OGDEN -- The second of two factual innocence cases in the Ogden courts is now on a track toward settlement, not trial.
Kevin George Peterson, 45 (seen right), filed suit against the state of Utah in 2008, seeking damages after serving 15 years in prison for crimes he has always claimed he is innocent of.
He is likely the first to file under the 2008 Factual Innocence Act, which sets the legal process and the financial compensation formula for the wrongfully imprisoned.
Debra Brown was the first inmate found innocent under the statute in May last year, a ruling by Ogden 2nd District Judge Michael DiReda, who ordered her release from prison. She was convicted of murder in 1995. The Utah Attorney General's Office has appealed DiReda's ruling to the Utah Supreme Court, holding up the state's payment of $570,780 to Brown.
Brown spent 14 years in prison after a year in jail awaiting trial. The law has a 15-year cap that covers only prison time, so Peterson may be due a larger amount.
In June, officials formally canceled Peterson's factual innocence trial, which had been set for August before 2nd District Judge Scott Hadley. The Utah Attorney General's Office has now agreed to enter into mediation with Peterson's lawyers before Judge W. Brent West, the senior judge in the 2nd District. Proceedings have been stayed until February to allow the mediation sessions, according to court records.
As to whether mediation amounts to a concession by the state's lawyers, Jason Richards, Peterson's co-counsel, said, "I don't think they would label it that. But it's certainly a welcome turn of events for us."
The Attorney General's Office declined numerous requests to comment. Richards said Judge Hadley first suggested mediation as a possibility in December, and by May the state said it would be willing to try mediation.
"The effort to go to mediation shows a willingness to compromise on both sides," Richards said. The actual mediation time has yet to be scheduled because officials want a whole day set aside, Richards said, and so far coordinating schedules of the four different lawyers involved has been difficult.
"We don't know what impact the Debra Brown appeal might have, but it's not forestalling this case," Richards said.
Peterson, 54, formerly of West Haven, was sent to prison in early 1993 on second-degree felony child sexual abuse charges alleging sexual contact short of rape. He moved back to the Ogden area when he was released from prison in November 2007.
The suit includes sworn affidavits from Peterson's two children, who say they were coerced by their mother and stepfather to tell authorities their father sexually molested them. The son and daughter were 11 and 9 at the time.
Peterson pleaded no contest to the second-degree felony charges in 1993, meaning he denied guilt but couldn't defeat the state's evidence in the form of his children's testimony.
His refusal to admit his guilt to the state Board of Pardons ensured he would do the entire 15 years of his one-to-15-year sentence.
The whereabouts of the ex-wife and stepfather are unknown, and any prosecution of them would have statute-of-limitation problems.