New trial ordered for Orcas Island teacher due to govt. misconduct

The knowledge that led San Juan County Detective Stephen Parker to form the opinion that a 19-year-old student "seduces" and that she "set the defendant up" should have been disclosed to the defense, according to Superior Court Judge Don Eaton. Based on the government misconduct, Judge Eaton ordered a new trial for Dr. Gerald Grellet-Tinner, the Orcas Island teacher found guilty June 24, 2016 of sexual misconduct with a minor.

A new trial date of December 5, 2016 was set and Grellet-Tinner was released from jail after a hearing Tuesday, September 20, 2016.

No bond was requested. Release conditions include not contacting the former student, having law-abiding behavior and to not leave the U.S.

Grellet-Tinner was scheduled to be sentenced September 14, 2016, but two days earlier his attorney, Robert Butler, received from the county Prosecutor's office the Sigman report dated August 23, 2016. That report contained the information that led to Judge Eaton determining government misconduct had occurred.

Skagit County Detective Lori Sigman conducted an investigation at the request of San Juan County Sheriff Ron Krebs after an allegation, later recanted, was made by the former student that she was in a sexual relationship with Detective Steven Parker. She made the allegation July 28 and recanted it on July 31, 2016. Detective Parker contacted her on July 30 after he was told the allegation had been made.

The report concluded the allegation was unsustained. Skagit County Detective had "hesitations" and included a list of curious items in her report.

At the September 20 hearing, Judge Eaton stressed that the allegation played no part in his decision to grant the new trial. What did matter was the information contained in the Sigman report about a conversation Detective Parker had with Victim's Advocate Christine Miller.

The report stated that in an interview conducted by Skagit County Detective Sigman:

"Christine said Detective Parker said to her "You know she seduces people" and "you know she set him up." She said it wasn't a direct quote but the impact of what his conversation was with her."

Judge Eaton said, "A very real concern to the court, is the fact that Detective Parker divulged to Miss Miller after the crime, that he believed (the former student) seduces people and far more importantly he told Miss Miller that (the former student) set up the defendant. The state argues that it had no obligation to inform the defense of these comments because they were only opinions of Detective Parker and opinions are not admitted into evidence. While opinions of this nature are generally not admissible, these opinions had to have been based on facts that somehow came to Detective Parker's attention.

"Those facts not the opinions should have been made known to the defense. Particularly those facts that Detective Parker had learned which caused him to conclude that the defendant was set up by (the former student). It is hard to imagine any fact that can be more exculpatory than the fact that the defendant was set up by the complaining witness.

"In sum, the State had an obligation to inform the defense that (the former student) had changed her mind throughout the investigation about her willingness to testify. The state knew that and the defense didn't. The state knew that (the former student's) ambivalence was to such an extent that it made Detective Parker uncomfortable. The defense did not know that. If the defense had known these facts, it could have, and no doubt would have, made a concerted effort to determine why she was ambivalent and why her ambivalence made Detective Parker uncomfortable.. Acquiring that information would have assisted the defense in developing its trial strategy particularly in connection with its intent to focus on the credibility of (the former student) which was a highly critical aspect of the defense's case.

"And the state clearly had an obligation to inform the defense that DP had reason to believe (the former student) had set up the defendant. The defense had an absolute right to know what facts he had acquired and how he had acquired that led him to that conclusion. Those facts would have been critical to the defense in preparing for trial."

Quoting a 1995 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kyles vs Whitney, Judge Eaton said, "The prosecutor has a duty to learn of any unfavorable evidence known to others acting on the government's behalf, including the police. Whether the prosecutor fails in meeting this obligation because of bad faith or ill intent or simply fails despite the best of intentions, the result is the same. Any exculpatory evidence or credibility evidence known to state actors must be given to the defense. Here that did not happen. The cumulative effect of the non-disclosures resulted in prejudice to the defense. Prejudice results when there is a reasonable probability that non-disclosure undermines the fairness of the trial. This court is persuaded that the defendant's right to a fair trial was materially affected. In coming to this conclusion, the court finds the failure to disclose was not willful, but was instead a result of mismanagement of the information that was available."

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