Friday, October 31, 2014

Accused man: God, lawyer ‘saved my life’

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 11/20/2013

Eric Scrutchfield was at a crossroads in summer 2011.

He was facing charges that could put him in prison for most of his life in a child sexual assault case. He didn’t know where to turn.

Sitting in a parking lot at the Life Church in Olathe, the self-admitted “argumentative agnostic” turned to God, he said.

“I had only prayed a couple of times in my life — once when my son was born I prayed that I would be a good father, and once when I prayed that my wife, Yvonne, and I would stay together,” Scrutchfield said. “The kids had been to church, but I was anti-Christianity. About a month after I had been charged [in May 2011], I found myself in the church parking lot. [The case] had kind of broke me, if you will. I came to the end of myself.”

Now jobless and carrying the burden of a crushing legal case on his shoulders, Scrutchfield said he decided to give God a chance that summer day in the church parking lot.

“The couple of times I had prayed in the past, it had worked out in the long run. So I decided to give God this one chance at helping me. I said, ‘God, this is the only shot you get. I am pretty thick-headed, so you need to show me in an amazing way that you want me to be your follower.’”

Scrutchfield went into the church that day, and the pastor started telling a story about a man he knew who was at the end of his rope and had found himself in a church parking lot.

“[The pastor] started repeating phrases that I had just prayed in the parking lot,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it. That was the sign I needed. I raised my hand and surrendered [to God] that day.”

Just one month earlier, Scrutchfield had surrendered to Ottawa police, who had come to his house to take him back to the police department for questioning 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.

“I didn’t understand why this was happening, because I hadn’t done anything wrong,” Scrutchfield said.  

Scrutchfield, now 29, told police detectives during a nearly five-hour interrogation that he could not provide them with details about the alleged assault because the incident never happened. The interview started about 8 p.m. May 26 and ended about 1 a.m. May 27.

The Douglas County District Attorney’s Office filed 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. He spent five days in the Franklin County Adult Detention Center, 305 S. Main St., before he was able to bond out, thanks to some friends.

“My bond was set at $100,000, which would mean coming up with $10,000, and we only had something like $1,500 in the bank,” Scrutchfield said.

Scrutchfield said his wife started a Facebook page that generated an enormous amount of support for him.

“You find out who your friends are when something like this happens — they wrote some incredibly nice things about me,” he said.

A member of the local Elks Lodge, Scrutchfield said three of his friends at the lodge stepped forward to cosign on the bond to get him out of jail through a helpful bail bondsman.

“It was a miracle that I got out of jail,” he said. “I never would have found God if I would have remained in jail.”

To pass the time while he was in jail for five days before he bonded out, Scrutchfield read books, he said.

“A guard offered me a Bible to read, and I told him, ‘No thanks, that’s not my bag of chips.’ I think that was God’s first attempt to reach out to me.’”

The second miracle that occurred, Scrutchfield said, was John Boyd, Ottawa defense attorney, being named his court-appointed attorney. The two had spoken while Scrutchfield was in jail, and Boyd asked the judge to be appointed to the case, Scrutchfield said.

“John did an amazing job,” Scrutchfield said. “He put in so much work on this case — he saved my life.”

The months leading up to the trial were hard on his family, Scrutchfield said. The Scrutchfields have four children from previous marriages, Yvonne with three children and Scrutchfield with one son, Jeremiah, who would turn 12 years old when the trial was originally to begin in December 2012, Scrutchfield said.

“About a month before the trial was to initially start on Dec. 4, a student had read an article in the newspaper about it and some school boys started barraging Jeremiah about it,” Scrutchfield said. “Jeremiah came home and told me, ‘I know what’s going on.’ We talked about it for a couple of hours. He said, ‘I don’t want to lose you — you’re my best friend.’ I told him I didn’t want to lose him either.”

Scrutchfield faced life terms on three charges connected with the incident, with no possibility of parole for 25 years on each charge.

So when prosecutors offered Scrutchfield a plea bargain to serve 10 years in state prison, he said he gave it some thought.

“I thought if I get out in 10 years, I could see my son graduate from high school,” Scrutchfield said. “We prayed about it, and I decided that God did not want me to take the plea deal.”

Scrutchfield, who has maintained his innocence throughout the ordeal, said he decided he wanted to fight it in court.

After an eight-day trial and nearly 24 hours of deliberations, the jury informed District Judge Eric Godderz March 8 that it had reached a verdict on two of the counts but was deadlocked on the other two counts. The jurors found Scrutchfield not guilty of rape and lewd and lascivious behavior in connection with an alleged sexual assault. But the jury of six men and six women could not reach a verdict on the other two charges — aggravated indecent liberties with a child and aggravated criminal sodomy. Jurors had voted 11-1 for acquittal on those two charges.

Scrutchfield could have been retried on those two counts if prosecutors sought a new trial. But Scrutchfield could not be retried on the rape and lewd and lascivious behavior charges. About a month after the first trial, prosecutors came back with another plea offer — this time for a sentence of four months in jail, with no mandatory registration as a sex offender.

Scrutchfield didn’t even need to sleep on the plea offer, he said.

“It only took me a few minutes to quash that offer,” he said.

The Douglas County prosecutors said they planned to retry Scrutchfield on both charges, but later dismissed the charges just days before he was set for retrial in August.

The court recently expunged all the charges in the case from Scrutchfield’s record. The alleged victim’s mother had filed a civil suit against the Scrutchfield in late March, seeking $3.5 million in damages. The civil suit also has been dropped. Judge Godderz dismissed the civil suit Oct. 30, according to court records.

Scrutchfield holds no animosity against the police, prosecutors, the alleged victim or her family, he said, nor against the county after losing his job.

“I think I’d like to get back into IT, but I would have to brush up on my skills after almost three years out of the game,” Scrutchfield said. “I would like to try to provide a solid income for my family again. Now that my case has been cleared, Yvonne and I have talked about a mission trip or two [through the church] that might be in our future.”

Scrutchfield now runs the multimedia presentation for the Life Church’s services in Ottawa, which are conducted at Ottawa Middle School, 1230 S. Ash St., he said.

“I have talked with a lot of people who have said they are so sorry I had to go through this and things like that,” Scrutchfield said. “Yes, it was pretty bad in beginning when it all happened, and their were some dark times along the way. But a lot of good has come out of this. My wife and I are closer together in our relationship. It brought us closer together as a family — we became a Christian family.

“I feel like now is the time in my life to continue to be who and what God has designed me to be,” he said. “My life is forever changed. But it’s been changed for the better, actually.”

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