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The cop capital her car keys. Kelli Peters handed them over. She told herself she had annihilation to fear, that all he’d acquisition central her PT Cruiser was coffer sand, dog hair, maybe one of her daughter’s toys.

They were alfresco Plaza Vista Academy in Irvine, area she had watched her babe go from kindergarten to fifth grade, area any minute now the babe would be accepting out of chic to attending for her. Parents had entrusted their own kids to Peters for years; she was the school’s PTA admiral and the affection of its after-school program.

Now she watched as her ruin seemed to disentangle afore her. Watched as the cop emerged from her car captivation a Ziploc bag of marijuana, 17 grams worth, added a bowl pot pipe, added two abate EZY Dose Pill Accessory baggies, one with 11 Percocet pills, accession with 29 Vicodin. It was abundant to accelerate her to jail, and added than abundant to abort her name.

Her legs askance and she was on her knees, abashed berserk and bawl and insisting the drugs were not hers.

The cop, a 22-year veteran, had activate drugs on abounding people, in abounding settings. Aback caught, they consistently lied.

Peters had been accomplishing what she consistently did on a Wednesday afternoon, aggravating to breach on top of a hundred baby emergencies.

She was 49, with abbreviate albino bristles and a hardly bohemian air. As the beforehand ambassador of the Afterschool Classroom Enrichment diplomacy at Plaza Vista, she was a connected attendance on campus, addled bottomward the halls in flip-flops and ablaze sundresses, a peace-sign chaplet blind from her neck.

If she had time amidst tasks, she ability blooper into the cartooning chic to watch her 10-year-old daughter, Sydnie, as she drew. Her babe had been her account to abdicate a high-pressure job in the mortgage industry peddling loans, which she had arise to accessory with the bake of acerbic reflux.

No bulk how corybantic the clip became at school, the affliction day was bigger than that, and generally afternoons assured with a blitz of kids throwing their accoutrements about her. At 5 anxiety tall, she watched abounding of them outgrow her.

Peters had spent her adolescence in horse country at the bottom of the San Gabriel Mountains. She tossed pizzas, affronted a bend in a skate shop, flew to Hawaii on actuation and backward for two years. She alloyed mai tais at a Newport Coffer rib joint. She waited tables at a rock-n-roll-themed pasta house. A affiliated advocate — one of the audience — grew beguiled with her and showed up at her abode one night. He went away, but a faculty of vulnerability lingered.

In her mid-30s she affiliated Bill, a towering, amiable dejection artist and restaurateur who fabricated her feel calm. She spent years aggravating to get pregnant, and aback it happened her priorities narrowed.

“I became abashed of carelessness and surprises,” she said. “I aloof capital to be safe.”

In Irvine, she activate a master-planned burghal area confined and liquor stores, pawnshops and abandoned shelters had been actually purged, area neighborhoods were adapted by babble ordinances, lawn-length requirements and mailbox-uniformity rules. For its size, Irvine consistently ranked as America’s safest city. It was 66 aboveboard miles, with big affected lakes, 54 parks, 219,000 people, and 62,912 trees. Anxiety about abomination was caked into the absolute ambit of the streets and the blueprint of the parks, all conceived on cartoon boards to avert lawbreaking.

For all that outsiders mocked Irvine as a abode of antiseptic uniformity, she had become adequate in its embrace. She had been beguiled by the acceptability of the schools, which boasted a 97% college-admission rate.

The aerial biscuit bandage malls teemed with apprenticeship centers. If adjoining Newport Coffer had added apparent flourishes of wealth, like mega-yachts and ocean-cliff mansions, the cachet antagonism in Irvine — area so abounding of the big houses looked appealing abundant akin — centered on education.

Plaza Vista was a year-round accessible academy in a coveted neighborhood, and afterwards six years she knew the blueprint as able-bodied as her own kitchen. The trim campus buildings, corrective to accord with the adjacency apple tones, appropriate a medical office-park; out aback were an amoebic garden, a aggressive wall and a apple-pie able-bodied acreage belted by big peach-colored homes.

Around campus, she was the mom anybody knew. She had a acclimatized affinity with children. She could bifold them over with her consequence of Applejack, the adventurous country gal from the “My Little Pony” TV series. She would delay with them until their parents came to aces them up from the after-school program, but she couldn’t accompany herself to accomplish the dollar-a-minute backward fines.

The academy had acclimatized her a lath at the advanced office, which provided an up-close actualization of amaranthine affectionate melodramas. The moms who capital the 7th-grade algebraic abecedary accursed because their kids got Bs. Or the mom who accepted a arrangement of behemothic umbrellas and awnings to absorber her kids from the amphitheater sun.

Smile, Peters had learned. Be polite.

That afternoon — Feb. 16, 2011 — the karate abecedary had texted her to say he was ashore in traffic, and would she amuse watch the chic till he arrived? She was in the multi-purpose room, arch a array of tiny aggressive artists through their countdown exercises, aback a academy ambassador came in to acquisition her. A policeman was at the advanced desk, allurement for her by name.

She ran bottomward the hall, bedeviled by panic. She anticipation it allegation be about her husband, who was now animate as a traveling wine salesman. He was on the alley all the time, and she anticipation he’d been in an accident, maybe killed.

Officer Charles Shaver approved to calm her down. He was not actuality about her husband.

On a acclimatized shift, Shaver could apprehend to handle barking-dog calls, noisy-neighbor calls, shoplifters and car burglaries, maybe a car bones or two. He was a assassin on the Irvine Badge SWAT team, armed with cutting-edge accessories that was the backbiting of added departments, but had never bare to cull the trigger. He was 40, a aloft NCIS investigator with the Marines.

He had been seven hours into an characterless about-face when, at 1:15 p.m., a man declared badge to address a alarming disciplinarian in a academy parking lot.

“I was calling because, uh, my daughter’s a apprentice at Plaza Vista Elementary School,” said the caller. “And uh, I’m afraid one of the ancestor volunteers there may be under, uh, below the acceptance or, uh, application drugs. I was, I aloof had to go over to the academy and, uh, I was, I saw a car active absolute erratically.”

The accession said he had apparent drugs in the car. He knew the name of the disciplinarian — Kelli. He knew the blazon of car — a PT Cruiser. He alike knew the authorization plate, and what was accounting on the anatomy — “Only 4 the Groovy.”

People were afloat in and out of the academy with their kids, watching, as the policeman led Peters into the parking lot. His convoying car was blocking her PT Cruiser.

He told her about the caller’s affirmation that she had been active accidental about 1:15 p.m.

That’s impossible, she said. She had anchored her car and was central the academy by then.

Did she accept annihilation in her car she shouldn’t have?

No.

Could he chase her car?

Absolutely.

The drugs were accessible to find. They were abashed out of the accessory abaft the driver’s seat.

He put them on his hood, and she begged him to put them about else. Her babe ability see. Anyone ability see.

Someone allegation accept active them, she said. Sometimes, she larboard her car unlocked.

Shaver put the drugs in his block and led Peters aback central the school to a appointment room. He peered into her pupils and arrested her pulse. He fabricated her blow her nose. He fabricated her airing and turn. He fabricated her aing her eyes, angle her arch up and adding silently to 30. She anesthetized all the tests.

At some point her babe arrived, as did her husband. She did not apperceive what to acquaint them.

Shaver could accept arrested Peters. Possessing pot on academy area was a misdemeanor. Possessing narcotics like Vicodin and Percocet afterwards a decree was a felony. She could do time.

He could booty her to the station, alarm out by the end of his shift and be home in time for dinner. Instead, he kept allurement questions.

He was accommodating and active to detail, qualities built-in in a analyzer accomplished to lie aloft a architecture for hours, belief a window through a burglarize scope.

He interviewed academy administrators, who accepted what Peters had said. She had acclimatized at the academy appointment about 12:40. This meant the caller, who claimed to accept aloof apparent her at 1:15 p.m., had waited 35 annual to address her, a gap that puzzled Shaver.

He approved to ability the cardinal the accession had given. It was fake.

Shaver asked Peters if he could chase her apartment. She agreed, reluctantly. If accession could bulb drugs in her car, why couldn’t they do the aforementioned at her apartment?

She collection her PT Cruiser to her accommodation about a block away, while Shaver and accession administrator followed. The accommodation had a Jimi Hendrix book aloft the active allowance couch, and her daughter’s art abashed on abounding of the walls.

They had lived actuality aback affective to Irvine, added than a decade back. They had activate themselves consistently outbid in their attack to buy a home. Money had been bound aback she abdicate her job. She ran a baby business declared “Only 4 the Groovy,” painting tie-dyed jeans, but it didn’t pay the bills.

Now they were abiding renters, a activity she didn’t abundant mind, admitting she noticed how ashamed neighbors became aback acknowledging they were accommodation dwellers, not owners. “This is abandoned temporary,” they insisted. In flush Irvine, your affiliation to the absolute acreage you inhabited was one of the airy chic lines.

She watched as Shaver searched the kitchen cabinets, the bedrooms, the drawers, the couches, the patio. He was attractive not aloof for drugs and biologic paraphernalia, but for baggies that said EZY Dose Pill Pouch. He activate annihilation to articulation her to the drugs in her car.

By now, the case had absent its apparent feel. In Shaver’s experience, no one larboard a bag of pot centermost out of a bank pouch, as if allurement for it to be discovered. Bodies about hid their drugs in the cuff box, or below the car seat. And for some accuracy — he didn’t apperceive why — pot smokers didn’t about accumulate their pipes central the backing bag itself.

Peters was assertive she would be spending the night in jail. But afterwards he had accomplished analytic the apartment, Shaver told her that he was not activity to booty her in. The forensics aggregation would be advancing with the connected Q-tips to booty audacity swabs from her and her daughter, to booty their prints and to abrade the Cruiser for evidence.

If her DNA affronted up on the drugs, she could still be charged.

The aing morning, Shaver sat in the badge chief’s appointment allowance amidst by administration assumption and detectives, walking them through a case that had bound bedeviled the absorption of the command staff.

It seemed a abundant drifter book than a burghal mom with a pot-and-pill habit.

He had asked Kelli Peters:

If the drugs aren’t yours, how did they get in your car?

“I accept an enemy,” she said.

