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News >  Crime/Public Safety

Obermiller attorneys: Witness testimony supporting innocence claim was delayed by prosecution

UPDATED: Thu., June 22, 2017

Jason Obermiller, seen during his trial for homicide on June 8, 2017, at the Spokane County Courthouse. He was later acquitted of homicide, but found guilty of multiple drug charges. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Jason Obermiller, seen during his trial for homicide on June 8, 2017, at the Spokane County Courthouse. He was later acquitted of homicide, but found guilty of multiple drug charges. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Prosecutors in the case against Jason Obermiller, who was acquitted of murder Wednesday for the death of 2-year-old Adalynn Hoyt, did not disclose an interview that supported Obermiller’s claim of innocence until minutes before they were to call their last witness – despite the fact that the interview had been conducted more than a month before the trial.

The prosecution argued throughout the two-weeklong trial that Adalynn was murdered sometime around midnight, when she was put to bed a second time by Obermiller. But in an interview with attorneys and a detective, an 11-year-old witness in the home said she heard Adalynn crying sometime around 3 a.m., which fit the defense’s timeline that put her death later in the evening, after Obermiller had already left the house.

But they also didn’t disclose the interview with defense attorneys until a week into trial – and five minutes before the state’s last witness was to take the stand.

Upon learning this information, defense attorneys Kevin Griffin and Brian Raymon filed a motion to allow the 11-year-old to take the stand via telephone in the middle of Spokane County Sheriff’s Detective Mike Drapeau’s testimony. There, the girl said she heard Adalynn crying from her room while it was “mostly dark” and “getting light” out, putting the time of death much later in the night.

“It is clear that both deputy prosecuting attorneys were aware that this evidence existed on May 19, 2017, when they were able to personally interview (the 11-year-old),” Griffin wrote in the motion. “It is also clear that Detective Drapeau, the lead detective in this case, was personally aware of this information because he was personally present during the interview.”

According to the police report cited in the motion, prosecutors Gayle Ervin and Jennifer Zappone, along with Drapeau, deemed the witness not to be credible. She was not included on the list of witnesses.

In an email response, Ervin wrote that the reason the report wasn’t given to the defense until June 14 was because it wasn’t entered into the system until later “than we would have liked.” She said once the report was available it was immediately given to the defense counsel.

“The Court did not find any inappropriate conduct on the part of the State and the State made every effort to assist the defense in this particular witness to court and availability to testify which the witness did,” she wrote.

In a phone interview, Zappone said the prosecutors relied on the electronic discovery system to deliver the report to the defense, but it didn’t get in.

“Once we found out it didn’t get in, we alerted the defense within seconds,” she said. “In a perfect world, where we have only 20, 30 witnesses, everything would have been up front. But it was a total mistake. It was totally unintentional.”

During closing arguments, Ervin said the 11-year-old’s testimony should not be trusted because she has lied to Child Protective Services in the past. The claim is supported in the police report, which notes that the girl’s father told the three that he was not sure if she “was going to tell the truth or lie about what she had seen that day.”

The father told them that his daughter had “several phone conversations” with her mother, who was trying to influence what she would say when she was interviewed. The girl’s mother, Cassie Verastegui, was living with Lovina Rainey at the time Adalynn was killed. The 11-year-old would often babysit Rainey’s four children.

The police report notes that it was “highly likely” the girl would “tell us what Verastegui wanted her to say.”

The 11-year-old also told Drapeau and prosecutors that Rainey would occasionally hit her kids, “so that the kids would cry.” In court, Rainey denied ever hitting her children, as did multiple witnesses including Obermiller.

She also said during the interview that all of the children had dinner together the night of Adalynn’s death, but couldn’t remember what they ate. During closing arguments, prosecutors argued that it was possible Adalynn hadn’t eaten any pizza that night, but Obermiller, during his trial testimony, and Rainey during past interviews with detectives, said the toddler ate pizza at some point before going to bed.

This point ended up being critical in the trial, since according to Spokane County Medical Examiner Dr. John Howard, the half-life of food in a 2-year-old’s stomach is roughly three hours. If Adalynn ate at around 9 p.m. or midnight, therefore, she couldn’t have died around midnight since she had no pizza in her stomach, only strawberry seeds. She did, however, have a piece of pizza crust in her mouth, which Obermiller testified he threw in the garbage near her bed before putting her to bed around 11:30 p.m.

Further in the interview, according to the defense’s motion, the 11-year-old said she went to bed around 8:45 p.m. and awoke at 3 a.m. to get a drink of water.

She “saw Lovina (Rainey) in the kitchen making something to eat,” the report reads. “[She] went back to bed and some time soon after thinks she heard Adalynn crying.”

It’s likely prosecutors found her story not credible, since cellphone records place Rainey at a motel in the Spokane Valley at 3 a.m. But upon cross examination with defense attorneys while on the stand, the girl said she heard the toddler crying later in the morning, around the time it was getting light outside.

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