Appeals Court Affirms Gainesville Conviction

Local Crime Blotters

Posted: Aug 28, 2007 02:23 PM CDT

Jorden Saager

Kim Stevens

From news release:

On Thursday, the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth handed down its decision affirming the May, 2005 conviction of Kim Stevens for capital murder by a Cooke County jury. The court rejected each of the four claims for a new trial asserted by Stevens' court-appointed counsel, Cary Piel, of Denton. Stevens challenged both the sufficiency of the evidence to support the jury's determination that she was the person who had fatally injured 2 ½ year old Jorden Saager on January 4th 2000, and three rulings concerning admissibility of evidence which visiting judge Jerry Woodlock made during the trial.

Justice Sue Walker spent most of her 100 page opinion detailing both the evidence in favor of the verdict and the opposing theory of the defense and then concluded that the jury's finding was reasonable. The court further held it was not improper for the State to utilize a closed-circuit television in order to present the testimony of Jorden's step-grandfather, who was seriously ill in Colorado at the time of the trial. Defense attorney, Roger White, had argued this was not a sufficient means for Stevens to confront Ward, a right given to her under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Court of Appeals said the absence of Ward from the courtroom made no difference, that the two way remote video link satisfied this constitutional requirement.

The court also ruled that statements made by one of Stevens' children to her therapist were inadmissible under the "hearsay rule", which can prohibit one person from relating what another has said. But, the court found that since the child testified at trial and could be questioned about her earlier statement, there was no harm to Stevens, even if the record did not sufficiently show the child knew the importance of being truthful at the time she reported seeing her mother abuse Jorden. In a footnote, Walker noted that the State also made a strong argument that the earlier statement was admissible as a statement consistent with the witness' testimony at trial.

On the final legal point raised by Stevens, the court determined the trial judge could properly refuse to let the jury hear certain evidence Stevens thought might raise the specter that Jorden's father was the person who had caused her injuries. There was no sufficient connection shown between the evidence and any actual abusive use of force by Lloyd Saager.

The State was represented both at trial and before the appellate court by Assistant Attorney General Lisa Tanner, a member of the Prosecutor Assistance Division of the AG's office. District Attorney Cindy Stormer was a witness at the trial against Stevens as she had taken Stevens deposition and investigated her in connection with a suit brought by the Child Protective Service against Stevens in which Stevens children had been removed from her home for their safety. Stormer explained that "ethical rules prohibit a lawyer from serving as both an advocate and a witness in a case because of ‘the possible confusion that those dual roles could create for the finder of fact.' The rules further say that where the elected district attorney is disqualified from handling a case so are all other attorneys in her office. The prosecutor assistance division is available as a resource to address this type of problem. Lisa Tanner is very experienced and did a superb job for Cooke County." Stormer continued: "When I investigated the case initially years ago (I was in private practice and representing the children of the defendant), I was told by representatives of the five different Child Protective Services agencies in five different counties that this defendant was the worst serial child abuser they had ever heard of in their careers."

The opinion of the Court of Appeals set out the Saager story in great detail explaining how the innocent parents lost custody of their own children for 15 months even though they had never had any dealings with CPS; how they had tried to get the FBI involved; how they had picketed the Cooke County Courthouse with signs stating "Justice for Jorden", and called detectives every week for a year and a half without success.

Stevens was not arrested until 2003 and not indicted until December of 2003. Portions of the State's investigative file were missing when the case was finally brought to trial over five years after the death.

This case has received national attention with Lloyd Saager being featured on Glen Beck of CNN. The case has also been covered by numerous publications such as Indian Country Today (Sioux Nation news), Dallas Globe, Hope4KidZ, etc.

Jorden Saager's picture is in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. honoring murdered children.

Emphasis added by H4K Editor