This commodity appeared in book and online on August 28, 2016. Contact the reporter: Email | Twitter

Enjoying this series? Become a Los Angeles Times subscriber today to abutment belief like this one. Get abounding acceptance to our signature journalism for aloof 99 cents for the aboriginal four weeks.

The attorneys lived in a big abode with a three-car barn and a Mediterranean clay-tile roof, on a block of absolute lawns and facades of repeating peach. The brace had three adolescent children, a cat declared Emerald and a closetful of lath games. On their nightstand were photos of their accretion in Sonoma wine country.

Kent and Jill Easter were in their 30s, and wore their aristocratic educations on their authorization plates: Stanford and UCLA Law Academy for him, Berkeley Law for her. Experts in accumulated and balance law, they had met at a Palo Alto law firm.

She had abdicate her convenance to become a calm mom in Irvine, and by actualization her circadian accepted was unexceptional: comedy dates at the association pool, sushi with girlfriends, bristles salons, Starbucks, yoga. He was logging 60-hour workweeks as a accomplice in one of Orange County’s bigger law firms, with a 14th-floor appointment overlooking Newport Beach.

The adventure Kelli Peters told badge about them, in February 2011, was a aberrant one. She was scared, and her articulation kept cracking. A year earlier, the Easters had campaigned abominably to adios her from the academy area she ran the after-school program. The affliction had annoyed her, but she anticipation it was over.

Now, afterwards a buzz tip led badge to a backing of drugs in her car, she anticipation of the Easters. She thought, “They got me.”

It had started over commodity so small.

Feb. 17, 2010, had been a Wednesday, which meant it was one of the busiest afternoons of the anniversary at Plaza Vista elementary in Irvine.

A tennis chic had aloof assured on the amphitheater abaft the capital authoritative building, and Peters — beforehand ambassador of the Afterschool Classroom Enrichment program, declared ACE — had the assignment of rounding up the kids.

She would beforehand them into the architecture through the aback aperture and duke them off to parents cat-and-mouse on the sidewalk in advanced of the school.

The Easters’ 6-year-old son had been larboard alfresco briefly, cat-and-mouse at the bound aback aperture for accession to let him in. The man who ran the tennis chic had activate him and absolved him to the advanced desk.

Jill Easter anticipation her son seemed agitated and accepted to apperceive what had happened.

Peters explained that the boy had been apathetic to bandage up, that he tended to booty his time, so this wasn’t unusual. She said she hadn’t noticed he was missing aback she biconcave up the others.

“I apologized over and over,” Peters wrote in her annual to academy officials. “I gave him a hug and I anticipation she looked like she was OK with everything.”

Easter was not OK. She seemed bedeviled on the tennis coach, by Peters’ account, and wondered whether he had affected her son. Wasn’t it aberrant that the drillmaster had brought him to the front? “I kept adage no, it’s not strange, a lot of my advisers accompany the kids up,” Peters wrote.

The chat fabricated Peters uncomfortable, and she capital to end it. “She fabricated a animadversion as I absolved abroad that she wondered how I could beddy-bye at night with the way I amusement people. I went central and started arrant I was so upset,” Peters wrote. “But the awe-inspiring activity was she never afflicted her facial expression. It was consistently the aforementioned awe-inspiring smile.”

The day afterwards the confrontation, Jill Easter complained that her son had been “crying hysterically” afterwards actuality bound out of the academy architecture for 19 minutes. She capital Peters gone.

“She told me that she blames my son because he is apathetic and he generally gets larboard abaft because it’s adamantine to delay for him,” Jill Easter wrote to academy officials. “For the record, my son is absolute intelligent, complete and able-bodied and has auspiciously alternate in abounding ACE classes. He is accepting acceptable grades and has becoming abounding awards this year. He is not mentally or physically apathetic by any standard.”

The commune ACE director, in her own belletrist on the incident, wrote that she’d interviewed the coach, as able-bodied as the Easters, and assured that “nothing happened” to the boy, who had been larboard alfresco for “closer to 5-8 minutes.”

What, then, could annual for Jill Easter’s ire? It seemed to abscess bottomward to a distinct word, misheard as an insult. The ambassador wrote that Easter anticipation Peters had declared her son “intellectually slow, not amour slow.”

Peters adored the Easters’ son. She knew him as a quiet kid, smart, decumbent to daydream, a actor in the academy arts diplomacy that she had formed adamantine to accumulate alive. He would chase up to her, appreciative of his drawings. “I anticipation he was amazing,” she said.

Peters’ accompany appropriate that maybe the boy’s adapter to her played some role in alpha the mother’s rancor. Peters did not know. “Maybe he’d go home and say, ‘Ms. Kelli, Ms. Kelli, Ms. Kelli,’” she said.

School arch Heather Phillips talked to Jill Easter by phone, the anniversary afterwards the incident. Easter said that she “didn’t appetite added accouchement to be hurt,” Phillips wrote. “She mentioned that both she and her bedmate are attorneys.”

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Phillips had abstruse that Easter was aing parents on campus to abuse adjoin Peters. This could be construed as harassment, the arch told Easter. The academy had a aphorism about civility.

“She declared that what she is accomplishing isn’t harassment, that she is actually aural her rights and that she is activity to abide until Kelli is gone,” Phillips wrote. “She additionally declared that she ability be authoritative a sticker or assurance for her car advertence what Kelli had done.”

Peters, who had volunteered for years afterwards controversy, was abominably shaken. She abashed how the absorption ability affect the school.

If you appetite me to leave, she told the principal, I will.

Of beforehand not, the arch replied.

Jill Easter accepted that the Irvine badge attending into it. They did. There had been no crime.

She requested a abstinent order, claiming that Peters was “harassing and stalking myself and my 6-year-old son,” and had threatened to annihilate her. The cloister threw it out.

Then came the civilian suit, filed by Kent Easter, claiming his son had been the victim of “false imprisonment” and “intentional accident of affecting distress.” He had suffered “extreme and astringent brainy anguish,” the clothing claimed. “The acts of Actor PETERS declared aloft were willful, wanton, malicious, and oppressive, and absolve the application of admirable and castigating damages.”

The Easters abandoned the suit. As a aftereffect of their complaints, the academy appropriate a arch adding afore accouchement were arise from the after-school program. And the Easters got a acquittance on their ACE tuition. Otherwise, the ability brace lost. The academy stood by its longtime volunteer, and in aboriginal 2011 she was adopted admiral of the PTA.

Peters addled Det. Mark Andreozzi as actually scared. Alerted by a abstruse caller, badge had searched her car in the academy parking lot on Feb. 16, 2011, and activate a backing of marijuana, a bowl aqueduct and painkillers in baggies labeled EZY Dose Pill Pouch.

Peters told badge commodity she recalled Jill Easter adage during their aboriginal confrontation: “I will get you.”

The drugs had appeared about a year to the day aback that adventure — the third Wednesday of February — and Peters did not anticipate the timing was coincidental.

Still, she could not be absolute the Easters were abaft the drugs in her car. She told badge there was accession achievability — a 43-year-old dad who lived beyond the artery from the academy and had a acceptability for affected behavior.

Police knew him well. They had responded to complaints about him abnormality assimilate campus afterwards permission, blubbering at academy staff, heckling the bridge guard, and videotaping the bridge as kids confused through it. At atomic once, he showed up in a Batman costume, masked and caped, to aces up his son.

He fabricated parents nervous; Peters had acquainted apologetic for him. But now she recalled how he’d capital her PTA job, how he’d alike asked her for copies of the bylaws. Maybe he had advised them, and knew that biologic control would disqualify her from her position.

Cops accept an breezy byword for such people, who do not actually accommodated the requirements of a 51-50, the cipher for an automated psychiatric hold. They are 51-49½, afflictive but adamantine to do annihilation about.

At the Irvine Badge Department, some cops thought, “It has to be him.” He seemed a likelier culprit than two attorneys they had never heard of.

Andreozzi was a aloft artery constable who had formed narcotics for years. He wore apparent clothes, a bristles and a half-Mohawk. As the beforehand detective on the case, he had been acclimatized carte blanche. Assurance and schools were the accompanying pillars of Irvine’s pride.

He couldn’t aphorism Peters out for biologic control aloof because she came off as sympathetic. He arrested her record. It was clean. He asked about her at the school. “Everyone loves her,” the arch said.

Andreozzi played the alarm that had summoned badge to the academy on Feb. 16, 2011. Aback the bagman asked for his name, the accession had said, “VJ Chandrasckhr” and spelled it out. The accession claimed to accept a babe at Plaza Vista, but the academy had cipher by that name.

Andreozzi listened to the alarm afresh and again. He noticed that the accession stuttered nervously, and volunteered added admonition than a archetypal accession did, as if afterward a script.

Andreozzi noticed, too, that while the accession started off speaking in accepted American English, he inexplicably acquired an Indian emphasis amidst through the chat — a faint, halfhearted one — as if aback chief the name he’d acclimatized appropriate it.

Some of Andreozzi’s colleagues believed it was Peters’ PTA rival, aggravating to beard his voice.

They traced the call. It had been placed from a wall-mounted buzz in the ground-floor business appointment at the Island Hotel, an affected high-rise resort in Newport Beach.

Det. Matt McLaughlin went to the auberge basement to abstraction surveillance footage. On the screen, bodies confused in and out of the lobby. He was attractive for the PTA rival, a 5-foot-8 Asian man in his aboriginal 40s. There was no assurance of him.

There was, however, a tall, angular bulk he did not accept — a man in a aphotic clothing who absolved calmly adjoin the business centermost aloof afore the call.

“It looks like Kent Easter,” the academy arch said, aback apparent the footage.

Andreozzi’s aggregation began afterward the Easters, acquirements their habits.

They abstruse that Kent Easter’s appointment was aloof a few hundred anxiety from the Island Hotel.

They apparent that the couple’s home on Santa Eulalia artery in Irvine was about a mile from Peters’ apartment.

They apparent that Kent Easter agitated a BlackBerry, his wife an iPhone, and that amidst 2:37 a.m. and 4:21 a.m. on Feb. 16, 2011 — aboriginal on the day the drugs affronted up in Peters’ car — the phones had exchanged 15 texts.

The iPhone had been pinging off the cellphone belfry aing the Easters’ home. The BlackBerry was pinging off a altered tower, the one a Peters’ accommodation complex, area her PT Cruiser had been anchored in the alfresco lot.

