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TACOMA — Prosecutors plan to refile two of five child rape charges thrown out during a 2015 trial in Kitsap County Superior Court when the defendant’s attorney learned critical evidence had been withheld.
The state Division II Court of Appeals ruled this week that Judge Bill Houser improperly dismissed two of the first-degree rape of a child charges against Ricko Fernandez Easterling, 46, for crimes allegedly committed against one of two alleged victims. However, the opinion issued Tuesday affirmed Houser’s ruling to throw out three other charges for the second alleged victim.
Easterling was accused of assaulting the two children he knew between late 2014 and early 2015. The allegations came after the children made statements to a therapist.
However, Easterling’s trial ended abruptly in October 2015 when his attorney learned from the alleged victim’s mother that the two children had been taken for a sexual assault examination at Harrison Medical Center.
Easterling’s attorney, Tim Drury, had requested any documentation of an evaluation, but said authorities told him none had been conducted.
One of the children underwent the exam and no evidence of trauma was found, which could have been used by Drury to argue that Easterling was not guilty. The other child declined to be examined.
The late disclosure of evidence, and the fact it could be used by Easterling’s defense, was found to be mismanagement and unfairly damaging to Easterling so Houser tossed the charges, allowing Easterling to go free.
Prosecutors appealed Houser's ruling.
The error was attributed to confusion and miscommunication between the Port Orchard Police detective and the deputy prosecutor on the case.
Detective Bill Schaibly testified he is typically notified by the hospital following such examinations, but was not in this case. He told Deputy Prosecutor John Purves that no examination was conducted, and later said he had confused the Easterling case with a difference case.
The appeals court found that while Houser was right to toss the charges relating to the child who had undergone the examination, it found that failing to disclose that the second child declined to be examined did not unfairly harm Easterling.
Chief Deputy Prosecutor Chad Enright said the office is waiting for additional paperwork from the appeals court, but plans to refile charges.
Drury said he was not sure if he would be back on the case.
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