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In August 2006, in Elwood, Indiana, around the time of her seventeenth birthday, K.P. told her aunt that her step-father, 33-year-old Steven Everling, had molested her on numerous occasions beginning in 2002.
K.P. said she had not told anyone because Everling hit her, threatened to kill her, and kept a switchblade in his car.
Police were notified. During an interview, K.P. said Everling first molested her in the late summer of 2002, when she was twelve and Everling was 29. K.P. said that while her mother was at work, Everling came into her room and fondled her while he masturbated. On numerous occasions, she said, Everling kept her home from school and the molestation escalated in 2003 to oral and vaginal sex.
In August 2006, K.P. was sent to counseling, during which she said that she had been informed following a forensic exam that her hymen was torn. K.P. said Everling had sex with her again before it had healed. K.P. was subsequently diagnosed as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
On February 25, 2008, Everling was charged with felony child molesting and felony sexual misconduct with a minor.
Prior to trial, Everling's defense attorney, Zaki Ali, was required to provide a list of witnesses and exhibits he intended to use at the trial. Due to illness, the lists were filed after the required deadline.
In July 2008, the prosecutor, Patrick Ragains, moved to exclude 22 defense witnesses. Judge Fredrick Spencer granted the motion and ruled the defense could only call Everling as a defense witness.
The excluded witnesses included several people, including coworkers, who would have testified that Everling was generally not at home on the mornings when K.P. claimed the molestations occurred. The witnesses also included family members, friends, and teachers who would have testified that K.P. was known to lie and was untrustworthy.
The ruling also barred the testimony of nurse practitioner Tami Biele, who would have testified that K.P. never informed her of the molestation during an appointment that K.P. had after having unprotected sex with a partner.
On September 23, 2008, a month before the trial began, the defense filed a motion requesting a new judge be assigned to the case. The motion claimed that Judge Spencer was biased against defense attorney Ali and had displayed favoritism to prosecutor Ragains. The motion was denied without a hearing.
As part of the investigation of K.P.'s allegations, she was examined by a sex assault nurse examiner, Holly Rentz, who said she found an “old" healed tear of K.P.'s hymen. The file disclosed to the defense relating to Rentz's examination contained the wrong medical files, and copies of photographs taken by Rentz that were of poor quality.
Before trial, Ragains asked Antoinette Laskey, a pediatrician, to examine the photographs taken by Rentz during the physical examination of K.P. Laskey concluded that K.P. had not suffered any physical harm. Ragains told Laskey not to prepare a report, and did not disclose Laskey's conclusion to the defense.
On October 28, 2008, Everling went to trial in Madison County Circuit Court. Rentz testified that she found the healed injury to K.P. On the second day of trial, defense attorney Ali sought to call Dr. Philip Merk to testify that based on his review of K.P.'s medical records, there was no injury to K.P.
Judge Spencer denied the motion, saying the date for disclosure of witnesses had long passed.
Ali attempted to show that K.P. had a bad relationship with her mother and Everling, but Judge Spencer barred him from cross-examining K.P. about her relationship with her mother.
During the trial, Judge Spencer made several comments disparaging Ali, including his doubt that Ali had ever been ill—remarking that he was healthy when it was to his advantage—and he suggested Ali had a deficient knowledge of the law. The judge and Ali frequently clashed and at one point, the judge refused to allow Ali to respond to a prosecution objection.
On November 6, 2008, the jury convicted Everling on all counts. At the sentencing hearing, Judge Spencer said he was imposing a 55-year sentence on each count to be served concurrently. However, in the sentencing order, the judge wrote that the sentences would be served consecutively for a total of 110 years.
On appeal, Everling argued that his trial was unfair because his lawyer failed to file the witness list on time, and the judge improperly refused to allow the defense witnesses to testify. The appeal claimed that the judge was biased against Ali and Everling, and that the 110-year sentence was wrong.
On August 13, 2009, the Indiana Court of Appeals rejected all of Everling's claims, except for the sentencing issue. The court remanded the case for clarification and Judge Spencer issued an order sentencing Everling to 55 years in prison.
Everling appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court, and on July 8, 2010, his convictions were reversed. The Supreme Court ordered a new trial, concluding that Judge Spencer's conduct had denied Everling a fair trial
“The cumulative result of Judge Spencer's comments, exclusions, and general demeanor toward the defense was a trial below the standard towards which Indiana strives," the court ruled. On August 4, 2010, Everling was released pending a retrial.
On January 10, 2012, the prosecution dismissed the charges.
On January 9, 2014, Everling filed a federal civil suit against the prosecution, the police, the state Department of Child Services, and others, seeking damages because the prosecution had concealed Laskey's conclusion that there were no injuries to K.P. The lawsuit was dismissed in August 2014.
Ali filed a formal complaint against prosecutor Ragains with the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission. However, no action was taken against Ragains.
After Indiana enacted a law in 2019 enabling wrongfully convicted defendants to seek compensation from the state, Everling filed a claim.
– Jordan Facey and Maurice Possley
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.