The lot had a code-activated gate, but was accessible to acceptance for anyone accommodating abundant to chase accession car in.

Every time Kelli Peters talked to police, she had a able accusable feeling. She was abiding they would ascertain every bad and semi-bad activity she had anytime done.

Like how she became balked with Irvine’s boring stoplights and did not attach religiously to the acquaint speeds. Like how she had already hurled her company-issued smartphone out her car window, on the day she abdicate the mortgage business in disgust. She was abiding they’d blunder assimilate something.

Peters activate a therapist. She declared how badge had apparent the drugs in her car, and how she had insisted over and over that they weren’t hers. How badge had not arrested her but still might, any day.

The therapist looked aporetic and said, “How did you get out of that? Cipher gets out of that.”

It occurred to Peters that her own therapist ability not accept her. She wondered how abounding added people, alike her friends, harbored doubts. She thought, “Would I accept me?”

They had formed agilely for weeks, watching the Easters, acquirements their habits, and now the detectives were able to move. Aboriginal on the morning of March 4, 2011, a baby army of Irvine badge — about two dozen — aggregate at the base to rehearse the plan. They would serve chase warrants accompanying at Kent Easter’s Newport Coffer appointment and at the couple’s home.

Andreozzi and his aggregation had debated how to get Kent Easter to talk. They had to get him alone, abroad from his colleagues. They would be absurd to belittle his intelligence. But they anticipation that a man acclimatized to acceptable with his academician ability be baffled by his acceptance in its powers.

So they would arise on gently, arena dumb. Their bend was absurd knowledge; he didn’t apperceive what they knew. The aggregation followed Easter’s Toyota Camry amalgam as he collection to assignment in Newport Beach. The vanity bowl apprehend UCLAJD1 in a Stanford University frame.

Easter had aloof pulled into the garage, into his aloof parking spot, aback Andreozzi climbed out of his car and hailed him, and was aing moments afterwards by accession plainclothesman.

Their questions were vague: Was he acquainted of annihilation that had happened afresh at Plaza Vista elementary?

At aboriginal Easter seemed blessed to talk. He had a botheration aftermost year, he said. His son had been bound out of the school, and a academy beforehand had berated him for actuality slow. He and his wife had filed complaints, but afresh confused on.

“We didn’t appetite to columnist the issue,” Easter said. “Bygones be bygones.”

They mentioned the name Kelli Peters. Easter said he had never met her, didn’t alike apperceive what she looked like.

As the questions grew added pointed, Andreozzi watched Easter cantankerous his arms. He no best seemed blessed to see the detectives.

“Are you recording this, by the way?” Easter asked.

“Yeah,” Andreozzi said.

Had he heard of annihilation accident to Peters lately? Had she been in trouble?

No.

Now Andreozzi’s partner, Det. Wayne Brannon, said, “Got any abstraction what the heck we’re talking about?”

“No.”

Brannon told Easter he had been afterward him. He had apparent him advancing out of the dry cleaners.

“You gotta ask yourself, as an accomplished man, why in the heck would I be afterward you around? ’Cause that’s all I do. I assignment in bent investigations. All I do is chase bodies around. I apprentice their little habits,” Brannon said. “You gotta alpha allurement yourself, ‘Why are we continuing in advanced of you, talking to you?’”

“I actually am.”

They told him to anticipate back, about 2½ weeks ago. Was there any accuracy he would accept been out in the baby hours of the morning?

Now and afresh he ran out for diapers, Easter said, but allowance are he was home.

Easter now looked absolute nervous, and aback he was abashed he did what the accession had done. He began to stutter.

“I appetite you to use that big academician of yours, aperture closed, listen,” Brannon told him. “At some point during this chat you’re activity to accept to accomplish a big-boy decision, and that’s gonna be on you.”

In the age of computers and technology and corpuscle phones, Brannon said, “Big Brother’s consistently watching. We’re actually not the smartest guys in the shed, OK? But we can chase the dots from one to the aing to the next.”

They knew, he said, that Easter’s buzz had been pinging in the average of the night a Peters’ apartment. And if there was DNA on the drugs in Peters’ car, they would acquisition it.

Brannon said, “I would achievement and adjure for your annual that there’s a big ablaze activity off, big accretion activity off. Knowing what I aloof told you, is there annihilation that you would like to add to your annual to me, whether abandoning or abacus annihilation to your statement?”

“I would like to get a lawyer.”

“That’s the big-boy answer.”

The chase accreditation crackled as Andreozzi pulled it out of his aback pocket. In the centermost animate of Easter’s car were some diet pills. They were in a miniature bogus baggie. The characterization said EZY Dose Pill Pouch.

This commodity appeared in book and online on August 29, 2016.Contact the reporter: Email | Twitter

Enjoying this series? Become a Los Angeles Times subscriber today to abutment belief like this one. Get abounding acceptance to our signature journalism for aloof 99 cents for the aboriginal four weeks.

Jill Easter wasn’t talking. She bounced a basketball in the driveway with her 3-year-old babe as Irvine badge confused actually through her house, snapping photos and annual notes.

Inside, detectives activate what seemed the comfortable home of acclimatized burghal parents. A barn chaotic with exercise equipment. Rooms with kids’ sports trophies, an aeroplane mobile, a awning bed active with Disney princesses.

In the accomplished bedchamber they activate a classic of Easter’s self-published novel, “Holding House,” accounting below the pen name Ava Bjork. It had aloof arise out. She smiled glamorously from the aback cover, with styled albino bristles and arresting dejected eyes. Like its author, the changeable advocate was a Berkeley-educated advocate who had activate assignment at a Bay Area firm.

She was “a accommodating woman with a appalling intelligence,” the atypical explained, adorable to men but afflicted in love. To cope with life’s stresses, she alloyed wine with Xanax. Aback wronged, the charlatan austere for revenge and activated her patient, appalling intelligence to the assignment of burdensome it.

While Jill Easter waited awfully for badge to complete their search, a added aggregation of Irvine cops had converged on a ambition a few afar away. This was her husband’s 14th-floor law office, in a architecture overlooking Fashion Island in Newport Beach.

It was March 4, 2011. Detectives were attractive for affirmation that the Easters had active marijuana and painkillers in a neighbor’s car about two weeks earlier, the affected endgame of a year-old animosity that began at an Irvine elementary school.

Police couldn’t aloof go into Kent Easter’s appointment and burglarize through his files; they were abounding of arcane admonition about his clients.

For the search, they relied on Paul Jensen, a claimed abrasion advocate who additionally served as an contributed appropriate accomplished for the courts. He would booty what looked accordant and leave the rest.

That morning, aback Jensen showed up at the Irvine Badge Administration for the operational briefing, he counted a assemblage of cops — maybe 15 or 20 — and anticipation it seemed like overkill. They were accessible for Pablo Escobar. “Kent Easter is a lawyer,” he thought. “He’s not a Mafioso.”

But now, as he went through Easter’s papers, Jensen was blessed the badge were there in force, continuing bouncer at the door. Some of the law firm’s advisers were adopting a clamor, adjoin the cops. Why are you here? What gives you the right? This is Newport Beach, not Irvine! Abandoned afterwards a cop threatened accession with arrest did things quiet down.

Neither of the Easters was arrested that day. The affirmation bedeviled included the couple’s smartphones. Detectives believed their capacity ability assure the case.

But the phones were anon bound up central the accommodation of an Orange Canton judge, area they would languish as acknowledged arguments raged.

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Easter’s aing capital his BlackBerry aback because it captivated acute applicant information. The Easters’ bent aegis attorneys capital affirmation on both phones kept from police, citation attorney-client and conjugal privileges. It was complicated abundant to accompany a case adjoin two attorneys, alike added so aback they were affiliated to anniversary other.

At times the case approached the alpha of absurdity — a mashup of Benny Hill, David Lynch and “Desperate Housewives.”

Into the story, on the absolute morning the chase warrants were served, stumbled a beefcake off-duty firefighter — Jill Easter’s affiliated paramour.

Detectives were sitting in an bare car, cat-and-mouse to acceptance the Easter house, aback the firefighter came aimless up the block and spotted them. He took off, captivation a buzz to his ear.

Jill Easter emerged from her abode in a negligee, by detectives’ account, afresh noticed the cops herself, and abrupt aback inside.

Police chock-full the firefighter as he pulled abroad in his pickup. His name was Glen Gomez. He collection an agent for a Los Angeles Fire Administration base house, 50 afar north. He said he was in boondocks to appointment “a admirable Swedish girl, her name is Jill.”

Their activity had been activity on for 2½ years. They abiding trysts, swapped absolute photos and traded exuberantly pornographic texts, cloister annal would show. She declared him her “ ninja,” “Papi” and “Mr. Delicious.” He declared her his “ goddess,” “baby girl” and “Mrs. Delicious.”

Gomez’s buzz annal showed he hadn’t been a the arena of the drug-planting, but detectives hoped to accept his help.

They were tight-lipped with details, but told him that he was in the average of commodity absolute serious, commodity that could aching both his ancestors and his career.

They kept saying, “She’ll ruin you.” He kept saying, “I adulation her.”

Would he abrasion a wire? badge asked.

On March 23, about three weeks afterwards the warrants were served, he agreed. He capital to appearance he had annihilation to hide, and seemed to accept a added motive: curiosity.

He met her in a esplanade bottomward the block from her house. She brought her two youngest children. She told them her macho acquaintance was the esplanade ranger. She told them to go play. There was a amphitheater with a sandbox, swings, accelerate and seesaw.

As lath listened in, Gomez, who had been acclimatized a apart script, told her cops had been allurement him questions. He capital to apperceive what it was all about.

She was in some affectionate of trouble, she said, but wouldn’t accord him details.

“I actually can’t acquiesce to accept this blazon of analysis because my bedmate could lose his job,” she said.

“I’m activity to acquaint them the truth. I mean, it’s not a abomination to accept a admirable girlfriend,” Gomez said. He said he anticipation they should accumulate their distance, for a while. “As abundant as I affliction for you and adulation you, it’s apparently not a acute activity for us to be, like, talking appropriate now, because of what’s activity on and stuff.”

He apprenticed her. “I aloof achievement that you are who I anticipate you are,” he said. “And I’m appealing abiding you are. I’m 99.999% positive. But aback I accept a detective calling me it makes you admiration a little bit, that’s all.”

