News

Convicted molester gets the max as family protests

Boy victim, 5,

spoke on live video

Thursday afternoon, an emotion-filled courtroom was divided into two sides with diametrically opposed views on the appropriate sentence for a man convicted of raping a small boy.

On one side, Bryon Koeller’s family members insisted that he was innocent and was being railroaded by vindictive women.

“This is not going to be a sentence. It’s an execution,” Koeller’s wife said. “It’s an execution of our family.”

On the other side, the prosecutor, family of the boy, as well as the mother of another alleged victim, asked the judge to throw the proverbial book at the 35-year-old Oak Harbor man.

“My son has been sentenced to life by Mr. Koeller,” the boy’s mother said. “I see no reason Mr. Koeller should receive anything less.”

In the end, Island County Superior Court Judge Vickie Churchill did what the victim’s family members wanted. His family gasped when she sentenced Koeller to the maximum within the standard range, which is an indeterminate sentence of 123 months to life in prison. An indeterminate sentence means that Koeller has to ask a review board to be released after serving the minimum sentence of ten years and three months.

Speaking to the audience, Churchill called the situation “a tragedy of two families.”

“There are lives that have been destroyed here,” she said, “but there is only one person who was found guilty.”

Churchill denied a request by Koeller’s attorney, Craig Platt of Coupeville, to release the man pending an appeal.

Earlier this year, a jury found Koeller guilty of the first-degree rape of a child. Island County Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Colleen Kenimond re-tried the case after the first trial ended with a deadlocked jury.

Both trials were unique in that the 5-year-old boy, who was 4 years old at the time of the offense, testified from another room via closed-circuit TV. For the first time in the court’s history, Churchill allowed remote testimony in order to protect the victim from having to face his tormentor.

Churchill also allowed Koeller’s biological daughter to testify that he had sexually assaulted her a decade ago, when she was 4 years old. He was never charged in the case investigated by the Navy.

Kyla Williams, Koeller’s ex-wife and the girl’s mother, said the boy wouldn’t have been victimized if the Navy had dealt with Koeller appropriately all those years ago. She lamented that Koeller’s family had supported him over his daughter. But most of all, she was upset at her ex-husband.

“He deserves every bad thing that comes his way,” she said.

Koeller’s adult son, Zachary, sobbed when he spoke. He said his father’s conviction made him lose faith in the country’s judicial system. He emphasized that his dad served 15 years in the Navy and risked his life in times of war.

“Fifteen years and this is how the people he fought to protect repay him,” he said.

Koeller’s wife described how her husband’s absence has tormented their teenaged daughter and two young sons. She explained that the teenager has to care for the boys because she must work now. The boys don’t understand why their father is away.

“They’ve already picked out his birthday present . . . How do I tell them they will be teenagers before he comes home?” she said.

She read two heartbreaking letters that the little boys wrote to their father.

“Dear dad, you are the best dad ever . . .” she read. “I will always miss you.”

But in the end, Churchill emphasized that the evidence was presented to jury of 12 people and they found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. She said she had to follow the law, but acknowledged that Koeller’s family members are convinced of his innocence.

“Obviously you love your husband, you love your son, you love your father no matter what,” she said. “Nobody can take that away from you.”

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

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