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Child rape verdict follows boy’s testimony

A jury found a 34-year-old Oak Harbor man guilty of sexually assaulting a preschool-aged boy at an informal daycare.

The trial last week was the second time Bryon Koeller was tried in Island County Superior Court for the first-degree rape of a child. The judge declared a mistrial earlier this year after the jury deadlocked.

Besides being a retrial, the proceedings were remarkable in other ways as well.

The dual trials marked the only occasions in the history of Island County Superior Court that a witness testified via closed-circuit TV. The 5-year-old child, who was 4-years-old at the time of the offense, took the stand in another room and answered questions posed by attorneys, but the jury watched the scene live on a projection TV.

Island County Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Colleen Kenimond handled both trials. She said the unique arrangement allowed the little boy to explain what happened to him without having to face Koeller.

“I truly believed that this child would be able to answer questions if he didn’t have to see the defendant,” she said.

Koeller’s attorney, Darrin Hall, argued against allowing the victim to testify from another room. He argued that it violated his client’s Sixth Amendment right to be confronted with the witness against him, but Judge Vickie Churchill overruled him.

Kenimond said the child may have been the youngest competent witness to testify at trial in the Superior Court’s history.

Another unique witness also testified. A girl who claimed Koeller sexually assaulted her a decade ago, when she was 4-years-old, also testified, even though he was never charged in the case handled by the Navy. Kenimond said she used the girl’s testimony to show that molesting young children was a “common scheme” for Koeller.

The trial started with jury selection Tuesday morning and the jury began deliberations at about 3:40 p.m. Thursday. They reached a unanimous verdict Friday at 2 p.m.

Koeller was taken into custody after the verdict was read. He is scheduled to be sentenced at 1:30 p.m., July 10.

Koeller faces an “indeterminate sentence” of life with the possibility of parole after a minimum sentence of 93 to 123 months in prison. Kenimond said she will ask for the longest sentence within the range.

Koeller’s wife was taking care of the boy in an informal daycare arrangement when the assault occurred. Kenimond said the woman didn’t have a daycare license because of the past allegations against her husband.

Koeller was a petty officer first class with VAQ-129 at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. He was discharged April 11, according to the chief criminal deputy.

Hall said it was a “tough case” and he’s not sure yet whether Koeller plans to appeal.

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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