Kent and Jill Easter

Most of the cases that I choose to blog about involve the murder or at the very least presumed murder of someone.  There have been a few in which I have blogged about that did not have that aspect, but even then I am not sure I have blogged about a case like this one.  One thing I found interesting was just how interesting I found the story.  In fact, I have more notes on this case than many of the others I have blogged about.  This case does not even involve someone being physically injured.  But, I think what I find most interesting about the case is not just the stupidity of the perpetrators but the tenacity of the investigators involved.  This case could have very well ended very differently.  Oftentimes officers in areas in which few crimes are committed are chastised for their efforts and abilities.  The difference here is that many of the officers, and even the prosecutor in the case had spent time in their careers in much bigger, crime ridden areas than Irvine California where this case took place.  They knew a criminal when they saw one, and knew when something seemed off.

In February of 2011 police received a 9-1-1 call from a man described as having an Indian accent.  He was reporting that his daughter went to school at the upscale Plaza Vista Elementary School and that he had seen a woman, well known to the school, Kelli Peters driving erratically in the parking lot just minutes earlier (around 1:15 pm) and drugs were suspected.  The caller would go on to give the dispatcher a description of Kelli's car and even down to the words written on her license plate holder.

Kelli Peters was a well known person at the elementary school.  She was the PTO President but she had been a volunteer at the school for years.  She ran their after school program and even had her own desk in the office of the school.  When officers arrived at the school they asked for Kelli by name and someone went to retrieve her.  

Being told there were officers at the office for her Kelli was frantic by the time she got there.  Her husband traveled for work and she was convinced he must have been hurt in some manner.  Officers quickly calmed her down and told her this was not about her husband.  They asked if she would step outside with them.  She did so willingly and noticed that a police car was sitting just behind her vehicle.  The officer began to tell her about the call and she would proclaim that by that time she had already been inside the school for quite some time. Witnesses would say that she was inside by at least 12:40, some thirty-five minutes prior to the call.  The officer asked the confused woman if he could search her vehicle and the readily complied, handing him her keys.  

It took the officer no time before he saw, not just found, a bag sticking out the pocket behind one of the front seats.  He pulled the bag out.  Inside would be about 17 grams of marijuana and a pipe.  He checked the pocket some more and came up with two baggies full of pills.  One would be confirmed to be Vicodin and the other, Percocet.  Of course Kelli Peters would see these and the officer had to ask questions but it was her demeanor that struck the officer. Kelli became almost hysterical at the find and begged the officer, who had placed the drugs on the back of his vehicle to put them inside and out of sight.  People were around in the parking lot already watching and her daughter would be coming out soon.  In the middle of all of this she flatly denied that the drugs were hers.  

In a normal situation Kelli Peters would have been handcuffed and arrested right then but the officer felt something was off with this.  The first odd thing to strike him as odd, although digging deeper there would be way more, was the marijuana bag.  He had worked for the "big city" and had been involved in drug busts in the past and he knew that people who used marijuana generally did not store their pipe in the bag with their "stash."  Secondly, it thought it very odd that the bag was located where it was.  Generally people hide things like this in their glove compartment or under the seat, they do not leave them in the way these were found.  He decided to do a little more digging before he went further. He started with giving Kelli several "field" tests for sobriety.  If she was driving erratically, a short time before, then surely there would still be signs, even if it was simply in her eyes. Kelli passed all of the tests.  Next the officer asked if he could search Kelli's home.  He was interested in the bags in which the pills had been found. They seemed a bit unique as they had the imprint "EZY Dose Pill" on them.  He figured if he could find those bags in her home he could connect her to those.

Once again, although now rather scared and nervous, Kelli agreed to the search and led the way to her home.  Inside the officer could find nothing. Not only did he not find any drugs but he also did not find any of the baggies.  The officer was truly confused but Kelli was not off the hook just yet.  He informed her that he was sending a forensic unit to her home to take a sample of her DNA.  He let her know that he was not going to arrest her but that if her DNA was found on the items to expect his return.  He also asked her if she had any enemies or knew of anyone who would want to frame her.  Her first instinct was to name Jill Easter, a parent at the school.  Then she wondered about another parent who lived across the street from the school and seemed a bit bizarre.  Others agreed, including the police, that the man did seem quite unstable and his involvement would be possible.

The strange man across the street was quickly ruled out. But Jill Easter and Kelli Peters had a bit of history and in Kelli's mind she had "got her" just as she said she was going to.

Just about a year prior Kelli Peters had met Jill Easter for the first time.  Easter had come to pick her son up from the after school program that Kelli ran but he had not been out front waiting as he should have been.  Kelli had made a comment that the boy had apparently been "slow to lineup."  Jill Easter took this as an insult to her son's intelligence and was angry.  It was discovered that inadvertently the Easter's son had not made it inside the school with the rest of the group.  One of the coaches at the school had found him a few minutes later and taken him inside and then outside to where his mother and Kelli were waiting.  

From that time on Jill Easter had apparently done all that she could to get Kelli removed from volunteering at the school.  She first started writing letters to the school claiming that her son had been traumatized when he was left unattended outside for nearly "twenty minutes" and pushed for them to "fire" Kelli from her volunteer work.  She also claimed in these letters that Kelli had insulted her son's intelligence and listed his achievements that proved differently.  For their part the school did look into the situation and discovered the twenty minutes Easter was claiming was more like four or five and they stood behind Kelli. Next Jill Easter began approaching parents outside the school basically to take her side to have the school remove Kelli.  The school stopped this from continuing. When she failed to get anywhere with the school she called the police who investigated the situation and decided that a crime had not been committed. Jill Easter had even gone to court to attempt to get a restraining order against Kelli Peters claiming that she was stalking and harassing her and her son.  The judge denied the request.  

After getting one door after another slammed in her face, and finding that her law degree was not helping her (she became a stay at home mom when she began having children and had given up practicing), she had her attorney husband, Kent, file a civil suit against Kelli Peters claiming she had caused intentional infliction of emotional harm and stress to their child and accusing her of "false imprisonment."  During this whole ordeal the school was continuing to stand behind Kelli Peters.  The Easters dropped the civil suit when the school implemented a head count rule and gave the Easters a refund on tuition.

For Kelli she thought that was the end of it, but now here she was facing possible legal trouble and complete embarrassment and humiliation.  For the next few years Kelli would seek therapy for the anxiety she was suffering from.

In the meantime officers were looking into the case.  They started with the 9-1-1 call.  Three things jumped out at them.  First, the caller seemed to have so much more information about Kelli than a normal caller would.  Secondly, when they tried calling the number the caller gave as a call back number it was a fake number.  But, the biggest thing of all was that when the caller began talking they seemed to have a normal American accent.  After stating their name as "VJ Chandrasckhr (and spelling it) the caller not only began to stutter but also seemed to take on an Indian accent suddenly.  

The first step when dealing with the call was to check the school records.  The caller said he had a daughter at the school.  They found no such name listed anywhere in their records.  Next they traced the call to the lobby of a hotel in nearby Newport Beach.  Officers went to the hotel and observed their surveillance cameras.  Initially they were looking for the man who lived across the street from the school but they did not find him.  Officers would soon learn that Kent Easter was a member of a law firm that was located just across the street from the hotel and school officials would identify him on the hotel camera entering just before the call was made.

There were some in the police department that had to admit that it was looking more and more like the Easters were involved in this despite their belief that attorney's could not be this stupid.  On March 4, 2011 the police obtained search warrants for Kent Easter's law office, his car and the Easter home, that was just a mile from the Peters' home.  This was not going to be super easy however because considering that much of the things involving Easter would be confidential to the clients of their firm.  Officers had to bring in a special investigator who would go into the office and determine what would be relevant to the case and what was confidential before turning it over.  

The searches would take place by two different teams at the exact same time so the Easters could not warn each other as to what was happening.  For those involved with Kent Easter they would meet him in the parking garage of his law firm.  He seemed to be rather cooperative in the beginning but officers noticed that as time went on and their questions became more accusatory Kent Easter's voice took on tone of stuttering, much like the 9-1-1 caller had done.  They knew they were on to something when they searched his car and found a baggie with the same EZY dose written on it.  

Meanwhile officers were sitting outside the Easter home waiting to conduct their search when they noticed a truck come by.  The driver of the truck was Glen Gomez.  They then saw Jill Easter emerge from her home in a negligee, notice the officers and return to her home.  Officers would stop Gomez' truck and learn that he was a firefighter, married with children and had been having an affair with Jill Easter.  Without giving away their entire hand that attempted to get Gomez to help them.  He would finally consent a few days later in wearing a wire.

But, they still had the house to search.  Not a lot seemed to have been found inside the home aside from a book that Jill had self published recently called "Holding House" under the pen name Ava Bjork. It was a fiction story but even to the officers it seemed based on Jill's life and experiences.  The main character was a female attorney in the Bay City Area.  Much of the language, and the attitude of the female lead seemed to mirror Jill's idea of revenge and vengeance.  

Neither of the Easters were arrested on the day of the searches.  Glen Gomez would wear his wire near the end of the month, he said to prove she was innocent, but admit his own curiosity.  Jill Easter admitted nothing during the wire but officers and Gomez began to see what appeared to be Jill Easter's personality shine through.  Gomez told her that investigators were talking to him and that he just could not risk being involved with her at that time and all that it could cost him.  Jill Easter became irate with Gomez accusing him of leaving her at a time in which she needed him, among other things.  It appears that he did not completely break things off with her at that meeting but that his eyes had been opened and soon he did just that.  For her part Jill Easter was not going to be treated in that manner and went to Gomez's wife and told her about the affair, bringing emails and photos with her.

For the next year officers were continuing to build their case against Kent and Jill Easter.  For their part it does not seem they were bothered and neither were Kent's employers.  He was promoted in the law firm and was netting about $400,000 a year.  Kelli Peters was not doing so well.  Officers had contacted her and let her know that they were building a case against the Easters to as ease her stress but they made her promise not to tell anyone so the Easters were not set off.  I am sure the longer the time went the less the Easters thought authorities had and by the time they were arrested in June of 2012 they likely thought this was all in their past.

Authorities had confiscated both of the Easters' cell phones.  Once again they had the problem of how they could search, at least Kent's phone.  They brought someone in again to go through things to make sure only the relevant information was shown and nothing confidential got out.  They isolated a time period of the early morning hours of the day the drugs were found in Kelli Peters' car.  They found that while Jill's phone was pinging off a tower near their home, Kent's phone was pinging off of one near the Peters' home. They discovered fifteen texts had been passed between the two of them but as far as I could tell since the couple had deleted these texts officials were unable to retrieve what had been said. Forensics also came back on the things found in Kelli's car.  Kent's DNA was found on the pipe and both the pill bags.  Jill's was found on one of the pill bags and the pipe.  They had their evidence.

Kent and Jill Easter were charged with felony false imprisonment.  Now earlier I was discussing this case with my husband and mentioned this charge and he said "you mean false informing?"  I replied no.  They were able to get this charge because any time in which Kelli Peters was detained from leaving, or even had to spend dealing with these legal aspects implied "imprisonment." Of course the ultimate goal for the Easters was obviously to have Kelli Peters arrested and as I stated earlier in any other situation that is exactly what would have happened.  However, the hours that she spent with the officer at the school and then in the search of her home while not under arrest she really had no choice but to deal with the situation.

Jill would plead guilty to the charges in October of 2013 and receive sixty days in jail.  She would return home quickly to her three children. To show how serious this seemingly "unserious" crime was taken by authorities in the area Kent would face two trials.  His first would end in a mistrial when the jury voted 11-1 to convict him.  In September of 2014 he would be convicted and would ultimately serve a total of 87 days in jail.  Now to many I am sure they wondered why so many man hours were put into this case, let alone two trials. Those involved would say it was a matter of principal. Not only had the Easter's set an innocent woman up, hoping she would likely spend significant time in jail as well as be removed from the school, they thought their status as attorney's made them smarter than everyone else.  Well neither are attorney's anymore. Jill was disbarred and at last check Kent's license had been suspended.

I should note here that Kent's defense at his trial claimed that he only made the phone call at the behest of his wife, who he was having marriage problems with and that he no idea about the drugs.  Jill would be portrayed as an overbearing and controlling woman with a temper.  The defense, for whatever their reasons were decided to call her as a witness. She got to the stand and proclaimed she could not hear the questions being asked of her and requested that her attorney, and an interpreter (using sign language) be available.  This is all while she simply stared ahead as if in a daze.  Her attorney came and then it was demanded that she have a teleprompter.  It was then that the judge became angry.  Although there had been statements that she had a hard time hearing there was none stating she was deaf, as she was now appearing (and to be fair I saw no reference of this in the middle of 2016 when she appeared on the Dr. Phil show).  The defense decided that considering her attitude they were no longer going to use her which was smart on their part because it appeared they may have been surprised and more damaged if she had continued.

But, it was not over!  Kelli Peters would argue that not once did either of the Easter's so any remorse or express that they were sorry. For her part her entire family had been affected by this emotionally and legally.  She would file a civil suit against the couple.  By February of 2016 when her case went to court the Easters had divorced and Jill had even changed her name.  She was now known as Ava Everheart.  I did a bit of a search on when this occurred and why but I was unable to get any information. One can only assume she did so in order to distance herself from this crime, although since her new name got out and she has since appeared on the Dr. Phil show I am unclear as to the reason.  

A jury would award Kelli Peters and her family 5.7 million dollars in her case. The bulk of the award would be split between the Easters for punitive damages. Kent would be ordered to pay 1.5 million while Jill would be ordered to pay 2.1 million.  The remaining 2.1 million would presumably come from both defendants and be paid as compensatory damages to Kelli, her husband and her daughter.  The funny things is how both of the Easters behaved through the trial.  They would both represent themselves.  Depositions had been taken prior and Kent Easter was still claiming as he had at his trial about not knowing about the drugs.  Although, once on the stand he did admit they had been planted still trying to claim he was not involved with that. He would also say on the stand that he felt the Peters' were "exaggerating and embellishing" their amount of suffering. He was quoted as saying "the fact that something really bad was done to a person does not give the a winning Powerball number."  For her part, despite her guilty plea, Jill was denying planting the drugs or being involved in the planting of the drugs.  They both continued to show no remorse for their actions.  

When the trial ended Kelli would be heard to say that this had never been about money and that if either of the defendants had even so much as expressed they were sorry it would not have gone that far.

In May of 2016 Jill, now known as Ava Everheart, appeared on the Dr. Phil show still denying all involvement.  All Kelli Peters could say in response was that she was "nuts."

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Matthew Heikkila

The Quinn Hanna Gray Kidnapping

Patricia Rorrer