State v. Echols

In State v. Echols, 793 P.2d 1066 (Alaska App. 1990) Echols was charged with multiple counts of sexually abusing his daughters. At the grand jury, the victims told various conflicting stories, and one of the victims (T.E.) testified that her sister (R.E.) threatened her and did not want T.E. to testify against her father at trial. The State then filed perjury and witness tampering charges against R.E. At the trial, another victim (W.E.) reverted to the first story she told the grand jury -- that she and R.E. made up the allegations that their father sexually abused them so they could have foster parents like one of their friends. R.E. indicated that she also would testify that she and W.E. made up the allegations of abuse so they would be placed in foster care. Echols told the judge that he wanted to call R.E. as a witness, but it became clear that R.E. would claim the privilege against self-incrimination if called to testify. The State refused to grant R.E. immunity so she could testify, and Echols moved for dismissal. The trial judge determined that R.E.'s testimony was critical for Echols to receive a fair trial. He found that the evidence was not available from other sources and that the State did not have a strong interest in refusing to grant R.E. immunity. Although there was a question regarding which of R.E.'s stories was actually the truth, the trial judge reasoned that the jury, as the finder of fact, could properly evaluate R.E.'s credibility. In reviewing the case, the Court focused heavily on the unusual facts and balanced Echols's interest in presenting R.E.'s proposed testimony against the State's interest in filing perjury charges against R.E. The Court noted that W.E. told the same story as R.E., that the State was attempting to convict Echols based on W.E.'s inconsistent statements, and that R.E.'s testimony could corroborate either the State's theory or Echols's theory. In addition, R.E. was in California when she claimed she watched Echols beat T.E., and R.E. did not have any scars from her alleged beating as she had testified before the grand jury. The Court also noted that the State's interest in prosecuting R.E. was less substantial because R.E. was not a co-defendant, the State offered R.E. immunity during an earlier evidentiary hearing, and the State could prosecute R.E. for telling two different stories a t the grand jury or for perjury at trial.