|Scott J. Wells|
How did four girls concoct stories of child sexual abuse that were so dubious a judge overturned his own guilty verdict in State of Missouri v. Scott J. Wells (No. 31302CF5509) -- a case where the defendant was the biological father of two complaining witnesses, the step-father of one, and the uncle of a fourth? The answer is not 100-percent clear, but the public record suggests the stories of abuse surfaced after Mr. Wells' ex wife, Cynthia Hedrick, informed at least two of the girls that she wanted her new husband to adopt them -- and Scott Wells refused to go along with the idea.
The record also indicates Ms. Hedrick testified falsely about the adoption plans, and Scott Wells' defense attorney -- my brother, David Shuler, of Springfield, MO -- failed to drive that point home to the trier of fact (Judge Don Burrell, who oversaw a bench trial in the case.)
What can happen to a father who refuses to turn his children over for adoption? The Scott J. Wells case -- with my brother providing what a court found to be ineffective assistance of counsel -- suggests such a father can face false allegations of child sexual abuse that bring him to the edge of ruination.
The adoption issue arises at several places in the case file, first when Wells' second attorney (Daniel Dodson, of Jefferson City, MO) sought a new-trial hearing that included testimony about David Shuler's inadequate work as a defense lawyer -- which had his client looking at a likely punishment of five life sentences, plus 55 years.
Following is testimony from Dodson's examination of David Shuler at the new-trial hearing. It begins on page 110 in the third document embedded at the end of this post. (The other documents are Part 1 and Part 2 of Dodson's testimony in the legal-malpractice case.). Dodson asks Shuler to read from a transcript of Cynthia Hedrick's testimony. We begin with Shuler's response:
Shuler: "And isn't it true that you were the one that told Brittanie [complaining witness, Brittanie Wells] that she could be adopted? You wanted your new husband to adopt her, isn't that true? Answer: "No." "Isn't it true that you would adopt her or rather that your new husband, Jeff, would adopt her?" "No." "You didn't tell them that?" "No."
Dodson: Okay. One of the things that you tried to present to the Court as a reason why these girls might be making something up would be to please their mother and her desire to have Scott step out of the picture and allow her new husband to adopt them. Is that correct?
Dodson: Okay. She basically shot you down at that point and denied that that was the case. Is that not correct, also?
Shuler: That's correct. she denied that, consistently, I believe.
Dodson then turns his attention to a document where Courtney Wells [another complaining witness] states that her mother (Cynthia Hedrick) wanted her new husband (Jeff Hedrick) to adopt Courtney, so that the child would not see Scott Wells again. Dodson's examination of David Shuler on this issue begins on page 112 of the third document embedded at the end of this post.
Dodson: Courtney, in this case?
Shuler: Courtney? Okay, yes.
Dodson: Okay. So would that not have been an opportunity, had you been familiar enough with this document, to call Cindy Hedrick on her denial that she's discussed these issues with the girls by saying obviously, here Courtney knew about that. "Where would she have gotten that idea, for instance?" I believe the transcript part is questioning on Brittanie. I don't know why you didn't question on all the girls but --
Shuler: I don't -- I guess I'm not tracking your -- I don't think she -- I don't think she denied that there was ever discussion of adoption, but I guess she's saying she didn't.
Dodson: Well, you asked -- actually, this is -- isn't it true that you were the one who told Brittanie she could be adopted and then later isn't it true that you told Courtney you would adopt her and your husband would adopt her? Is this not an indicator that at least discussions had been had on that subject?
Shuler: Yes --
Dodson: And --
Shuler: -- it is.
Dodson: Somewhat of value in impeaching Cynthia Hedrick in her denial that there was any motive that could have caused some untruth on the part of the complaining witnesses?
Shuler: Somewhat, yes.
Was that the last time the adoption issue came up in the Scott Wells matter? Nope. It arose again when Wells brought a legal-malpractice case against David Shuler. At that point, Daniel Dodson was serving as an expert witness for Wells, and he had plenty to say about Shuler's failure to pursue impeachment of Cynthia Hedrick on what might have been the single most important issue in the criminal case.
(To be continued)
Previously in the series:
* Court finds Missouri lawyer David Shuler provided ineffective assistance of counsel (11/13/18)
* Missouri attorney David Shuler took no action at trial . . . (11/27/18)
* David Shuler, unable to react to false testimony that Scott J. Wells had scars on his penis . . . (12/4/18)
* Expert testifies that Missouri lawyer David Shuler did not believe in his own client . . . (12/10/18)