Thursday, April 24, 2014

Child sex case dropped days before trial

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 8/16/2013

Eric Scrutchfield is a free man.

John Boyd, Scrutchfield’s Ottawa defense attorney, confirmed Friday the special prosecutor had dropped all charges against his client just days before his second jury trial in a child sexual abuse case was to begin Monday in Franklin County District Court, 301 S. Main St., Ottawa.

Eric Scrutchfield is a free man.

John Boyd, Scrutchfield’s Ottawa defense attorney, confirmed Friday the special prosecutor had dropped all charges against his client just days before his second jury trial in a child sexual abuse case was to begin Monday in Franklin County District Court, 301 S. Main St., Ottawa.

“I feel grateful for Eric and his family,” Boyd said.

A Franklin County jury March 8 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, which was closed by the state because of the allegations.

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 faced life in prison, with no possibility of parole for 25 years, on three of the four charges.

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, where he worked as a computer support specialist.

Yvonne Scrutchfield’s day care was closed in late May 2011 by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. The alleged victim’s mother filed a civil suit against the Scrutchfields in late March, seeking $3.5 million in damages. The civil case is pending and as of Friday still was set for a jury trial to begin 13 months from now — Sept. 29, 2014.

District Judge Eric W. Godderz, who presided over the first criminal trial, signed the order to dismiss the aggravated indecent liberties with a child and aggravated criminal sodomy charges against Scrutchfield Wednesday afternoon, according to court documents.

Given Scrutchfield’s acquittal on the rape and lewd and lascivious charges and the fact the jury had voted 11-1 to acquit Scrutchfield on the other two charges, Boyd said he thought it would have been better for all parties involved if the prosecutor would have dropped the remaining two charges soon after the first trial. Scrutchfield could not be retried on the rape and lewd and lascivious charges.

Jim McCabria and Catherine Skinner, with the Douglas County Attorney’s Office, served as prosecutors in the first trial.

“We dismissed the charges without prejudice,” Cheryl Wright Kunard, assistant to the Douglas County District Attorney, said Friday. “After reviewing the previous trial, consultation with the victim’s family, [weighing] the substantial amount of time that had passed and concern about the victim’s wellbeing and recovery, we decided it was in the best interest of the child to dismiss the charges at this time.”

Boyd confirmed Friday the prosecutor’s office had offered Scrutchfield plea bargains — which Scrutchfield turned down — in an attempt to resolve the case without a jury trial. Prosecutors also had offered a plea deal to Scrutchfield in the weeks after the first trial, the former defendant confirmed in an email.

“I thought the prosecutors were very professional and genuine in their plea offers, based on what they thought had happened, but Eric was never willing to take any of those offers because he was innocent,” Boyd said.

Scrutchfield maintained his innocence throughout the investigation, the first trial and in the months afterward.

“Like all the other pleas that they offered me, I turned this one down as well,” Scrutchfield wrote in a July 25 email regarding the unspecified plea deal prosecutors offered him following the first trial.

Boyd plans to file a motion to try and get a judge to expunge Scrutchfield’s arrest from the court records, he said.

“You can’t go back in time and erase what happened, but hopefully we can get a judge to expunge [the arrest], based on the acquittals from the first trial and the state dropping the other charges,” Boyd said.

It will be difficult for Scrutchfield to restore his reputation because of the stigma attached to the public accusation — even though a jury cleared him on two charges and the prosecutor dropped the others, Boyd said.

“But, hopefully, Eric can move on with his life and do great things,” Boyd said.

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