April 23, 2014

Elyria
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Convicted sex offender asks for new trial

ELYRIA — Joel Covender’s attorney said Friday that his client is nearing the end of the road in his efforts to win a new trial on sex charges that sent him to prison for 11 years.

“I believe this is my client’s last chance,” W. Scott Ramsey said during a hearing before Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Miraldi, who has previously both agreed to the new trial and rejected the idea, only to have his decisions reversed on appeal.

Ramsey said a new trial should be granted to his client based on what he contended was judicial error made during Covender’s 1996 trial and conviction on charges he molested a former stepdaughter and former stepson.

“My client still has faith in the system that failed him in 1996,” he said.

The 9th District Court of Appeals ordered Miraldi to hold a hearing on whether evidence Covender has collected since his 2007 release from prison justifies a new trial.

Miraldi denied Covender’s request for a new trial last year, but the appeals court ruled in December that Miraldi erred by rejecting Covender’s request for a hearing to argue for a new trial.

The lengthy case has taken a number of twists and turns.

Miraldi granted Covender’s first request for a new trial in 2007, but the appeals court overturned his decision. Since that time, the judge has rejected two subsequent requests by Covender for a new trial.

The evidence Covender claimed to have found are counseling records from 1994 sessions between a Nord Center counselor and the stepdaughter that indicated the girl demonstrated a pattern of lying.

“That’s gold to a defense attorney,” Ramsey said, referring to the then-juvenile’s documented troubles with telling the truth.

Ramsey said the records were critical to Covender’s case because “there was no physical evidence, no witnesses and no other corroborating evidence” to link Covender to the crimes he was convicted of.

In its decision, the appeals court said former Lorain County Common Pleas Judge Lynette McGough, who presided over Covender’s trial, refused to allow the man’s lawyers to see the records prior to the trial itself after she determined they contained nothing that would have assisted Covenders’ defense.

“How can you say an error of law was made when we don’t even know what the records contained when the court reviewed them?” Prosecutor Peter Gauthier said.

Gauthier argued counselors who worked with the girl would not be permitted to testify regarding her credibility.

“Counselors’ jobs are not to know when kids are telling the truth,’ ” Gauthier said. “Their job is to treat them.”

The case against Covender involving his former stepson was later dismissed after the child admitted he fabricated the alleged molestation.

The stepdaughter later said she has no memory of being sexually molested, and worked to have the charges against Covender dropped.

Ramsey re-asserted Covender’s previous claims that relatives of the children including the girl’s grandmother coerced and coached them into lying about the alleged molestation.

Gauthier argued for the girl’s credibility, noting how she underwent a “withering” cross-examination during Covender’s trial by his defense counsel.

“They tried to break this child but couldn’t,” he said.

Gauthier told Miraldi “the key issue, the only issue in the case was her credibility.”

“The credibility of the victim is a huge concern,” Miraldi said.

The judge told both sides he would review related case files before making a decision.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chronuiclet.com.