9/30/2011

Wash. appeals court orders new trial for Evan Savoie, convicted of killing playmate in 2003

YAKIMA, Wash. — The Washington state Court of Appeals ordered a new trial Thursday for a boy who was tried as an adult and convicted of murder in the death of a 13-year-old playmate in 2003.

Evan Savoie, of Ephrata, was sentenced to 26 years in prison for the death of Craig Sorger, a developmentally disabled boy who was last seen playing with him in a recreational vehicle park. Sorger's body was found with dozens of stab wounds.

Savoie and a third playmate who was also charged, Jake Eakin, proclaimed their innocence for two years, but Eakin ultimately testified against Savoie in a plea deal.

Both were 12 at the time of the death.

Attorneys for Savoie, now 20, appealed his conviction on grounds that the Grant County Superior Court violated his right to a public trial and erred in appointing counsel for Sorger's parents.

Early in the case, defense attorneys theorized someone else had killed Sorger, including possibly a family member, and requested mental health and other records related to the family. The court approved the release of some records, but the Grant County prosecutor's office inadvertently released all of them.

The prosecutor's office then proposed — and the court appointed — an attorney to represent the family's interests but who would not be heard in the criminal matter.

But that attorney appeared in the criminal case multiple times attempting to stop further distribution of the family records and seeking return of the records, the ruling said. At one hearing, the attorney successfully moved to have the court closed to the public to argue why the court should order the immediate return of the records.

Savoie's attorneys argued on appeal that his right to a public trial was violated. The state conceded the error but argued a new trial was not necessary.

"The closure was intended to protect the Sorgers' interest, not Mr. Savoie's interests, and he strenuously objected," the court ruled. "Accordingly, the closure violated Mr. Savoie's right to a public trial."

Grant County Prosecutor D. Angus Lee said his office would consider its options, which include petitioning the state Supreme Court for discretionary review or retrying the case, and consider the wishes of the Sorger family.

The Sorger family declined comment to The Associated Press.

Lee did not handle the case. He was appointed in 2009 to complete the remainder of the term for former Prosecutor John Knodell, who was elected judge. Lee was elected to a full term as prosecutor the following year.

Lee also said he expects the case, if tried again, would have the exact same result.

"This ruling by the Court of Appeals has nothing whatsoever to do with the facts of the case, the evidence of the case," Lee said. "It's unfortunate that it was tried very, very well and may have to be tried again many years later because of an error by the court."

Attorneys for Savoie did not return a telephone message seeking comment.

The case garnered national attention, in part because of the age of the defendants, but also due to the viciousness of the killing.

Lisa Sorger, the victim's mother, called police after Craig did not come home from playing at the park. An officer found his body among leaves and brush. Blood was found on the clothing of both playmates, who repeatedly changed their stories.

Both boys kept silent for two years. Eakin eventually led officers to the pond where he claimed Savoie had disposed of the murder weapon — a knife — and he then pleaded guilty to the lesser charge. The weapon matched a knife tip that had been left in the victim's skull.







Our mission is to place a national spotlight upon the nations approach to juvenile justice, and to place faces and stories to the children that were waived, and thereby, held to an adult standard in the courtroom and then sent to adult prisons. Our mission is to end the practice of sentencing children to life without the possibility of parole, and to reduce the harm caused to children in adult prisons by supporting legislation that will make those who were sentenced as children eligible to have their sentences reviewed at some point during their incarceration. Advocates for Abandoned Adolescent's mission is to introduce concerned citizens to effective ways in which they can contribute to enhancing the quality of juvenile justice, to create chapters of A.A.A. in every state coast to coast. To organize and coordinate a national synchronized protest on all fifty state capitals on the same day, at the same moment and unified under the A.A.A. banner. Advocates for Abandoned Adolescents - Our Mission is to do better!

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