Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Joel Covender

Other Ohio No Crime Cases
In April 1994, 26-year-old Joel Covender was indicted in Lorain County, Ohio on charges of sexually molesting his four-year-old stepson and his five-year-old stepdaughter.

Covender was charged with gross sexual imposition and felonious sexual predation. Prior to trial, Covender’s attorney sought records from the children’s therapist. The judge reviewed the records in private and declined to release them on the ground that they included nothing of value to the defense.

In April 1996, Covender went to trial in Lorain County Court of Common Pleas.

Both children testified that he had sexually molested them. Deborah Stone, the children’s paternal grandmother, testified that the girl had told her of the molestation. Nancy Kullman, the children’s maternal grandmother also testified that both children told her Covender had molested them.

Sara Swiderski, the children’s therapist, testified that both children told her that Covender had sexually abused them. A nurse practitioner at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, testified that she had examined both children and that she found physical evidence of molestation.

The defense called witnesses who testified that they suspected the children’s paternal grandparents had coerced the children to testify that Covender molested them as part of a scheme by the grandparents to win custody of the children from their mother, who was living with Covender.

On April 22, 1996, the jury convicted Covender on two counts of felonious sexual penetration and two counts of gross sexual imposition charges. He was sentenced to 15 to 50 years in prison.

The convictions were upheld on appeal. In February 2007, Covender was paroled and learned that both of his stepchildren had petitioned the parole board for his release, denying their earlier accusations. Shortly afterwards, Covender filed a petition for a new trial based on the statements of the children.

The trial court granted the petition and vacated Covender’s convictions, but the prosecution appealed. The prosecution contended that the girl had not fully recanted, but rather said she could not remember her childhood, though she also insisted: “I know that this didn’t happen.”

The Ninth District Ohio Court of Appeals ruled that because the statements were based on “feelings and beliefs” instead of personal knowledge, the statements did not legally recant her earlier testimony and therefore were inadmissible. The appellate court upheld the decision allowing a new trial in the case of the stepson, but reinstated the convictions for the molestation of the stepdaughter. The prosecution then dismissed the charges relating to the stepson.

Three months later, in July 2008, Covender filed another motion for a new trial, prompted by a new affidavit provided by the stepdaughter’s biological father, who said he had seen his mother—the grandmother to the children—coerce the stepdaughter to falsely implicate Covender and tell her how to answer questions from investigators. The father said in the affidavit that he decided to come forward only when the Ninth District Ohio Court of Appeals overturned the trial court judge’s order granting Covender a new trial.

The trial court ruled that the new testimony from the girl’s father would not have resulted in an acquittal and denied the motion for new trial. Covender appealed for the third time and in 2010, the appeals court affirmed the decision denying Covender a retrial.

In July 2011, Covender filed a third motion for a new trial. By then his attorneys had finally obtained the stepdaughter’s childhood therapy records—the records that the trial judge originally said contained nothing of value to the defense. The records, however, showed that the stepdaughter’s therapist believed the girl had “a problem telling the truth.”

The third motion for a new trial, however, was also denied again by the trial court judge. In December 2013, however, the 9th District Ohio Court of Appeals reversed and granted Covender a new trial on the counts charging him with molesting his stepdaughter.

In October 2014, Covender went to trial a second time, on those charges only. The stepdaughter testified that she had no memory of being molested and therefore believed she had not been molested, because she would have remembered it if it happened.

The prosecution argued that the girl’s memory was better at the time of the first trial in 1996. The girl’s testimony from the original trial was read aloud in court.

Covender’s lawyer, W. Scott Ramsey, argued that the children’s mother’s family concocted the scheme and manipulated the children to falsely accuse Covender in order to remove him from the family because he is a Jehovah’s Witness.

On October 30, 2014, Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Miraldi, who presided over the case without a jury, acquitted Covender of all remaining charges.

In 2017, Covender filed suit to be declared a wrongfully convicted person to qualify for state compensation. The case was dismissed, but was reversed on appeal because the trial court judge didn't give any reasons. Back in the trial court, the court then granted summary judgment on the innocence claim and dismissed the lawsuit as being filed too late. In 2023, the Ohio Court of Appeals for the Ninth Judicial District reversed that ruling and sent the case back for a hearing on his innocence claim.

– Maurice Possley

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date: 11/11/2014
Last Updated: 1/30/2023
Most Serious Crime:Child Sex Abuse
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1993
Sentence:15 to 50 years
Age at the date of reported crime:26
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No