Appeals court upholds dismissal of rape case against Laurel School softball coach

April 13, 2018 GMT

Appeals court upholds dismissal of rape case against Laurel School softball coach

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- A Cuyahoga County judge was right to dismiss the rape case against a former Laurel School softball coach mid-trial after a Shaker Heights police detective lied under-oath about concealing exculpatory evidence, an appeals court has ruled.

The 8th District Court of Appeals held that detective Jessica Page acted in bad faith and deprived Mark Newton of his constitutional right to due process when she lost or destroyed evidence that could have called Newton’s guilt into question, and then didn’t tell anyone about it.  

“The record reflects that Detective Page lost or destroyed potentially exculpatory evidence that could have contradicted [the girl’s] trial testimony and, in attempting to conceal this fact, went so far as to lie to another detective, the prosecuting attorney and the trial court about the circumstances of its disappearance,” the court wrote.

Newton has filed a lawsuit accusing Page, the Shaker Heights police department of malicious prosecution and the former student who accused him of defamation.

That case is pending in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley’s office is considering whether to to appeal the court’s decision to the Ohio Supreme Court, a spokesman said.

The existence of the second diagram was unearthed during the girl’s testimony on the second day of Newton’s trial on two counts each of rape, sexual battery, kidnapping and abduction.

Page met with the girl in March 2015 and created a diagram of the equipment room, which depicted several buckets of softballs. Page interviewed more witnesses in the following months, including Newton and another teacher at the school whose accounts of the room contradicted the girl’s statement, Russo’s order notes. 

Page asked for another interview with the girl to discuss the discrepancies and produced a second diagram of the room. The new diagram contradicted the layout of the room and the girl’s previous statements about the attack, and it was not contained in the investigative file when Shaker Heights police gave it to prosecutors before the case went to a grand jury.

Assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor Maggie Kane had asked Page in an email about a month before Newton’s trial was set to begin about a possible second diagram.

“If it existed, it is in the file,” Page replied

Page lied on the stand to Russo, the appeals court held. She said that she told Kane the week before Newton’s trial that she thought there was a second diagram but could not find it.

Page admitted under further questioning that she did not bring up the diagram. She said that she did not remember the second diagram until Kane asked her about one, and she claimed it never existed.

She watched video from her second interview of the girl and realized it was made and, when she couldn’t find it, she just decided not to tell Kane or her partner.

Russo dismissed the case with a strongly worded opinion saying Page “went rogue” and acted with “flagrant disregard for the laws we live under.”

Cuyahoga County prosecutors appealed Russo’s decision to the appeals court within days of the dismissal.

Newton’s lawyers, Larry Zukerman and Paul Daiker, praised the appeals court’s decision.

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“I’ve never seen a case more on point where a detective was caught destroying evidence that was helpful to a defendant,” Zukkerman said. “If not this case, than what case?”

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