Kent Wycliffe Easter Case Ends in Mistrial After Jury Can't Break 11-1 Deadlock to Convict
See Update No. 5 on page three 3 on the judge declaring a mistrial. Update No. 4 on page 2 had jurors being sent home deadlocked Wednesday. Update No. 3 is on the jury asking the judge for guidance. Update No. 2 is on Kent Easter testifying his "pushy" wife pushed him into framing a school volunteer who displeased them. Update No. 1 is on his pushy wife's lover being exposed as an Orange County firefighter who wore a wire around her.
ORIGINAL POST, NOV. 7, 7:30 A.M.: Kent Wycliffe Easter was a wimpy husband whose wife was cheating on him, wore the pants in the family and ordered him to make the phone call to police about a woman driving erratically before parking at an Irvine elementary school.
Just to be clear, that's 40-year-old Easter's defense.
His attorney also told jurors in the Santa Ana courtroom Wednesday that Easter had no idea his wife had planted drugs in the car of the school volunteer.
That flies in the face of a the 9-1-1 call played for jurors, which features the voice of Kent, who'd given a false name, saying the driver placed something behind her seat, and when the dispatcher asked if he could make out what it was, he replied, "It could be pills or something."
An Irvine Police officer later saw in plain view a bag filled with pills, marijuana and a used pot pipe and went inside the school to confront the driver, school volunteer Kelli Peters, about it.
Kent's attorney, Tom Bienert, told jurors his client was in bed and taking medication when his wife planted the drugs. But Senior Deputy District Attorney Chris Duff countered that tracking records indicate Kent's cell phone was near Peters' home in the early morning hours of Feb. 16, 2011, when the drugs were planted.
A grand jury indictment in October 2012 indicted investigators believed Kent, not his fellow attorney wife Jillianne Bjorkholm Easter, planted the drugs in Peters' car because Jill was upset over Peters having punished their son on the schoolyard.
But Bienert maintained that Jill took Kent's cell phone with her when she planted the drugs, and that she'd texted a man named Glenn with whom she was having an affair.
When the policeman asked the sobbing Peters who could have done this to her, she immediately answered the Easters, according to Duff, who said in court that the couple had tried to get her fired, sued her unsuccessfully and sought a restraining order against her.
Duff mentioned that Jill Easter will testify for the defense and that he has no idea what she will say. The 40-year-old just cut a plea deal that had her copping to false imprisonment, having two other counts dismissed and being formally sentenced to a year in jail but only having to do 120 days behind bars and 100 hours of community service. Before Kent Easter's trial began, the prosecution dropped two of the three charges against him as well, leaving a false imprisonment count.
"Kent Easter was a trusting husband, what he wasn't was a standup to his wife," Bienert told jurors. "By the end of the trial, you will see that Kent was a good human being who didn't have a backbone against his wife, she wore the pants in the family."
The defense attorney, who claimed the couple has separated but not yet divorced, denied his client is guilty of imprisoning anyone--except perhaps himself in the marriage, am I right, people?--which would make him not guilty of the charge that could send him to prison for three years.
By the way, it was also disclosed today that Jill does not practice law and that Kent's firm fired him over the incident.
UPDATE NO. 1, NOV. 11, 6:30 A.M.: During Kent Easter's trial for allegedly planting drugs in the car of a rival parent at his son's elementary school, it was revealed Tuesday that his wife's lover is an Orange County firefighter.
But Jill Easter's flame Glenn Gomez never heard her speak with disdain about Kelli Peters, the target of the planted drugs in a bid to get her arrested, according to a police detective.
Testimony revealed Gomez even wore a wire to secretly tape Jill Easter, but she never admitted to doing anything wrong. That wouldn't come until last month in court, when the 40-year-old cut a plea deal that had her copping to false imprisonment in exchange for 120 days in jail.
Kent's trial continues ...
5 Fun Facts About Mom-from-Hell Jill Easter
UPDATE NO. 2, NOV. 14, 6:04 P.M.: Paul Anderson of City News Service covered Kent Easter's testimony in court today, and it is so entertaining you have to read it for yourself:
By PAUL ANDERSON
City News Service
SANTA ANA (CNS) - A 40-year-old Irvine attorney accused of helping his wife frame one of the PTA leaders at their son's school testified today that he was mostly satisfied with the way issues involving the boy's supervision in an after-school program were handled, but his "pushy" wife badgered him to do more.
Prosecutors say Kent Easter helped his now-estranged wife get the PTA volunteer, Kelli Peters, arrested by Irvine police in February 2011 by planting drugs in the woman's vehicle. He is charged with felony false imprisonment and could face up to three years in prison if convicted.
Easter testified that the issues with the supervision of his son came to a head one afternoon in 2010 when the youngster was left alone with a tennis coach.