Easter accused him of abandoning her. “I anticipation that if I anytime had some agitation in my activity or anguish that I would accept accession to angle beside me, and I don’t,” she said. “It’s a adamantine assignment to learn.”

She connected to abuse him. “I don’t alike apperceive what I need,” she said. “I allegation accession like you see in the movies to arise in and help.”

He persisted. Why were cops allurement him questions?

“Do you anticipate I know?” she replied. “I’m cat-and-mouse for accession to admonition me. I’m accident aggregate here. I don’t know.”

“Well, if you haven’t done annihilation wrong, afresh you should be fine.”

Her emphasis was growing angrier and angrier. “I’m not activity to be fine, do you accept me? Don’t aloof put your arch in the sand! This is the moment, this is aback I bare accession and you affronted your aback on me! And I will not survive this!”

Soon afterwards the chat in the park, the firefighter told police, they bankrupt up and she went “crazy.” She showed up at his Connected Coffer home and told his wife about the affair, brandishing emails and photos.

She abundant the activity in a letter to the ball flat area his wife worked, Gomez told police. It was “cleverly accounting in the third person,” according to a badge report, “as if it was a aing acquaintance of Jill’s who was autograph it.”

Irvine Badge Det. Mark Andreozzi declared Kelli Peters in backward March 2011, added than a ages afterwards the drugs were apparent in her car alfresco Plaza Vista elementary, the academy area she’d volunteered for years.

He couldn’t acquaint her much, but he capital to assure her: The administration now had able affirmation that the drugs had been planted, as she’d insisted all along.

He didn’t acknowledge what the abomination lab had aloof reported: Jill Easter’s DNA was on the pot aqueduct and the Vicodin pills, admitting not on the Percocet. And Kent Easter’s DNA was on all three.

Police insisted that Peters accumulate quiet alike about the little she did know. Annihilation she said could derail the investigation. If chat got aback to the Easters, they ability acquisition some way to stop it cold. Now and afresh badge told her, “You accept no abstraction how abundant we appetite to get them.”

Months went by, and they were boilerplate aing to authoritative arrests. Jill Easter had assassin Paul Meyer, an Orange Canton aegis advocate so appalling that lath affronted to him aback they were in trouble. Kent Easter had enlisted Thomas Bienert Jr., a aloft federal prosecutor with ability in white-collar crime.

Detectives knew that aloof about the time of the drug-planting, Kent Easter’s BlackBerry had been pinging off a belfry a the abomination scene, and that it had exchanged 15 texts with his wife’s iPhone during those predawn hours.

So far, however, aegis arguments had baffled badge from analytical whatever incriminating belletrist the phones ability contain.

Sitting in a windowless office, Jensen, the beforehand appropriate master, combed through 20,000 emails on the BlackBerry, weeding out the bags that seemed to abatement below attorney-client and advocate work-product privilege.

What he was not able to do, he told the judge, was to awning the phones for conjugal privilege, and with this assignment still baffled in backward October 2011 — added than eight months afterwards the abomination — he insisted he was done with the case. He had a convenance to run. “I never in a actor years anticipation it would be like this,” Jensen said later. “I put in a Herculean bulk of work.”

The commune attorney’s appointment did added screening, and in November detectives got a backing of “non-privileged” Easter texts. To their chagrin, the best advancing ones — the 15 predawn texts — had been asleep afore the phones were seized.

At the Irvine Badge Department, the annoyance was climbing. The prosecutor, Deputy Dist. Atty. Lynda Fernandez, seemed ashore in a captivation arrangement as the cloister advised whether to absolution added evidence.

A year passed. The badge investigation, including the awkward chase of his office, had not afflicted Kent Easter’s career. His aing declared him an disinterestedness partner, acid him into a allotment of the profits.

For Kelli Peters, it was a time of backwardness and dread. In the mornings, she searched her car anxiously for drugs. At Plaza Vista elementary, area she still had a lath in the advanced office, bodies were consistently bringing her cakes and cogent her she was in their prayers. Now and afresh she saw Jill Easter arrive, attractive rushed, to aces up her son. Peters acquainted a arctic and looked away.

Her daughter, Sydnie, who affronted 11 that year, banned to beddy-bye alone, fearing she would be abducted. At recess, Peters would acquisition her sitting abandoned or abnormality the yard, talking to herself. At the school’s insistence, Peters beatific her to the academy therapist and came to affliction it, because it meant Sydnie was actuality pulled out of chic and fabricated to feel alike added like a spectacle.

Peters bought her a sketchbook to backpack at school, and her babe hid abaft it, cartoon superheroes and ponies. Peters asked added moms to amuse animate their kids to comedy with her, but this fabricated her babe feel pitied, and eventually she was allurement to leave the school.

Anxiety pervaded every hour. Aback Peters came home, she abrupt to her door, abashed accession ability be ambuscade in the hallway. Her bedmate would acknowledgment from assignment to acquisition her crying.

Peters slept fitfully, apparitional by dreams in which Jill Easter was slashing her throat. In her animate hours she activate her calmly diplomacy her bandage protectively about her neck. She apparent a baldheaded atom on her scalp. She got off Facebook. She airtight aback bodies forgot to lock the doors.

At the big bogus basin area she took her dogs, and area she had watched ancestors of Canada geese abound up, she now feared to airing alone. She fabricated abiding accompany were with her, one on anniversary side.

Her abundantly safe, master-planned burghal now seemed animate with hidden menace. As she absolved amidst Irvine’s tidy houses, she became bedeviled on how accessible they all seemed, with windows to ascend through and sliding-glass doors to breach into. It fabricated her beholden to alive in an apartment, with one aperture in and out.

Often, her ancestors would t Kelli Peters talking to herself. She would be in the kitchen reliving her appointment with badge at the school, pleading, explaining.

Please put the drugs away, she would mutter. I don’t appetite bodies to see them…

I accept an enemy… Her name is Jill Easter…

I accept an enemy…

Some of the detectives were annual Jill Easter’s self-published novel, analytic for cerebral clues.

She was accomplished at fashioning characters captivated by a age-old allegation for payback.

The artifice of “Holding House” followed a Berkeley-educated heroine, Libby, and her Berkeley-educated friends, as they barrage a “foolproof” crime: Kidnap a flush ambition and adumbrate out in Panama to anticipate a active ransom.

All goes awry, and Libby is spurned by her egotistic lover and bent confederate, the “chiseled and calmly handsome” Joe. She finds herself “churning over her one new mission in activity — to accomplish Joe pay for abandoning her.”

She drains his coffer account. She sets him up for a acceptance violation. She makes an bearding alarm to cops. As they aing in, he leaps to his death. Answerability consumes her.

It was accessible to apprehend Easter’s atypical as a cautionary account about the self-immolating temptations of vengeance, the accuracy of alienated admirable narcissists, or the assured doom of “foolproof” bent plots.

These were not the capacity emphasized in business the book, as badge abstruse aback they apparent her online promotional page, which instead acclimatized the seductions of lawbreaking:

“Ever dream about the absolute crime? It’s in this book! As you read, you’ll be apprehensive why no one has anticipation of it before. It’s shockingly simple, askance and 100% possible. Already you apprehend about it, you’ll be tempted to cull it off!”

This commodity appeared in book and online on August 31, 2016. Contact the reporter: Email | Twitter

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The Orange Canton D.A.’s Appropriate Prosecutions unit dealt with crimes of accurate acuteness — high-profile cases involving doctors and cops, attorneys and politicians.

Christopher Duff, a career prosecutor in his aboriginal 40s, aing the aggregation in the bounce of 2012. Amidst the files that landed on his lath was a affected escapade involving a brace of affiliated Irvine attorneys doubtable of burying drugs in a neighbor’s car.

Duff was addled by how thoroughly the Irvine badge had advised a abomination in which the victim had suffered no concrete harm. They had put 20 detectives on the case adjoin Kent and Jill Easter at one time or another, and the beforehand investigator had spent six months on it exclusively.

Duff advised the possibilities. In so abounding places, he thought, it would accept gone differently. If the attempted adjustment had happened in one of the assemblage neighborhoods of Los Angeles area he acclimated to arraign shootings, rather than in a rich, collected burghal in Orange Canton … if the cop who activate the backing of drugs in Kelli Peters’ car had been a rookie, rather than a advertent accomplished … if she had been hardly below believable …

It was accessible to picture. Peters, the PTA admiral at her daughter’s elementary school, would accept larboard the campus in the aback of a convoying car, a acute afterimage for the agents who admired her and relied on her, for the parents who had entrusted their kids to her for years. It would accept baseborn not aloof her abandon but her name.

When Duff met Peters, she seemed raw-nerved and brittle, the affectionate of actuality who would be traumatized by a cruise through jail. “It would accept burst Kelli Peters,” he said. “I aloof apperceive it.”

He additionally knew jurors would acquisition Peters sympathetic. She was never far from tears aback she talked about the Easters’ artifice to abort her, and the bureau it had annoyed her faculty of security.

Duff was inheriting a case that had languished for added than a year, to the articulate annoyance of Irvine cops. Duff’s appointment had battled in cloister for acceptance to the Easters’ smartphones, whose capacity were cloistral by advocate privileges. What seemed to ammunition the Easters’ faculty of ahead — their cachet as attorneys — was now attention them from the after-effects of their crime, Duff thought.

Looking over the evidence, the prosecutor absitively he had enough. He had their DNA on the pot aqueduct and painkillers active in their victim’s car. He had motive and opportunity. He had incriminating smartphone pings. He had bedevilled killers on less.

The Easters accepted a warning.

If accuse were anytime filed, their attorneys told them, the D.A.’s appointment had assured them of beforehand notice.

This would acquiesce the Easters to abandonment at an appointed time, with bond already arranged, and they could be in and out of booking quickly. They would abstain the compression of handcuffs, a affluence accessible to bodies with money and acceptable lawyers.

But Irvine badge showed little affection to abbreviate the Easters’ discomfort, and Duff said he was blind of any abandonment agreement.

In June 2012, badge confused secretly below his direction. They acquired arrest warrants, accurate not to almanac them in the accessible cloister computers.

Kent Easter had aloof abandoned off two of his accouchement at a tennis affected aback the convoying car pulled him over a a active circle in Irvine. He was branch to work, to the Newport Coffer appointment belfry with his master-of-the-universe actualization on the 14th floor. He was in a suit, an disinterestedness partner, a high-dollar litigator. He had a degradation that day, and boxes of acknowledged affidavit in the trunk.

Police declared a tow barter for his Toyota Camry, abandoned him and collection him to the canton bastille in Santa Ana. He was continuing in the assimilation courtyard aback he saw his wife, who had been arrested at their house, arrive in a bandage car.

The Easters were actuality answerable with conspiring to bulb drugs in Peters’ car, the askance acme of a yearlong vendetta adjoin the academy volunteer. They were bound out on bail, but their mug shots were all over the news.

No one had been killed, but commodity about the abomination — the ability and pettiness of the defendants, accumulated with the harmlessness of their victim — engendered a abyss of animus few cases matched. “Pure wickedness,” said one online commentator. “One of the best awful things I’ve anytime heard,” said another.

Orange Canton had connected been adamant by images of affluent and bogus people, the stereotypes fueled by the “Real Housewives” authorization with its alternating casting of socialites, their lives a circle of feuds, arcade trips, claimed trainers, lovers, bogus surgeons.

Now the Easters became syms of this status-obsessed ambience at its best deranged, with an baffling abomination that seemed to beat weirdly at the antecedent of burghal psychosis and chic privilege.

And it had happened in Irvine, no below — the county’s model, master-planned burghal — agreeable bodies to contemplate the anamorphosis that seethed abaft bankrupt doors in places that overpromised adjustment and niceness and green.

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Kent Easter was told to ablaze out his law appointment at Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth. A animal assets adumbrative escorted him out of the Newport Coffer architecture with his boxes, the bits of a $400,000-a-year job.

It seemed extraordinary that he’d anytime assignment for a aing afresh — none could accident the publicity — but he ability deliver a affinity of a career.

As the months passed, however, Duff won abomination indictments adjoin the Easters and showed no alertness to let them plead to misdemeanors, which ability accept acclimatized them to abide lawyers. This had far bluff coercion for Kent Easter, the ancestors breadwinner, than for Jill Easter, whose authorization had been abeyant for years.

DNA from both Easters had affronted up on the active drugs, but the weight of the affirmation was stronger adjoin bedmate than adjoin wife. It was Kent who had been captured on bandage authoritative a affected alarm to police, implicating Peters. And it was Kent’s BlackBerry that had been pinging a Peters’ car aback the drugs were planted.

But it was Jill Easter who took the allegation for burying the drugs, in a acknowledgment filed with the cloister and bound sealed.

It was not a acknowledgment in the acclimatized sense. It could not be acclimated adjoin her. It was offered for a attenuated purpose — as allotment of an able aegis motion to try the Easters separately.

Her acceptance of answerability provided a able acknowledged base for accomplishing so.

Kent Easter would artlessly ambition to put her on the angle in his own defense, but couldn’t accurately do so if they were put on balloon together. He could if the trials were severed.

Superior Cloister Adjudicator John Conley listened to the aegis argument, and to the prosecutor’s animated opposition.

If the adjudicator absitively to breach the trials, it was accessible to anticipate calamity for the state’s case. The aegis would beforehand to accept Jill Easter approved first, jurors wouldn’t apprehend her confession, and the about attenuate affirmation adjoin her — accompanying with the accomplishment of her attorney, Paul Meyer — would accord her a believable adventitious at acquittal.

Then she would booty the angle at her husband’s trial, allowed from the blackmail of jail. If she could affirm credibly that she had active the drugs, he would go chargeless too. Game over.

It was a acute strategy, according genitalia algid argumentation and derring-do, but it had a flaw. First, the adjudicator had to acquisition Jill Easter’s acknowledgment believable. He seemed to accept doubts.

Motion denied. The Easters would accept to angle balloon together.

By abatement 2013, Duff was authoritative final diplomacy for trial, papering his home and appointment with chicken Post-it addendum on which he would author account at all hours. Afresh his blast rang. It was Meyer. Jill Easter would accede to appeal accusable to a abomination adding of apocryphal imprisonment by artifice or deceit.

This would added her the abasement of sitting through a trial and would additionally acquiesce her to affirm for the bedmate on whom she still depended financially.

The book — to activate afterwards his balloon — was 120 canicule in canton jail. She would serve below than half, added 100 hours at a Costa Mesa soup kitchen. She was promptly disbarred. Her Boalt Anteroom law bulk was now useless.

The Central Amends Centermost in Santa Ana was a sad bones of a building, with brimming elevators, graffiti-scratched bathrooms and walls covered with crumbling portraits of aloft judges, retired or dead.

Into this setting, in November 2013, strode Kent Easter and his arty aegis team. It was headed by Thomas Bienert Jr., already Orange County’s top federal prosecutor. Two years earlier, Best Attorneys annual had declared him the county’s “White-Collar Advocate of the Year.” In brightness and pedigree, Bienert seemed added a animal of the federal courthouse bottomward the block, a alcazar of domed ceilings, blooming copse bank and honey-hued travertine.

From the attestant stand, Kelli Peters faced jurors and anecdotal her experience, abashed with tears. She declared actuality bedfast by badge aback they activate drugs in her car at Plaza Vista School.

When Bienert questioned Administrator Charles Shaver about that day, the aegis advocate approved to abbreviate her ordeal. She wasn’t handcuffed, was she? No. Put in the bandage car? No. Booked? No.

Duff counterattacked. To authenticate how Peters had pleaded with Shaver not to arrest her, the prosecutor threw himself to his knees in advanced of the lath box, calmly aloft beseechingly.

“She fell to her knees crying, allurement you, ‘please, please, please.’ Correct?”

“Yes,” Shaver said.

Having bootless to bulwark off arrest, job loss, indictment and trial, Kent Easter had one artifice left.

The acknowledged litigator who had blazed through Stanford in three years would present himself as an age-old patsy. His wife had berated him, bamboozled him, bludgeoned him with guilt.

“While Kent is a absolute acceptable animal being, he didn’t accept a courage aback it came to his wife,” Bienert told jurors. “She wore the pants in the family. She pushed him around.”

;

How this ability explain abroad the affirmation adjoin him wouldn’t be ablaze until the actor himself took the stand.

Tall, composed, and well-groomed, Easter looked assured as he aloft his appropriate hand. He swore to acquaint the truth. Finally, he said, he would get the adventitious to explain.

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It was my wife, Kent Easter told jurors.

She had become bedeviled with antibacterial the PTA mom, he said. She had active the pot and painkillers in Kelli Peters’ car. She had captivated him into her bent scheme. She was the accuracy he sat actuality today, his activity a shambles, on balloon for a felony.

Easter had taken the attestant angle in his own defense, casting himself as a bulk instantly acclimatized to aficionados of 1940s abomination dramas: the hapless bedmate and sap, baffled by a coquette fatale and her noirish machinations.

It was a base tale, but he was a adamantine man to balmy up to. He had an air of anesthetic disengagement that came beyond as arrogance.

He had been a active man, he explained, logging 200 billable hours a ages for his big Newport Coffer law firm, aggravating to allay a hectoring apron who was never satisfied.

He knew that his wife, Jill, had been adulterine to him, off and on, for years. “I acquainted that my job was to be a husband, to breach married,” Easter testified. “Nobody in our ancestors had anytime gotten divorced.”

As a glimpse into the baneful ability activating of the alliance — as a window into his wife’s abandonment — Easter’s aggregation presented Aegis Display L. It was an email she beatific him in March 2010, he said, arresting his workday.

The accountable line: “Need to get serious.” The theme: how to collection the average academy beforehand who, she insisted, had advisedly bound their 6-year-old son out of his elementary academy a ages before.

The email was a account of demands. She capital Kelli Peters’ accomplishments checked. She capital her arrested. She capital her slapped with a abstinent order. She capital to sue Peters, the school, the academy district, the academy board, the public-schools foundation. She capital activity by tomorrow.

The email assured in adventurous capitals:

There were 68 assertion points, for anyone who cared to count.

“She anticipation I had let her down, that I had failed,” Easter said. “I hadn’t pushed adamantine abundant on this.”

As her attraction with Peters intensified, he approved to be the reasonable one, the abstinent force. He had not accepted of her arrangement to anatomy Peters, he insisted.

In cogent this story, Kent Easter had to explain abroad a big problem: It was his BlackBerry that had been pinging a Peters’ PT Cruiser in the predawn hours aback the drugs were active in a accessory abaft the driver’s seat. His wife’s iPhone had been pinging at their Irvine home, a mile away.

Kent Easter was accessible with an explanation: We swapped phones.

He had been at home, sleeping fitfully, abscessed from contempo surgery. She had larboard her iPhone in their bedchamber to allegation and had taken his BlackBerry. He anticipation she was downstairs, disposed to their ailing daughter. Unbeknownst to him, she had slipped out to bulb the drugs.

He was at assignment afterwards that day, he said, aback she declared him to say she’d apparent Peters bustling pills and active like a “madwoman” at Plaza Vista elementary in Irvine. She insisted that he alarm police, and he cautiously agreed, abashed she would afresh belittle him as a failure.

To beard himself, he gave badge the aboriginal name that popped into his head, which happened to be “VJ Chandrasckhr,” based on an Indian neighbor. He had afresh approved his blooming best to actor the man’s accent.

“It’s abundantly afflictive to sit actuality and accept to commodity so ridiculous,” Easter said afterwards the alarm was played in court. “I feel brainless for accepting believed her and put my absolute career and accouchement in jeopardy.”

To beef out its assuming of Jill Easter as an ascendant amazon with a aptitude for weaponizing guilt, the aegis played a bandage of her haranguing her aloft lover, a affiliated Los Angeles burghal firefighter who had been active up by police. She accused him of abandoning her as badge zeroed in on her and her bedmate as suspects.

“Don’t aloof put your arch in the sand! This is the moment, this is aback I bare accession and you affronted your aback on me!” she had cried. “And I will not survive this!”

It was a emphasis Kent Easter said he had heard before.

“That’s the articulation that I apprehend aback I saw the ‘need to get serious’ email,” he said. “That’s the articulation that plays in my mind. I mean, that’s aback she is agitated about commodity and wants something.”

Now it was Christopher Duff’s about-face to ask Easter a few questions, an befalling the prosecutor relished.

Some prosecutors active an aw-shucks persona, and some excelled at angelic indignation. Duff specialized in bitter sarcasm. He had a stage-actor’s allowance for outsize facial expressions, so jurors could apprehend varieties of atheism on his face from beyond the room.

The prosecutor stood in advanced of Kent Easter. He capital to apperceive why he remained affiliated to Jill Easter, and in actuality had been active with her until a ages and a bisected earlier. How was this possible, because all the bureau she had betrayed him?

“Sir, this is the mother of my three children,” Easter said. “And my wife.”

Turning to the night of the drug-planting, Duff asked why Jill Easter would leave him her iPhone, whose passcode he claimed to possess, because how calmly he ability accept apparent her accession of blue exchanges with her latest lover.

“I mean, she has ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ on her cellphone, correct?”

“I don’t apperceive what you mean.”

Duff was aing abundant to see that Easter, who had remained composed below his own attorney’s amiable questioning, seemed added nervous. Easter said it aloof didn’t action to him to attending for her texts. “I had no abstraction they were in there, so I wouldn’t accept accepted to attending there or not,” Easter said.

“You knew your wife had already had one affair. You were afraid that she was out that night accepting accession affair. And you had the one allotment of affirmation in your duke that could appearance you appropriate afresh and there, correct?”

Duff now mocked the adventure of the smartphone swap. If his wife had actually been cheating about Peters’ accommodation circuitous in control of his BlackBerry, wouldn’t she accept abashed about it activity off unexpectedly?

“And all of a abrupt ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’ starts arena on your ringtone?” Duff said.

“That was not my ringtone,” Easter said.

Everyone was cat-and-mouse for Jill Easter to airing into the room.

She represented Kent Easter’s best adventitious at acquittal, anticipation Irvine Det. Mark Andreozzi, who sat beside the prosecutor.

The villain of her husband’s narrative, she had already pleaded accusable to her allotment in the crime. If she went to the attestant angle and took the allegation for aggregate — if she backed up his story and managed to arise off as semi-credible — jurors ability accept reasonable doubt.

Duff accepted the aegis to alarm her. He was attractive advanced to the cross.

Instead, the aegis rested.

They anticipate they don’t allegation her, Duff thought. They anticipate they’ve won.

The defense’s closing altercation dwelled at breadth on Kent Easter’s cuckolding and Jill Easter’s declared stratagems. It was a account as superheated with artifice and double-crosses as a pulp-fiction artifice — lust, affected alibis and frame-ups aural frame-ups like Russian nesting dolls.

Her bedmate was her meal ticket, said aegis advocate Thomas Bienert Jr., but the firefighter had her heart. On the absolute night she active the drugs, the aegis contended, she had activate time to abandon for a tryst, which she recalled in a altercation to her lover the aing morning: “Good morning you august man I am still pond in romance.”

Bienert portrayed her as an artistic schemer. Hadn’t she accounting a atypical about “the absolute crime”? If the artifice to anatomy the PTA mom unraveled, he said, Jill Easter had fabricated abiding that her husband’s DNA would be on the active drugs so that he would booty the fall. Her adding alike connected to devising an account video featuring herself and her ailing daughter, with a time stamp meant to appearance she was home at the time of the crime, the aegis argued.

“If somebody was activity to go bottomward for this, it had to be Kent, not her,” Bienert said. “He was expendable.”

The allegation was one adding of apocryphal imprisonment by artifice or deceit. The lath could not ability a verdict. Eleven capital to convict. One woman acquainted apologetic for Kent Easter.

Again a lath was selected, afresh Kelli Peters cried, afresh Kent Easter told his afflictive story. And already more, 10 months afterwards the aboriginal trial, bodies watched and waited for Jill Easter’s entrance. She had accomplished her two-month bastille term. This time, the aegis declared her into the courtroom. But there was a complication. She acicular to her ears, claiming audition loss. She capital added than a sign-language interpreter. She capital a awning on which to apprehend lawyers’ questions in absolute time.

At the prosecutor’s table, they believed this a angle to bandy off the cross-examination. It would be harder to allurement her. She’d get added abnormal to action questions. The adjudicator said she would accept to accomplish do with an analyst like anybody else. The aegis huddled, reconsidering the accuracy of putting her on the stand, and beatific her home.

For Duff, there remained the claiming of aggravating to explain why the Easters capital to ruin Kelli Peters in the aboriginal place. The affront had seemed crazily small. A academy volunteer, Peters had aback larboard the Easters’ 6-year-old son in the aback alcove backyard for a few annual one afternoon. Peters explained that the boy had been apathetic to bandage up afterwards tennis class, which Jill Easter seemed to apperceive as an insult to his intelligence.

“There’s a accomplished show, ‘Orange Canton Housewives,’ area all the housewives are crazy,” Duff told jurors in his closing statement. “This is the 21st century, area anybody thinks their son should be the brilliant quarterback, brilliant shortstop, batting first, whatever it is. Whatever happened, whatever their son said, got these two absolute agitated and it escalated.”

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As he had at the aboriginal trial, Duff emphasized that the Easters remained married. “How afflictive is it at the banquet table?” Duff asked. “‘Jill, can you canyon me the mashed potatoes, please?’ ‘Yeah, OK.’ ‘Don’t anatomy me while you’re casual the mashed potatoes, please, though.’ Really? They’re still together.”

The best affecting moments of the added balloon came during Duff’s final animadversion to jurors. He acclaimed that the area of cellphones is apprehensible in three bureau — aback they ping adjoin the aing belfry during calls, aback texts are exchanged, and aback automated “data checks” adviser the devices’ health. 

Until now, the data-check annal — admitting put into affirmation — had about been mentioned. Irvine detectives had absent their acceptation during their investigation, as had Duff during the aboriginal trial. Preparing for this trial, however, Duff had pored over them anxiously and apparent what he anticipation ability abort Kent Easter’s account for good.

It had connected been established, from the altercation pings, that Jill Easter’s iPhone had been at the Easter home on the night in question.

For at atomic allotment of that night, however, the abstracts checks adumbrated that her buzz had additionally been a Peters’ apartment. It had been pinging off the bounded belfry intermittently from midnight to 8 a.m.

The Easters had accomplished the artifice calm while a aide watched their kids, the prosecutor argued. One had active the drugs while the added acted as the lookout.

Even if the Easters had swapped phones, the annal put Kent Easter at the scene.

“Guess area her cellphone is?” Duff said. “By the victim’s house. Oops.”

This seemed to t the aegis flat-footed. Because he had already accomplished his closing argument, it was too backward for Bienert to try to argue jurors this was clutter science. Afterwards the lath larboard the room, he railed adjoin the prosecutor. He said he had been sandbagged.

Duff replied that Easter’s aggregation had had the buzz annal for years.

Either the aegis had not looked at the records, Duff said, “or was acquisitive that I didn’t attending at the records.”

Judge Thomas Goethals saw no accuracy Duff couldn’t save a acceptable altercation for the end.

“It seems to me Mr. Duff fabricated a cardinal decision,” he said.

The lath bare abandoned two hours to decide. Accusable as charged.

Then came accession abruptness for the defense. The adjudicator ordered Kent Easter taken into custody. Easter hadn’t accepted this. He had fabricated no align for his three kids, for his bills. The adjudicator gave him a day to align his affairs, “out of affair for annihilation but your children.”

When he told his wife the account that day, Easter said afterwards in cloister papers, she told him he should annihilate himself so she could aggregate on a $500,000 life-insurance policy, and aback he banned she fabricated added atrocious suggestions — an escape to Belize with the kids, or her own suicide.

He backward up that night abating her as he bankrupt bottomward his practice, he added, and the aing morning he activate the chase appellation “how to annihilate yourself” on her iPad. 

Easter had already been in bastille for bristles weeks aback he stood afore Goethals for sentencing in October 2014. He faced up to three years in accompaniment prison. Goethals fabricated no abstruse of his antipathy for Easter, but acclaimed that the prisons were full.

“In a absolute world, I would accelerate you to bastille abundantly as a annual of abhorrence for what you and your wife did,” Goethals said. Instead, he bedevilled him to 180 canicule in canton jail, of which he would serve half, added 100 hours of association account and three years’ probation.

Easter did his time afterwards the affluence of anonymity. Inmates acclimatized him from TV, and some anticipation he care to be taken down. One day, he said, two of them agape him bottomward and bloodied his nose. He bankrupt floors and toilets, and apprehend “Game of Thrones” paperbacks.

More than once, inmates asked him for acknowledged advice. Some of them he liked. He had been an agog Republican with little accord for lawbreakers, but now he advised the colossal decay of time and aptitude exacted by the system.

He had filed for annulment aloof afore his added trial, and he was still confined his time aback Jill Easter petitioned for aegis of their three kids. Their dueling cloister filings provided as aing a glimpse of their accord as outsiders were anytime acceptable to get.

She wrote of his “instability and aberrant behavior” and declared him as an affronted crammer and abundant drinker, decumbent to affection swings, who would abstract himself from his ancestors by locking himself in the bathroom.

She said he abhorrent his bubbler on his difficult accord with his Catholic parents, who had abandoned her as a non-Catholic. She said he had threatened to booty the kids if she didn’t appeal accusable to the drug-planting.

“I am trapped in an amaranthine aeon of lashing out at you — alike afterwards application you as a animal shield,” he wrote to her from jail, according to her cloister filings. “I am sick.…”

Released from bastille in December 2014, he complained in his own cloister affidavit that she wouldn’t let him allocution to their kids, wouldn’t accord him updates on the ancestors cat and wouldn’t accord him the airway apparatus he bare for his beddy-bye apnea.

The bent case had affronted their fights, he said in the filing, and she already pepper-sprayed his face in a rage. Helpless to stop her affairs, he said he bare a DNA analysis to prove his babe was his.

He said she acclimated the chat “Orange” aback she capital him to stop talking about a subject, like finances, that fabricated her too anxious. Afterwards her absolution from jail, he said, she became depressed, took anti-anxiety medication and binged on Netflix for days.

Later, afterwards they agreed to collective custody, he abandoned his pepper-spray accusation.

“Moreover, Jill Easter has never been agitated arise me or physically afflicted me in any way,” he wrote. “She was abandoned anytime admiring and caring.”

Duff, the prosecutor, anticipation amends had been served. But afterwards two bent trials, there remained an irreducible abstruseness at the affection of it — what had prompted the Easters to go to such amazing lengths over a slight so small. “The adventure that hasn’t been told is why these bodies did it,” Duff said. “Everyone asks me, and I accept no answer.”

Rob Marcereau, an advocate whose Foothill Ranch law appointment was active with images of best motorbikes, bluff fins and ablaze blooming U.S. currency, capital answers himself. He represented Kelli Peters in her civilian clothing adjoin the Easters.

He had waited patiently through the bent trials, waited for Kent Easter to serve his time, waited for his able at the man and his wallet. And now, in a December 2015 deposition, he faced Easter beyond a table. 

Easter was now a bedevilled felon, disgraced, on probation, his law authorization suspended, his abasement pending. Still the law threatened to exact a added amount — budgetary amercement for Peters’ affecting ache — and still he would not abandonment an inch of arena or a ray of clarity.

“At some point in 2010 or 2011, did you and your wife bear a plan to bulb drugs in Kelli Peters’ car and accept her arrested?” asked Marcereau.

“I accept testified at breadth about this in two proceedings, and my affidavit is what it is,” Kent Easter said.

Marcereau persisted: “I’m advantaged to an answer.”

Easter said: “I’ve answered that alert in bent court.”

“That bureau nothing,” Marcereau said. “I allegation an answer, sir, or abroad I’ll move to compel. I’ll seek sanctions.”

“OK. You can do that. I’ve answered it.”

“You haven’t answered it, sir.”

Easter insisted he didn’t apperceive who active the drugs.

“Did your wife anytime acquaint you that she did it?”

“I can’t acknowledgment that catechism due to conjugal arcane communication.”

Marcereau went at it again. “Sir, did you advisedly participate in a arrangement with your wife to anatomy Kelli Peters?”

“No.” He acquainted apologetic for Kelli Peters, Easter said, but he had been through some abhorrent adventures himself. “I don’t feel that she should accept been as agitated as she has been.”

Marcereau asked, “So you anticipate what you’ve gone through is worse than what you and your wife put Mrs. Peters through?”

“I apperceive that.”

Marcereau asked, “Don’t you anticipate you’d feel bigger if you aloof said, ‘You apperceive what? I did it. I busted up. I affliction it. I’m sorry’? Wouldn’t that feel acceptable aloof to say that?”

“Is this a analysis affair or a deposition?”

“I would adulation to get some artlessness out of you afterwards all of this,” Marcereau said. “Can’t you aloof accept what you did?”

Contact the reporter: Email | Twitter

This commodity appeared in book and online on Sept. 2, 2016.

Enjoying this series? Become a Los Angeles Times subscriber today to abutment belief like this one. Get abounding acceptance to our signature journalism for aloof 99 cents for the aboriginal four weeks.

A tall, angular man sat abandoned on a bank alfresco Attorneys 62. He was captivated in the chicken acknowledged pad counterbalanced on his lap, silently face what he had accounting there.

He was apparent to abounding of the attorneys who anesthetized through this third-floor accession of the Central Amends Centermost in Santa Ana. By now he was acclimatized to the stares of affair and contempt. The white-shoe rainmakers in the $1,000 suits, the personal-injury guys active a active on slip-and-falls, the active accessible defenders — they knew his mug attack from the news.

Until afresh Kent Easter had been one of them, a affiliate of the association in acceptable standing, a affidavit Administrator of the Court. He sat aloft the roiling, aggressive abundance of Orange County’s 17,000 practicing attorneys — a $400,000-a-year civilian litigator, an disinterestedness accomplice in one of the county’s bigger firms.

His career had been a aisle of authority schools and cachet gigs, from Stanford to UCLA Law to a big Silicon Valley firm, and assuredly to a 14th-floor appointment in a Newport Coffer belfry overlooking the Pacific.

This was afore the arrests and the trials and the cameras, afore his full-blooded became a with which to beat him, afore strangers were autograph him belletrist advancement him to annihilate himself. Now he sat abandoned in the din of the courthouse alley cutting billowing pants and a airedale amethyst sweater.

It was February 2016. His aperture confused as he advised his acknowledged pad. He was alarm a appeal for benevolence — his closing altercation to jurors belief his banking fate. Absent was the top-dollar acknowledged aptitude that had belted him through two bent trials. Finally, apery himself, he would face his adolescent Orange Canton citizens alone. He would acrylic a account of his about absolute ruin and beg them not to accomplish it complete.

To Rob Marcereau, the advocate apery the plaintiff and her family, Kent Easter brought aback memories of the William Macy appearance in “Fargo” — a man flailing to extricate himself from the web of his own bedevilled bent scheme, accident added with anniversary entangling lie. Here, as advantage for affecting distress, Kelli Peters capital millions from him.

Some of Marcereau’s advocate buddies had told him the case was a long-shot. Peters had suffered no concrete injury and had kept her role as a academy volunteer. But the added Easter approved to avoid what he had done, Marcereau thought, the added the jurors would abhorrence him.

Easter sat abandoned at the aegis table, afterwards his co-defendant and ex-wife, Jill. Aback Marcereau chatted with him during cloister breaks, he activate him abnormally amiable — low-key, disarmingly polite, with a faculty of amusement — and had to admonish himself he was the enemy.

“Kent Easter and his wife, Jill Easter, advised and planned and advised to abort the activity of Kelli Peters for a abounding year,” Marcereau told jurors in his aperture remarks. He abundant their abortive attack to adios her from her beforehand job at Plaza Vista elementary, and their austere artifice to abasement her by burying drugs in her car.

When his about-face came, Easter told jurors that Peters’ account of adversity was abounding of “exaggerations and embellishments.” He said he took albatross for what happened to her, admitting he did so abandoned in the vaguest terms. And he added: “The actuality that commodity absolute bad was done to a actuality does not accord them a acceptable Powerball number.”

Marcereau put Easter on the stand. Had he conspired with his wife to bulb drugs in Peters’ car?

“Very abominably and absolute unfortunately, yes,” Easter replied.

Marcereau apprenticed for specifics.

“Which one of you, you or your wife, actually active the drugs in Mrs. Peters’ car? Or was it both?”

“It was my wife.”

That was in befitting with his bootless aegis during his bent trials, in which he had casting her as the culprit. 

She had not testified at those trials, and no one knew what she ability say. Aback Easter put on his case now and declared her to the angle — with a sign-language analyst on duke for her claimed audition accident — he did not assume affronted at the woman he claimed had bankrupt him.

Instead, his emphasis seemed about wistful, his boring tender. She was now calling herself Ava Everheart, and so he began, “Good afternoon, Ms. Everheart.”

“Good afternoon.”

He began by acknowledging the accident he’d done to her name.

“I apparently could accept advised you a little better, couldn’t I have?” he said.

“Yes.”

“Despite all of that you accept still been affectionate to me and haven’t approved revenge, right?”

“No.”

“I accept accepted you aback you were young. I don’t apperceive if you bethink those days.”

“Yes.”

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She was active with her parents in Newport Beach. Her ancestor was an astrophysicist and inventor, but she did not acknowledgment this. She insisted she was not a adolescent of privilege. She had formed three jobs to put herself through school.

She surveyed the attorneys and said, “I anticipate I am the actuality that went to the best law academy in this room, to be honest with you, and I am appreciative of that. Doesn’t beggarly I am spoiled, or a bad person.”

But now her acceptability was ruined, she complained. She had done about two months in jail. She was disbarred, her law bulk from Berkeley’s Boalt Anteroom useless. “I absent everything. I beggarly everything,” she said. “I am not a academy terrorizer, as I accept apprehend about myself.”

She capital to allay a delusion about her self-published abomination thriller, “Holding House,” which Marcereau had invoked to allegorize her captivation with “the absolute crime.”

“The point of the book is these bodies anticipate they accept the absolute crime, and afresh it gets actually messed up,” she said. “So the point is there is no absolute crime. You can’t anticipate of one in your arch because you will consistently be fooled, and that is the point of the book.”

Marcereau did not see abundant amount in a diffuse cross-examination. He anticipation she had already active herself.

“Ma’am, on Feb. 16, 2011, you active actionable drugs in Kelli Peters’ car, true?”

“I pled accusable to that.”

“Did you do it?”

“No.”

“That is what I thought. No added questions.”

It was time for Kent Easter to alarm his best important witness, and so he accurate one of the best blue sentences jurors would hear: “At this time I would aloof be calling myself.”

He took the stand, cutting one of the backward sweaters that had seemed his sole apparel through the trial.

He affronted to the lath box and explained that he was, at 41, a burst man. A UCLA Law alum who was administration an accommodation with his parents. His accumulation eviscerated by a quarter-million dollars in acknowledged fees. Barred alike from active for Uber or Lyft because of his abomination conviction. Relying on acquaintances to bandy him a little work. And still the sole agent for his three kids, age-old 8, 10 and 12.

“All this apprenticeship that I had is now actually abortive to me, by and large,” he said. “I accept no apprehension that I will be a advocate anytime again.”

Marcereau was assertive Easter was ambuscade money, somewhere. Anon afterwards his arrest, he acicular out, Easter had transferred buying of his Irvine abode to his father-in-law.

He told jurors not to be deceived. “You know, I anticipate he has a acceptable act. He comes in actuality cutting the aforementioned sweater three canicule in a row,” Marcereau said. “He apparently has a dozen tailored apparel at home, and yet he is in actuality cutting the aforementioned sweater aggravating to acquaint you that he is poor. Don’t accept it.”

For Kelli Peters, the altercation with the Easters amounted to “the affliction acquaintance of her life,” Marcereau said. Her babe Sydnie, who was 10 aback the Easters approved to anatomy her mother, had banned to beddy-bye abandoned for abhorrence “the Easter monster” would abduct her, Marcereau said. She had developed abandoned from her accompany and had assuredly asked to change schools.

Even now, Kent Easter was still circumlocutory on what he did, while his ex-wife showed “not an ounce of remorse,” Marcereau said. He affronted afresh to the abomination novel. He reminded jurors that a promotional atom had appeared on YouTube, appropriate about the time drugs were planted. It had featured a affecting annotation by Kent Easter: “If you knew how to accomplish a absolute crime, would you do it?”

“Kelli Peters is afraid in her house, arrant with her babe and her husband, abashed out of her mind, abashed she is activity to be befuddled in bastille for God knows how long, and Kent and Jill Easter are toasting to the absolute crime,” Marcereau said. “‘We did it, honey.’ Clink. The absolute crime.”

Kent Easter sat in the alley during the cafeteria break, clutching the acknowledged pad on which he had aching out his closing argument.

“I should never accept aching Kelli Peters,” he told jurors aback they returned. Still, he said, everybody had stood by her. The academy had accurate her. A policeman had bedfast her but had not arrested her, abandoned her, pulled a gun on her, bound her in his bandage car or taken her to jail. The “polite and professional” cop had not alike aloft his voice.

Now came the base appeal for mercy. “I’m artlessly a ancestor of a adolescent ancestors that is broke,” Easter said. “So I actually arise actuality already accepting absent aggregate I accept except for my family, and I abide there is no added point to added punishment.”

His words were plaintive, but his emphasis about robotic. It was as if he were talking about accession else, a appearance declared Kent Easter that he did not decidedly love.

Nor did jurors, who alternate with a adjudication of $5.7 million. He sat alone, attractive stunned.

To bless the verdict, Kelli Peters’ accompany threw her a party. They had bought a heart-shaped pinata and active it with blown-up copies of the Easters’ mug shots.

Someone gave Peters a stick. She captivated it tentatively, embarrassed, and administered some apathetic thwacks. Her daughter, now 15, took the stick. The babe whose adolescence had been austere by the affliction told her mother to footfall back. Some of the bodies in the allowance were laughing, and some of the aforementioned bodies were already alpha to cry.

She swung the stick full-force. Paydays and 100 Admirable confined confused through the gash.

Four months afterwards the adjudication Easter was aback in court, this time in a handsome aphotic suit, cogent the balloon judge, Michael Brenner, that the amercement were excessive, that Peters’ advocate had bootless to appearance he had bureau to pay. “The case law is ablaze on this,” he argued, awkward off acknowledged citations.

Brenner anticipation the amercement were aloof about right, the jury’s accuracy sound. It was accessible to brainstorm how they ample it, he said. They saw two “top of the heap” attorneys — “a brace of absolute acknowledged smarties, adult people” — who had acclimated their acknowledged accuracy in an attack to abort a woman who lived in a little apartment, and who had abdicate her job to beforehand at her daughter’s school.

The adjudicator acclaimed that Kent Easter could reapply for his law authorization afterwards a five-year suspension.

Musing on his half-century in the law, the adjudicator declared this “the best incomprehensible case I’ve anytime seen,” and said: “I can’t bulk out why you and your ex-wife did what you did.”

The adjudicator formed a elastic bandage with his fingers, gazing quizzically bottomward at Kent Easter. He was addled by Easter’s “flat affect” during trial, and reminded him that he’d never taken absolute albatross for burying the drugs.

“Your position on this is consistently absolute vague,” the adjudicator said. “The lath could calmly think, ‘You know, Mr. Easter has a plan and what he’s gonna do is accumulate it aloof as ambiguous as he can.’”

He came appropriate out and asked what anybody capital to know: “Who dreamed up this idea?”

The adjudicator let the catechism adhere there, while Kent Easter, sitting about motionless, said nothing.

“It’s aloof nuts,” the adjudicator continued, agee the elastic band. “They’re not actually accomplished abyss out of Boalt Anteroom and UCLA.”

More than bristles years afterwards the drug-planting, the upheavals ripple apparent still. Kent Easter has filed for defalcation and appealed the civilian verdict, so award a way to get Kelli Peters her money has spawned accession acknowledged battle.

In that effort, Peters’ attorneys afresh sued Jill Easter’s father, 74-year-old Paul Bjorkholm, a retired scientist for EG&G Astrophysics who owns a $2-million Newport Coffer home.

Summoned to acknowledgment their questions, Bjorkholm sat uneasily beyond from the attorneys amidst the agitation of the active third-floor cafeteria at the Santa Ana courthouse. 

The attorneys broiled him about what happened in the summer of 2012, aback — weeks afterwards the Easters were arrested — they gave him their Irvine home.

The abode was sold, and the $171,000 gain were breach amidst Jill and Kent Easter, in trusts Bjorkholm had agreed to oversee.

That money appropriately belongs to Peters, the attorneys maintain. They are additionally allurement for castigating amercement adjoin Bjorkholm, alienated that because he alternate in the home’s counterfeit transfer, they may lay affirmation to his own assets.

During the questioning, Bjorkholm said he had been afraid aback Kent Easter asked him to become trustee so anon afterwards the arrests. Nevertheless, he’d agreed to do it.

“At the time you were asked to do this, you were afraid that it ability arise to be a fraud?” Marcereau asked.

“No, added bodies ability anticipate so,” Bjorkholm said. “You’re badgering me appealing hard, and I’m not blessed with that.”

Marcereau apprenticed for an answer. “Why did it assume odd to you?”

Kent Easter was sitting beside his aloft father-in-law, and now he did as a advocate would. He interjected: “Objection, asked and answered.”

Marcereau said, “You’re not his attorney. You’re not a lawyer.”

Easter said, “I’m a affair here. You’re demography a record.”

Marcereau’s co-counsel, Roger Friedman, told Easter he could breach if he kept quiet, but threatened to get a cloister adjustment if he interfered.

As if Easter bare reminding, he added, “You’re not an attorney.”

Ask Kent Easter about it today, and he answers in urbane, actually amiable tones that his bent aegis was a backpack of lies and distortions, that he demonized his wife, that he pressured her into argumentation accusable in the achievement he ability go free. Nor was he her dupe. “She was fabricated out to be a cartoonish villainess,” he says. “This master-planner ice queen from ‘Gone Girl’ — it makes this abundant archetype. She writes these abomination novels and planned this accomplished thing. But it’s aloof actually not true.”

For his trials, he says, he “embellished” one of the aegis exhibits afterwards his attorney’s ability — the hectoring email in which his wife accepted that he “get serious” about antibacterial Peters. He says the all-caps aftermost line, with its 68 assertion points, was his work, not hers. “To beef things up,” he says.

It’s adamantine to accumulate clue of his alive stories. In bent court, he denied conspiring to bulb the drugs and said his wife had done it alone. In civilian court, he said he conspired with her but that she had done the absolute planting. Today, he says, “She was not out there that night,” but will not accumulation details. He worries about canard accuse for alteration his story. He credibility to the canton bastille and says, “I don’t appetite to go aback over there.” He acknowledges that the abomination “was actually not anticipation out absolute well,” and adds: “I didn’t apprehend that bisected the Irvine Badge Administration would be animate on this.”

He speaks of his ex-wife as if he still loves her. Aback he met her at their Silicon Valley aing in the mid-1990s, she was not like added women he met, laser-focused on a acknowledged career. She was a hiker, a apprentice of history, the buyer of a pet bunny. She affronted out to be a abundant mother who acclimated flashcards with their kids and got them annual by age 5.

 “All the best moments in my activity accept been with her,” he says. “All the affliction moments accept been with her too.”

He is abrading out a living, he says, accomplishing odd law-related jobs and freelance writing.

Some time ago, he says, he met a woman and developed a adventurous absorption in her. He asked her out. They fabricated plans. Afresh came the abandoning he half-expected, bidding in four words:

“I aloof Googled you.”

One day this spring, Kelli Peters collection to Hollywood to bandage a articulation of the “Dr. Phil” show. She hoped to beforehand a book she was co-writing declared “I’ll Get You! Drugs, Lies, and the Terrorizing of a PTA Mom.”

She brought a cartoon of the cover, featuring herself in the cross-hairs of a burglarize ambit below Jill Easter’s audacious mug-shot eyes.

Dr. Phil answerable by captivation it aloft, which she hoped would bang up the beforehand sales. She bare the money. Her bedmate had leukemia and was out of work, and the Easters had not paid a penny of the civilian judgment.

Entering the publicity ambit exacted a price, however. The producers had taped an account with Jill Easter and filmed Peters as she watched, angry nausea.

Easter was unrepentant. She accused Peters of accepting abject her son, abrogation him “crying” and “dirty.” Easter portrayed the attendance of her abiogenetic actual on the active drugs as innocent, bald “transfer DNA” — an account that elicited little added than ridicule.

It was not ablaze why Easter agreed to the interview; she came off so abominably that the host asked, at one point, “What’s amiss with this woman?”

For Peters, it is a relief, now that the Easters accept larboard the neighborhood, alike if — aftermost she heard — they are aloof one burghal over, in Newport Beach.

She walks her dogs forth Irvine’s trim streets and watches geese on the banks of the big, bogus lakes. She smiles at the aforementioned bodies she has been casual for years. She asks about their families, and pets.

It is amiable but dull. She misses coffer cities. Maybe aback her babe graduates from aerial school, she says, she’ll acquisition a added agitative place.

Now and then, she runs into a affiliate of the Badge Department, the bureau that saw through the lies and put 20 detectives on the case and adored her. They accost her like a friend, but act a little afraid to see her. Why hasn’t she larboard town, because all the bad memories?

“I feel safe here,” she says.

Contact the reporter: Email | Twitter

This commodity appeared online on Sept. 3, 2016 and in book Sept. 4.

Enjoying this series? Become a Los Angeles Times subscriber today to abutment belief like this one. Get abounding acceptance to our signature journalism for aloof 99 cents for the aboriginal four weeks.

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Times agents biographer Christopher Goffard advised bags of pages of records, including badge reports, cloister exhibits, transcripts of the admirable lath proceeding that led to the indictments of Kent and Jill Easter and transcripts of Kent Easter’s two bent trials.

Goffard additionally advised affidavit in the civilian balloon consistent from Kelli Peters’ accusation and cloister annal of the Easters’ divorce.

In addition, he conducted abundant interviews with Peters, Kent Easter, prosecutor Christopher Duff and associates of the Irvine Badge Department, including Administrator Charles Shaver and Mark Andreozzi, the beforehand detective on the case. Jill Easter beneath to be interviewed.

Credits: Lily Mihalik and Evan Wagstaff. Animations by Eben McCue. Headphone figure (Mark Claus / The Noun Project)

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