Former Oak Harbor man facing third child rape trial sues defense attorneys
By JESSIE STENSLAND
Whidbey News Times Assistant editor
July 20, 2011 · Updated 12:30 PM
A former Navy man who was accused of raping a small boy in Oak Harbor four years ago has filed a lawsuit against the attorneys who defended him in two separate trials.
Bryon Koeller and his wife, who are representing themselves in the lawsuit, filed the complaint for damages against Coupeville attorney Tom Pacher and former Coupeville attorney Darrin Hall, alleging that they failed to fully investigate the defense. Pacher contracts with Island County to provide public defense and Hall formerly worked for him.
The lawsuit, filed in Island County Superior Court July 6, further complicates a case with an already complex history.
Koeller was originally charged with one count of rape of a child in the first degree in Island County Superior Court in 2007. He was accused of raping a 4-year-old boy who Koeller’s wife cared for in an informal daycare arrangement.
Pacher represented Koeller at the first trial, which ended in a mistrial after the jury deadlocked.
Island County Deputy Prosecutor Colleen Kenimond tried him again; he was represented by Hall in the second trial. The jury found him guilty. Judge Vickie Churchill sentenced him to the maximum, which was an indeterminate sentence of 123 months to life in prison.
Koeller appealed to the state Court of Appeals and won. The appellate court reversed his conviction because the judge allowed the alleged victim to testify via closed-circuit TV so that he wouldn’t be traumatized by facing Koeller. The Court of Appeals ruled that the prosecution didn’t present strong enough evidence that “the victim would suffer serious emotional distress if required to testify in Koeller’s presence.”
Koeller was released after serving nearly three years in prison, but he still faces the same charge. Kenimond said she plans to try him again on the child rape allegation. His trial is set for Sept. 13.
Koeller’s current attorney is Peter Simpson, who was appointed through the county public defense department. Simpson works in Pacher’s firm, so there may be a possible conflict of interest.
In the lawsuit, Koeller writes that the judge allowed the prosecution to call his daughter to testify against him. She claimed to have been sexually abused by Koeller when she was younger and the judge ruled her testimony was relevant to show that sexually abusing children was part of Koeller’s “common scheme or plan.”
According to the lawsuit, Koeller instructed both Pacher and Hall to obtain the records of the Navy’s complete investigation of the allegation during his 1998 Article 32 hearing.
“Defense counsel failed to obtain this file or otherwise investigate,” Koeller claimed.
The records would have shown, Koeller writes, that a respected expert in child interviewing techniques testified that the girl’s testimony was unreliable because her answers were the product of “very leading and suggestive” questioning.
Koeller asks for unspecified damages for his three years in prison, discharge from the Navy, his wife’s loss of consortium and his attorney fees.
Pacher didn’t return a call for comment.Contact Whidbey News Times Assistant editor Jessie Stensland at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360.675.6611 ext. 5056.