EPHRATA, Wash. – A young central Washington man who was granted a new trial after his conviction for murdering a playmate in 2003 pleaded not guilty Tuesday.
Evan Savoie, now 21, was just 12 years old when 13-year-old Craig Sorger was killed on Feb. 15, 2003. Three years later, a jury convicted Savoie of Ephrata, Wash., as an adult, and a judge sentenced him to 26 years for first-degree murder.
The state Appeals Court ruled last month that Savoie’s right to a public trial was violated in 2006 when the trial judge closed the courtroom to hear arguments on a motion.
The case drew national attention the first time around, in part because of the ages of those involved, but also due to the viciousness of the crime.
Sorger, a developmentally disabled boy who struggled socially, was last seen playing with Savoie and another playmate, 12-year-old Jake Eakin, in a recreational vehicle park.
His mother reported him missing when he didn’t return home, and police found his battered body amid leaves and brush.
A medical examiner determined he had been beaten and stabbed 34 times.
Blood was found on the clothing of both playmates, who maintained their innocence for two years, appearing on national television as they awaited trial. Eakin eventually led officers to the pond where he claimed Savoie had disposed of the murder weapon, a knife, which matched a knife tip that had been left in the victim’s skull.
Eakin then pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in a plea deal and testified against his friend.
Judge John Hotchkiss of neighboring Douglas County set a trial date Tuesday for Jan. 19. Hotchkiss has been assigned to the case because none of the judges in Grant County can hear it: One judge tried the case when he was prosecutor, and the other two were recused after defense attorneys raised affidavits of prejudice against them during the first trial.
Hotchkiss also appointed Savoie’s previous trial attorney, C.E. Monty Hormel, to try the case in place of a public defender.
Hormel is handling the case without payment from the family, and Hotchkiss also made it clear he would receive no payment from the county.
“I will not allow you to withdraw because you’re not getting paid,” he said.
Outside the courtroom, Hormel said he took the case pro-bono because he feels he has a responsibility to Savoie and said he knows more about the case than any of the public defenders put together.
“I want him to be found not guilty,” he said. “He didn’t do it.”
Savoie’s stepfather, Andy Parent, said the case has taken an emotional toll on his family, but said, “All we can do is see what happens.”
Lisa Sorger, the victim’s mother, was also in court but declined to comment.