The saga of Jill and Kent Easter, an attorney couple-turned-criminals over a spat with a parent at their child's Irvine elementary school, is made for the big screen, as in the farcical sitcom sequence in Natural Born Killers. Tonight, we'll have to settle for the small screen, but not in an over-the-top Lifetime movie as you might expect.
The Easter story will be featured on ABC's 20/20 at 10 p.m. “It's natural for parents to be concerned about their child's well being at school,” reads the network's teaser, “but two California parents became so angry when their son wasn't ready and waiting for afternoon pick-up that police say they went to a whole new extreme.”
When Jillianne “Jill” Bjorkholm Easter went to pick her son up at Plaza Vista School in Irvine that February 2010 day and discovered he was not with the normal group of students lined up waiting for parents, she asked parent volunteer Kelli Peters what was up. Peters explained her child was “slow,” as in tardy in catching up with the other kids being picked up. Jill Easter took it as a slur against her prodigal son's intelligence and became enraged.
The Easters filed a civil suit against Peters that a judge tossed. Next the scheme was cooked up to plant marijuana, a pipe, Vicodin and Percocet in Peters' PT Cruiser on Feb. 16, 2011.
In advance of tonight's piece, ABC has posted Kent Wycliffe Easter's 9-1-1 call to Irvine Police about Peters. (Sorry, my computer and programs are too old for me to grab the embed code.) The call is mystifying as Easter claims to have seen a female parent driving erratically in her PT Cruiser before parking it at the school. Talking over the lady dispatcher, Easter blurts out, “Drugs.” He goes on to describe seeing the driver place a paper bag behind her seat, then mentions pills. Can you read things into audio? Because it sounds to me like the dispatcher is dubious about what she is hearing.
BTW, anyone remember Easter's court testimony about not knowing drugs were planted in the car?
After he identifies himself with the Indian name of a neighbor, he is asked if he knows the identity of the parent driver. That's when he employs a hack Indian accent to say he thinks her name is “Kell-leee.” Irvine cops later showed up at the school, looked in the back of the car and saw the bag of drugs, asked for a volunteer named Kelli and briefly detained Peters. Fortunately, their questioning led to the revelation that those wacky Easters must've tried to frame Peters. The capper: Police were able to trace the 9-1-1 call to the Island Hote, which is next to Kent Easter's then-law office.
On the eve of his first trial in November 2013, his wife pleaded guilty to falsely imprisoning Peters, and a judge sentenced Jill Easter to 120 days in jail and 100 hours of community service, a punishment she completed in early 2014. Her law license was suspended in March, but by then she already had a budding career as a crime novelist.
The jury was hung 11-1 in favor of conviction at Kent Easter's first trial. He claimed through his defense at retrial that he made the call to cops to please his wife, thinking it might save their marriage as she was off having an affair with an Orange County firefighter. (He also conceded being afraid of what she might do if he did not participate in the scheme, making one wonder why he'd want to please her.)
It didn't work. The jury in September found him guilty of false imprisonment by fraud and deceit, and Judge Thomas Goethals a month later sentenced Easter to six months in jail–minus 76 days already served–three years of probation and 100 hours of community service. He was also ordered to stay away from Kelli Peters and her family.
Goethals explained he spared Easter time in prison because the state might kick loose a more hardened criminal through early release to open up a bunk for the cuckold attorney.
“In a perfect world, a world of absolute justice, I would probably send you to prison largely as a statement of disgust at what you and your wife did,” his honor told Easter.
OC Weekly Editor-in-Chief Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the alternative newsweekly’s first calendar editor.