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Ezequiel Apolo-Albino

Other Washington State No Crime Cases
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In May 2007, the Washington State Department of Child Services removed Artemia Berger’s children from her King County home following 19 complaints of chronic neglect.

The oldest child, 9-year-old Bella, was placed with foster parent Sharon Cormier and the second oldest, 7-year-old Berline, was placed with foster parent Sarah Anderson. Anderson and Cormier lived in the same trailer park and were friends who often relied upon each other to take care of the children. Cormier had several other foster children at the time as well.

The children’s father, 54-year-old Ezequiel Apolo-Albino, was not living with Artemia and the children, but had visited them twice a month, bringing food, medicine and money. The neglect accusations related to unsanitary conditions, including chronic head lice, and a lack of supervision, and failure to attend school.

Apolo-Albino continued to see the children during supervised visits at Cormier’s home and later at a local school where Cormier taught Taekwondo classes. In the spring of 2008, Cormier and Anderson reported that Bella and Berline said that Apolo-Albino had sexually molested them during the visits.

On July 30, 2008, following interviews with a child interview specialist from the King County Prosecutor’s office, Apolo-Albino was arrested on two counts of first-degree child molestation.

Apolo-Albino went to trial in King County Superior Court in October 2009. Witnesses for the prosecution included the two girls, both foster parents, the child interview specialist, a police officer, and a social worker. The girls testified that Apolo-Albino touched them inappropriately on various occasions beginning in late May 2007 and up until June 2008.

Defense attorney Michael Danko called Maria Juarez, Apolo-Albino’s daughter, who testified that she drove her father to the supervised visits because he did not have a driver’s license. Juarez testified that that she saw no sexual abuse. Apolo-Albino testified in his own defense and denied engaging in any inappropriate behavior.

On October 22, 2009, the jury convicted Apolo-Albino of both counts of first-degree child molestation. He was sentenced to 6 years and nine months to life in prison.

Apolo-Albino appealed and argued that his trial defense lawyer, Danko, provided an inadequate legal defense because he failed to call his investigator, Leigh Hearon, as a witness. Hearon had interviewed the girls before trial and was prepared to testify that the girls gave vastly inconsistent statements about what occurred, whether it occurred, and where it occurred.

Danko had not cross-examined the girls, later saying he did not want to appear to attack them before the jury. After the trial judge ruled that Hearon could only testify about inconsistencies relating to the statements the girls made at the trial, Danko chose not to call Hearon to testify at all.

The Court of Appeals of Washington upheld the conviction in July 2011. It ruled that while Danko had in fact provided inadequate legal assistance—he did not understand how to impeach a witness—the evidence was strong enough that even if Danko had presented had done what he should have, Apolo-Albino still would have been convicted.

Ultimately, after living with several different foster parents, Bella and her siblings were adopted. In 2013, Bella told her then-foster parents that she had concocted the allegations against her father. Child protective services was notified, but no action was taken.

In 2015, Bella told a counselor that the allegations were false and that Cormier had coerced her with threats of physical harm. The counselor reported Bella’s statements to authorities and child protective services began an investigation. In many numerous interviews that followed, Bella insisted that her father never abused her physically or sexually.

As part of the investigation, Berline was also interviewed and she confirmed that her father had never touched her inappropriately and that Cormier had threatened her as well.

Bea Munoz, the state investigator assigned to investigate allegations of abuse by Cormier, documented extensive evidence of Cormier’s maltreatment of foster children, including Bella and Berline. Munoz discovered that from 1996 to 2016, Cormier had made 17 separate complaints of sexual and physical abuse of children in her care by their relatives or parents.

In 2016, Munoz contacted Amy Parker, an attorney in the King County Department of Public Defense, and described the results of her investigation. Parker and her investigators, Molly Gilbert and Bettye Witherspoon, re-investigated the case and ultimately Parker filed a motion seeking a new trial for Apolo-Albino.

The motion said that prior to Apolo-Albino’s trial, he was represented by another attorney, Al Kitchings, in a separate legal proceeding involving the future custody of the children. Kitchings said that he had interviewed the girls and that their statements were so inconsistent that he doubted their allegations of sexual and physical abuse. He said that he tried to inform Danko, Apolo-Albino’s trial lawyer, but Danko refused to speak to him or to return his calls.

In response to the motion for a new trial, the prosecution moved to dismiss the charges. On September 29, 2016, Superior Court Judge John Ruhl vacated Apolo-Albino’s convictions, the charges were dismissed and he was released after nearly seven years in prison.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 11/5/2016
State:Washington
County:King
Most Serious Crime:Child Sex Abuse
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2008
Convicted:2009
Exonerated:2016
Sentence:6 3/4 years to life
Race:Hispanic
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:55
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No