COEUR d’ALENE — The Idaho Court of Appeals has ordered a new trial for a Coeur d’Alene man convicted in 2010 of fondling two young girls at his home.
The judges upheld a lower court decision awarding Robert Critchfield, 37, a new trial because the trial judge made an error by not letting an expert witness take the stand.
Critchfield was convicted by a jury of lewd conduct with a child and sexual abuse. Prosecutors claimed Critchfield fondled the girls, ranging in age from 9 to 14, at his home in 2008. Critchfield has long maintained his innocence.
After his conviction, Critchfield and his defense attorney appealed. On appeal, 1st District Judge Charles Hosack ruled in favor of Critchfield, ruling that he had made a mistake in barring psychologist Gregory Wilson from taking the stand as an expert witness for the defense. Wilson was going to testify on the nature of the police interviews conducted with nine alleged victims in the case.
Hosack ordered a new trial in the case, a decision that prompted an appeal by the Kootenai County Prosecutor. The Court of Appeals denied the prosecutor’s arguments and sided with Hosack.
“The District Court also correctly determined that his error wasn’t harmless,” the Appeals Court judges wrote in their opinion, according to The Coeur d’Alene Press. “This case turns almost exclusively on the accuracy and reliability of the victims’ testimony.”
Hosack’s error during the trial essentially deprived the jury of evidence offered to assist them in determining whether the victims’ testimony was tainted by the suggestive interview techniques used by police, the judges wrote.
Defense attorney, James Siebe, of Moscow, said the police interviews were a critical part of the case, and police tainted the process.
Siebe said Wilson read through transcripts and listened to recordings of the police interviews in preparation for his planned testimony. Wilson is an expert on interviewing sexual abuse victims, and works for law-enforcement agencies and prosecutors in north central Idaho and Eastern Washington.
Wilson planned to testify that police should have asked open-ended questions to establish a narrative. He also intended to criticize police interviewers for suggesting or making statements that Critchfield touched the girls in specific ways or committed a particular act, then asking whether that had occurred.
The alleged victims were at Critchfield’s home visiting his son and daughter, who were about the same age as the alleged victims. He was found innocent on four charges of sexual abuse at trial, and jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict on three other charges.
Kootenai County Prosecutor Barry McHugh said he hasn’t decided yet whether to appeal Monday’s ruling to the Idaho Supreme Court.