Friday, April 18, 2014

CARDER: From a jail cell to redemption

By DOUG CARDER, Dumping the Notebook | 11/22/2013

Eric Scrutchfield had to go through hell before he could find heaven.

The agnostic-turned-Christian man learned a couple of critical life lessons about spiritual faith and judging others after being accused of sexually assaulting a then-4-year-old girl in spring 2011 at a daycare run by his wife, Yvonne, out of their Ottawa home, he said.

Eric Scrutchfield had to go through hell before he could find heaven.

The agnostic-turned-Christian man learned a couple of critical life lessons about spiritual faith and judging others after being accused of sexually assaulting a then-4-year-old girl in spring 2011 at a daycare run by his wife, Yvonne, out of their Ottawa home, he said.

On Wednesday, Scrutchfield granted an interview to discuss what he had endured for the past 2 1/2 years. His story appeared in The Herald’s Thursday edition.  

Judgment day arrived March 8 in Franklin County District Court for Scrutchfield, who had maintained his innocence throughout his arrest and prosecution.

After an eight-day trial and nearly 24 hours of deliberations, the jury informed District Judge Eric Godderz it had reached a verdict on two of four counts in the case, but it was deadlocked on the other two charges. Scrutchfield turned around to face his 12-year-old son, Jeremiah, and Yvonne, who were standing in the first row of the gallery behind the defense table.

“I took out my keys and wallet and put a $100 bill in my shirt pocket,” Scrutchfield said. “I told my son to be strong, no matter what. We started singing the hymn, ‘Praise You in this Storm,’ by Casting Crowns.”

Then the former Franklin County computer support specialist turned and stood stoically in the courtroom where he once had installed the computers as Godderz proceeded to read the verdicts.

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.

After the verdicts were read, Scrutchfield took a knee outside the closed West Courtroom doors and wept openly as family and friends huddled around him.

While awaiting trial, Scrutchfield, who admittedly only had prayed a couple of times in his life, found God in a church parking lot a couple of months after his arrest when “I came to the end of myself,” he said.

Scrutchfield has worked as a deejay at parties, karaoke nights and other events to earn money for his family.

“There were no benefits, but there were no background checks either,” Scrutchfield said of the work.

If convicted, Scrutchfield most likely would have been an old man by the time he was released from prison, with grown children who might have had families of their own.

Prosecutors had offered Scrutchfield plea deals before, during and after the trial, threatening to retry him on the two deadlocked charges if he didn’t accept the final offer, but Scrutchfield turned down each one including the sweetest deal of all — a four-month jail term with no mandatory registration as a sex offender. Though the 29-year-old still faced the possibility of life in prison with no chance for parole for 25 years, he turned down the plea offers because of his newfound faith in God and the belief that the Lord would see him through the crisis, he said.

The Douglas County prosecutors who tried the case because of Scrutchfield’s previous employment with Franklin County later dropped the charges just days before it 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 Scrutchfields in late March, seeking $3.5 million in damages. The civil suit also has been dropped. Godderz dismissed the civil suit Oct. 30, according to court records.

“The [criminal] case has been wiped out as if it had never been filed,” John Boyd, Scrutchfield’s Ottawa defense attorney, said. “He’s grateful and looking forward to moving on with his life.”

The experience taught Scrutchfield not to be quick to judge others, he said.

“Yvonne and I are very much like everyone else — when you hear something, you grab your pitchforks and you want answers,” he said. “Society is too quick to judge. You need to relax and let things play out and get as much information as you can before you form an opinion about others.”

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

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