See Update No. 2 at the bottom of Page 2 with Kent Easter being taken into custody pending an October sentencing hearing. Update No. 1 included details that led to his conviction.
ORIGINAL POST, SEPT. 10, 3:48 P.M.: The second time was a charm for prosecutors as a jury this afternoon found Kent Wycliffe Easter guilty in his retrial for planting drugs in the PT Cruiser of a school volunteer the Irvine attorney's wife thought had insulted their then-5-year-old son.
Easter was convicted of false imprisonment by fraud and deceit. Jurors in his first trial had deadlocked 11-1 in favor of guilt on that same felony count.
Jillianne "Jill" Bjorkholm Easter went to pick her son up at Plaza Vista School in Irvine in February 2010 but discovered he was not with the normal group of students lined up waiting for parents. She became enraged when school volunteer Kelli Peters referred to the Easter boy as having been "slow"; she meant he was slow to catch up with the other kids being picked up, but Jill Easter took it as a slur against her prodigal son's intelligence.
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. Kent Easter would call Irvine cops from the Island Hotel, which was next to his Newport Center office at the Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth law firm.
On the eve of Kent Easter's first trial in November, Jill pleaded guilty to falsely imprisoning Peters and was sentenced to 120 days in jail and 100 hours of community service, a punishment she completed earlier this year. Her law license was suspended in March.
Kent Easter's defense is he did not know his wife had planted the ripping party bag in Peters' car when he called cops with an Indian accent and under the name of neighbor, claiming to have seen Peters popping pills and driving erratically in her PT Cruiser before parking it at the school, which is where the volunteer was confronted by Irvine Police. He claimed through his defense that he made the call for his wife to please her, thinking it might save their marriage as she was off having an affair with an Orange County firefighter. The defense maintains the bizarre episode led to the couple's separation.
But prosecutors convinced jurors there was an abundance of evidence to show the couple cooked up the plan to plant the drugs and that Kent indeed did the dirty deed.
Check back for details on Kent Easter's sentencing.
UPDATE NO. 1, SEPT. 10, 6:02 P.M.: Kent Easter faces a maximum sentence of three years in state prison at his sentencing, but the date of that hearing won't be determined until another court gathering scheduled for 1:45 p.m. Thursday in Santa Ana.
The reason Easter was not immediately put in cuffs and hauled off to jail until sentencing involved a lack of care for his three children, ages 7, 8 and 11, according to Paul Anderson's report for City News Service. Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals questioned why Easter had not made arrangements prior to today, considering the first jury nearly convicted him. The 40-year-old and his attorney Thomas Bienert Jr. explained Jill Easter was "spiraling down'' emotionally.
The couple are apparently in the midst of a divorce, with Kent living in Newport Beach while Jill lives with their children in their Irvine home. Kent told Goethals the grandparents of the children could look after them, but the judge questioned how well that would go over with Jill. In the end, Goethals gave him a day to sort it out.
The closing argument by prosecutor Christopher Duff may hold the key to why it took jurors less than an hour today to return with a guilty verdict. The defense had been Kent did not know his wife planted drugs in Kelli Peters' car and that Jill carried her husband's cell phone with her while doing the dirty deed in case police later tracked the device–essentially hanging her groom out to dry.
But Duff told jurors even if Kent did not personally plant a marijuana pipe, Vicodin and Percocet in the school volunteer's car, he should still be found guilty of false imprisonment because it was his call to police that led to Peters' detention and questioning. "He called police knowing these drugs were planted in the car," Duff told jurors. "He knew Kelli Peters didn't put those drugs in the car. His role in the crime is complete when he makes that call to police."
Not that Duff is buying that Kent was not present when the drugs were placed in Peters' PT Cruiser, which was parked in front of her home in a gated Irvine community. Phone records showed both Jill and Kent Easter's cell phones were used near Peters' home that night, indicating one Easter planted the drugs while the other served as lookout, Duff told jurors. "Does that debunk the defense's case? Yes, it does," Duff said. "The cell phone data destroys their defense."
The jury foreman later agreed, explaining the panel was convinced by the phone records that Kent helped plant the drugs, adding they were never convinced Jill was using his phone that night.
Bienert Jr. had claimed Kent Easter only made the call to get his pushy wife off his back. Easter would then testify he lied to protect Jill, explaining, "I began to think this was something my wife had done and I didn't want to incriminate her. … I just know how awful she can be."
Get in line, pal …
(Sidebar, counselor: You knew what your wife was capable of and how awful she could be, so you chose to protect her–after having chosen to follow her orders because you wanted to remain married … to that!?!)
Kent Easter had also testified that what he did was "embarrassing, foolish, not something I'm proud of," which are things he can possibly think about from behind bars soon.
UPDATE NO. 2, SEPT. 11, 3:41 P.M.: I think we'll all remember where we were on 9/11. No, not THAT 9/11, silly, but 9/11 as in today, right now, Sept. 11, 2014, when we learned that scourge of society and easy lawyer jokes Kent Wycliffe Easter was finally cuffed and led out of a courtroom.
Not free at last, not free at last, thank God almighty he be not free at last!
The hopefully soon-to-be-disbarred attorney–convicted yesterday after less than an hour of jury deliberations for planting drugs in a poor, defenseless PTA mom's car in Irvine–was taken into custody pending sentencing scheduled for Oct. 17.
Guess they found someone to watch the felon's three kids.