The attorney said he met with the principal of Plaza Vista School in Irvine and officials with the nonprofit organization that ran the program and concluded nothing "inappropriate" happened with the coach.
The defendant said he felt further mollified when he was told of plans to hire more volunteers to supervise the children. But despite the reassurances about reforms to the program, he said he was still "concerned with the way Ms. Peters had been speaking with my son."
Peters was "getting frustrated with the kids" in the program and "leaving them outside to discipline them," Easter testified. "To me, that didn't seem to be the right way to handle that problem."
When defense attorney Thomas Bienert Jr. asked him how his wife felt, the defendant said, "Frankly, she was getting more emotional, more heated about it and having less patience."
Jill Easter, who is also an attorney but inactive, pleaded guilty earlier this month to false imprisonment and was sentenced to 120 days in jail and 100 hours of community service.
Kent Easter said his spouse was "getting less satisfied with each conversation we had with" school officials. She accused them of not taking the issue "seriously" and felt she was being "slandered," he testified.
Eventually, the couple pulled their son out of the program and got a refund. But "she thought I had let her down and didn't push hard enough on this," the father testified, adding his wife wanted Peters "removed" from the program.
Jurors were shown an email she sent to her husband, saying, "I feel you were not here for me and Luke."
The email, which he received at work in March 2010, "came at me like I got hit in the head by a two-by-four," the defendant testified.
"I felt like I was being called out on the carpet ... when I thought I had been, frankly, reasonable and attentive to the situation," he said.
He said his wife included in the email a list of eight "demands" that she wanted done by the next day, including a lawsuit against Peters and a background check on her.
"I thought this was ridiculous, unrealistic and outrageous," Kent Easter testified.
Nearly two weeks after receiving the email, he filed the lawsuit against Peters. He said his wife wanted Peters served at the school to embarrass her, but he declined and later dropped the claim.
The two had a "fairytale romance," but a "downward spiral" began several years later, and their nine-year marriage was held together at times with "duct tape and bailing wire," Kent Easter testified.
"She kept making demands. It was one thing after another and I was trying to keep her happy," he said.
After August 2010, when he dropped the lawsuit against Peters, the PTA volunteer faded from his thoughts. "But it seemed like it was ramping up for" his wife, he testified.
"The further away from the (incident with their son), she was getting more upset with it and I was very eager to dismiss it and move on," he said.
Easter said he had undergone surgery and was not feeling well in the days leading up to the planting of the drugs. Instead of doing after-dinner homework with his son as he usually did, he said he went to bed early on Feb. 15, 2011.
At some point in the early morning hours of Feb. 16--when prosecutors allege Kent Easter drove to the victim's home to plant the prescription painkillers Vicodin and Percocet in her vehicle--the defendant said he sent a text message to his wife asking why she hadn't come to bed. She had taken their ailing daughter downstairs, but was taking longer to comfort her than expected, he testified.
He said his wife sent him a text message telling him to stop bothering her.
"At some point, I called out for her and it was quiet and she was not in the house," the defendant said, adding that he was concerned because in 2008, "I caught her cheating on me."
"I was worried she was out with some guy," he testified. "I worried about it and shut down."
Bienert told jurors at the outset of the trial that his client's wife was sending text messages to a lover the same day as the crime. The defense attorney claimed Jill Easter was mainly behind the scheme and that she planted the drugs.
Prosecutor Christopher Duff said that after the drugs were planted, "Kent Easter calls Irvine police and says there's a woman driving erratically and she may have drugs." The call was made from the lobby of the Island Hotel near the defendant's office, he said.
Bienert said his client reluctantly made the phone call because his wife "wore the pants in the family."
UPDATE NO. 3, NOV. 20, 3:15 P.M.: The news just broke that the jury in the Kent Easter trial informed the judge they are deadlocked and asked what they should do now.
Will update as events warrant.
UPDATE NO. 4, NOV. 20, 4:11 P.M.: The note sent by the judge to the jury about an hour ago indicated all but one juror agree on a verdict, but it's unclear if that's in favor of conviction or acquittal.
The judge sent the jury home, asking them to try again tomorrow (Thursday).
UPDATE NO. 5, NOV. 21, 2:03 P.M.: Orange County Superior Court Judge Carla M. Singer just declared a mistrial in Kent Easter's drug-planting trial because jurors could not break an 11-1 vote in favor of conviction.
Singer had order the jurors, who told her of the deadlock Wednesday, to return today and resume deliberations again in hope of reaching consensus today. They came back this morning and told the judge that was hopeless.
The jury foreman had said the seven-woman, five-man panel started out 8-3 with one undecided Wednesday but later shifted to 11-1, City News Service reported.
Everyone except the dismissed jury is due back in court Dec. 5 to discuss whether there will be a re-trial.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss OC Weekly's biggest stories. Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts