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Plea assures sex offender status after remote testimony thrown out

A 38-year-old former Oak Harbor man will have to register as a sex offender under a plea bargain worked out in an unusual case in which a child rape conviction was thrown out by an appeals court.

Bryon Koeller, now a Kennewick resident, had been serving a sentence of a minimum of 10 years in prison when the Washington State Court of Appeals reversed his first-degree child rape conviction earlier this year.

Deputy Prosecutor Colleen Kenimond had the opportunity to bring Koeller to trial a third time. The first trial ended in a mistrial after the jury deadlocked; the jury found him guilty in the second trial.

But Kenimond said she worked on an agreement to prevent the victim, now 8 years old, from having to testify once again.

“The child’s mother really did not want her son to ever see Bryon Koeller again,” Kenimond said.

Under the plea bargain, Koeller will have to register as a sex offender for 10 years. Kenimond said her primary concern was to keep the community safe by ensuring that Koeller registers and has a sex offense on his record.

Under the agreement, Koeller pleaded guilty by way of an Alford’s plea to communicating with a minor for immoral purposes, a gross misdemeanor charge. An Alford’s plea means he doesn’t admit guilt, but acknowledges the prosecution has enough evidence to convict him at trial. Koeller has been unwavering in proclaiming his innocence.

Koeller was sentenced to 364 days with credit for 364 days he’s already served and was ordered to pay $817 in fines and fees. In addition, the judge approved a sexual assault protection order banning Koeller from any contact with the victim.

Koeller, a former member of the Navy, was accused of raping a 4-year-old boy. His wife took care of the child in an informal daycare arrangement.

Koeller’s two trials in 2008 marked the first cases in the county in which a judge allowed remote testimony in order to protect the victim from having to face the accused. The boy testified from another room via closed-circuit TV.

But then the Court of Appeals reversed Koeller’s conviction based on the remote testimony. The court 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.”

During the trial, Koeller’s 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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