart.

"I'm the only father she has ever known," Kenneth Austin said of Cowart. "People have asked me why I didn't seek retribution and press charges. Why? She admitted she lied. Why drudge it up all again?

"Why not let the past stay in the past? I'm 60 years old. I want to live the rest of my life in peace."

Cowart, who now has two children, said she claims Austin as her father.

"He's my dad, and you can't have him," she said. "He's an outstanding man. After all I have put him through, after all the time he spent in prison, you know he still welcomes me into his home and gives me a hug around the neck.

"Can you believe that?"