Friday, December 19, 2014

Split decision in child sex case verdict

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 3/8/2013

Eric Scrutchfield took a knee outside the closed West Courtroom doors and wept as he was overcome with emotion.

The tears and hugs he shared with about a dozen family members and friends huddled around him were of joy.

Eric Scrutchfield took a knee outside the closed West Courtroom doors and wept as he was overcome with emotion.

The tears and hugs he shared with about a dozen family members and friends huddled around him were of joy.

A Franklin County jury on Friday found Scrutchfield not guilty of rape and lewd and lascivious behavior in connection with an alleged sexual assault against a then 4-year-old girl sometime between March and May 2011 at Yvonne Scrutchfield Day Care Home, 607 N. Cedar St., an Ottawa day care business run by his wife.

The jury of six men and six women, however, could not reach a verdict on the other two charges in connection with the case — aggravated indecent liberties with a child and aggravated criminal sodomy — after 23 1/2 hours of deliberation. Scrutchfield could be retried on those two counts if prosecutors seek a new trial. But Scrutchfield cannot be retried on the rape and lewd and lascivious behavior charges. District Judge Eric W. Godderz read the verdicts about 4:20 p.m. Friday, ending the eight-day trial in Franklin County District Court.

When the jury informed Judge Godderz it had reached a verdict on two counts but was deadlocked on the other two, the courtroom quickly began to fill with Scrutchfield’s supporters, a few law enforcement officers and several other onlookers.

Facing life in prison, with no possibility of parole for 25 years, on three of the four charges, Scrutchfield leaned into the gallery behind the defense table and joined hands with one of his young sons and wife who were sitting on the front row. He whispered for his son to remain strong, and the three bowed their heads in tearful prayer.

Then Scrutchfield, dressed in a gray suit jacket and blue tie, turned and stood with his defense attorney, John A. Boyd, as Godderz asked the deadlocked jurors if they thought they could reach a verdict on the other two charges through more deliberation.

“Not at this time,” the jury foreman said.

Scrutchfield, a former Franklin County computer support specialist, stood stoically in the courtroom where he once had installed the computers as Judge Godderz proceeded to read the verdicts.

“I’m speechless right now,” Yvonne Scrutchfield said after embracing her husband outside the courtroom.

The Douglas County District Attorney’s Office filed the charges against Scrutchfield in June 2011 and was handling the case because of Scrutchfield’s previous employment with Franklin County. Yvonne Scrutchfield’s day care was closed in late May 2011 by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment because of the allegations.

Godderz thanked the jurors for their hard work on the case. The trial, originally scheduled to last five days, played out over a two-week time frame. The courthouse was closed one day because of a winter storm, and the judge postponed the trial another day so a juror could attend the funeral of a family member. On Friday morning, the courtroom learned the original jury foreman was faced with a medical emergency in his family and would be unable to continue. The alternate juror, who had sat through the entire trial but had not participated in the deliberations, was then seated with the rest of the jurors. The jury picked a new foreman before resuming deliberations Friday morning.

The jury, which began deliberations about 3 p.m. Wednesday, spent nearly the equivalent of a full day in the deliberation room over the course of a three-day period before deciding late Friday afternoon it could not resolve its impasse.  

Prosecutors Jim McCabria and Catherine Skinner, with the Douglas County Attorney’s Office, were not available for comment after the proceedings, as the judge cleared the courtroom so attorneys on both sides could speak with the jurors. Prosecutors likely would make a decision in the coming days if they plan to retry Scrutchfield on the two deadlocked charges.

Scrutchfield’s wife, son and other family members put their hands on his broad shoulders as he knelt on one knee outside the courtroom, bowed his head and started to pray aloud: “Lord, you said all I had to have was the faith of a mustard seed ...”

Doug Carder is senior writer for The Herald. Email him at dcarder@ottawaherald.com

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