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John Loveless

Other Oregon exonerations
On June 22, 1990, 36-year-old John Loveless was indicted by a grand jury In Marion County, Oregon, on charges of sexually molesting his former wife’s son, known in court documents as M.S. Loveless was charged with sexual abuse and sodomy of M.S. that allegedly occurred between May 1, 1988, when M.S. was not yet three years old, and May 6, 1990, when M.S. was nearly five years old.

At the time, Loveless and his former wife, Kristen Sullivan, were engaged in a custody battle over M.S. and his older brother, T.L. Sullivan and Loveless had married in 1981 and had divorced in October 1985.

M.S. had been born in May 1985. Although Loveless was not the boy’s father, he treated the boy as his son, and from the time of the boy’s birth the boy spent much of his time with Loveless. Beginning in the summer of 1987 and into 1988, Loveless and Sullivan were engaged in reconciliation efforts which failed.

In March 1989, Sullivan alleged that Loveless had molested the boy. Police and the Oregon Child Safety Division (CSD) investigated. The investigation was closed because there was no physical evidence of abuse. Loveless denied molesting the boy. Sullivan made another similar allegation in October 1989 that also led to no action. In May 1990, Sullivan initiated a third complaint, claiming that M.S. had told her and a babysitter, Sullivan’s niece, that Loveless had molested him.

Prior to trial, Loveless told his defense attorney, Paul Ferder, about the prior investigations and urged Ferder to contact Loveless’s attorney representing him in the custody battle. Ferder, however, did not do so.

On March 4, 1991, Loveless went to trial in Marion County Circuit Court. The prosecution’s case consisted of testimony from Sullivan, Sullivan’s mother, Sullivan’s niece, a detective who had interviewed M.S., and M.S.

M.S., by then nearly six years old, was vague and frequently said he didn’t know or didn’t remember when asked questions by the prosecutor. The trial judge allowed the prosecutor to ask leading questions, resulting in testimony by the boy that Loveless had fondled the boy’s genitals, sodomized the boy, and forced the boy to engage in oral sex. The other witnesses testified that M.S. had told them about being molested by Loveless.

Loveless testified and denied molesting the boy. T.L. testified and said that Sullivan had coached M.S. to say "bad things" about Loveless that were not true.

On March 5, 1991, the jury convicted Loveless of three counts of sexual abuse and one count of sodomy. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

After the verdict, Ferder filed a motion for a new trial after examining the records in the custody battle relating to the initial investigation that had been closed without any action. The motion was denied.

In October 1993, the Oregon Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction.

In 1995, Loveless, represented by attorney R. Brooke Holstedt, filed an amended petition for post-conviction relief. The motion disclosed that the file in the custody battle contained a detailed statement from Seanna Kansier, a friend of Sullivan. Kansier said she saw Sullivan coaching M.S. on a daily basis.

“Due to the intensive animosity towards John Loveless, Kristen Sullivan would twist [M.S.’s] favorable statements about his father’s conduct by putting a negative, sexually-oriented spin on the formerly favorable statements,” Kansier said. “The purpose of this behavior was to change [M.S.’s] outlook and perception of John Loveless and to get [M.S.] in the habit of talking bad about his father to others so [M.S.] would seem credible and natural when he testified.”

Kansier further said that Sullivan rewarded M.S. with “attention and love” when the boy talked negatively about Loveless. “Conversely, Kristen Sullivan deprived [M.S.] of love and attention until he ‘performed’ the way she desired, in a negative manner towards John Loveless.”

The petition also said that Ferder had failed to investigate and call as witnesses other family members, and medical professionals, who had been involved in the initial investigation. According to the petition, a physician who had examined the boy found no evidence of sexual abuse, and said that M.S. stated “several times during the examination that nobody ever hurt him in the penile/testicular area.”

The petition said that the defense failed to call as a witness a psychologist who had been involved in counseling with M.S. in 1989 and 1990. The psychologist, Dr. Jerome Gordon, had noted that he found M.S.’s delivery and wording indicative of his having been coached.

The petition said that before the custody proceedings began, “there was no evidence of sexual misbehavior” by Loveless.

The petition asserted that the prosecution failed to disclose the file relating to the initial investigation. The petition also claimed that Ferder had provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to obtain the file and failing to call witnesses who would have testified that M.S. had been coached or had denied being molested. During a hearing on the petition, Ferder denied that Loveless told him about the file in the custody case.

As part of the petition, T.L. provided a sworn affidavit testifying that he saw M.S. being coached, and that he was promised a new Tonka truck after he testified. T.L. said in the affidavit that after M.S. testified and lef the courtroom with his mother, the boy asked, "Do I get my new truck now?"

In November 1996, Marion County Circuit Court Judge Pamela Abernathy denied the petition. Loveless appealed.

On April 19, 2000, the Court of Appeals of Oregon reversed Judge Abernathy’s ruling and vacated Loveless’s convictions.

“A competent attorney would normally investigate the relationship between the custody dispute and the sexual abuse charge, including the possibility that the other parent had instigated the charge for use in the custody case,” the court said.

The court noted that had Kansier testified at trial, “her testimony that Sullivan had been telling M.S. what to say on the stand would have supported the testimony of the child’s brother,” who asserted that M.S. had told him that Sullivan had told him to “say bad things about my dad that weren’t true.”

A month later, in May 2000, Loveless was released from prison.

On August 28, 2000, the prosecution dismissed the case. In 2004, when M.S. was 18, he recanted and admitted his allegations were false.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 8/10/2023
Last Updated: 8/10/2023
Most Serious Crime:Child Sex Abuse
Additional Convictions:Child Sex Abuse
Reported Crime Date:1990
Sentence:15 years
Age at the date of reported crime:36
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No