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Remote testimony by boy reverses rape conviction

A 37-year-old Oak Harbor man accused of raping a small boy in 2007 faces a third trial after the Court of Appeals reversed his conviction.

Deputy Prosecutor Colleen Kenimond said she decided to go forward with the third trial against Bryon Koeller after speaking to the victim and his family, but she still holds out hope for an agreement that would save the child from having to testify yet again.

Two years ago, a jury convicted Koeller, a former member of the Navy, of first-degree child rape. It was the first case in the county in which a judge allowed remote testimony in order to protect the victim from having to face the accused. The boy, who was 5 years old then, testified from another room via closed-circuit TV.

The conviction followed a first trial that ended in a mistrial after the jury deadlocked.

After the second trial, Island County Superior Judge Vickie Churchill sentenced Koeller to an indeterminate sentence of 123 months to life in prison.

Koeller, however, asserted his innocence and his attorneys aggressively — and successfully — appealed the conviction.

The Court of Appeals ruled that while remote testimony is allowed for child victims in certain limited conditions, the prosecution in the Koeller case didn’t present strong enough evidence that “the victim would suffer serious emotional distress if required to testify in Koeller’s presence.”

Coupeville attorney Craig Platt represented Koeller in the sentencing phase and asked the trial court judge for a new trial based on a number of issues. While his motion was denied, he’s satisfied with the Court of Appeals decision.

“The ability to properly question witnesses before a jury is a fundamental aspect of our constitution,” he said.

Koeller is accused of raping a boy when the child was 4 years old. Koeller’s wife took care of the child in an informal daycare arrangement.

During the trial, Koeller’s biological daughter testified that he had sexually assaulted her more than a decade ago, when she was 4 years old. He was never charged in the case investigated by the Navy.

 

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