Columbus Dispatch

Shocking affidavit: During man's trial, wife slept with his lawyer
Thursday, April 21, 2011  03:10 AM


While Robert Caulley was trying to prove that he didn't murder his parents nearly 15 years ago, his defense attorney and wife were engaged in a romantic affair before, during and after the trial, according to records filed yesterday in Franklin County Common Pleas Court.

Hours after the Grove City man was convicted, Celeste Caulley Bowman says in a five-page affidavit, she and her husband's attorney, James D. Owen, again had sex at a local hotel, where he told her "I love you" for the first time.

Caulley, 46, is serving a life sentence at the Belmont Correctional Institution in St. Clairsville. His current attorney argues that the relationship between Bowman and Owen was a direct conflict of interest, negatively influenced Caulley's defense and entitles the former aeronautical engineer to a new trial.

"This conflict of interest hits at the heart of the attorney-client relationship," said new attorney Kim Rigby. "A duty of loyalty is owed to every client. Here, Jim Owen's loyalty was clearly divided between his duty to represent Caulley and his personal interest in continuing his relationship with Caulley's wife.  A court cannot have confidence in the outcome of Caulley's trial based on this unethical behavior."

Common Pleas Judge John D. Martin now will rule on Rigby's motion.

Bowman and Caulley had been married about eight years before Caulley's trial in 1997. They divorced in 2000.

Owen, a prominent Columbus lawyer who has handled several high-profile criminal cases, could not be reached to comment yesterday.

Owen's office said that he is being represented by Geoffrey Stern, a Columbus lawyer who formerly served as the Ohio Supreme Court's disciplinary counsel, which investigates allegations of wrongdoing against lawyers and determines whether discipline is necessary.

In her affidavit, Bowman said the affair with Owen began shortly after Caulley was arrested and when she moved back to Ohio from Texas to help Owen work on her husband's case. She said their relationship became physical in the summer of 1997, when she and Owen first had sex at his cottage on Buckeye Lake.

Bowman said that she and Owen consistently had sex two, three or as many as four times a week, and their encounters took place in the cottage, Owen's office and conference room, local hotels and other places.

She said the affair intensified beginning the day Robert Caulley was convicted and continued for about another year until late 1998. She said Owen told her he would leave his wife several times but never followed through, and Bowman said she broke off the relationship and moved back to Texas. Bowman is now remarried and lives outside Houston.

In an interview with The Dispatch, Bowman, who has always believed in her ex-husband's innocence, said she didn't come forward with information about her affair because she wanted to protect her son and spare Owen public embarrassment. She said she began and continued the affair with Owen because it helped take her mind off of her then-husband's case and brought a "sense of normalcy" during a time when her life had been turned upside down.

She said the guilt became too much after she went to visit Robert Caulley last June. Her mother had encouraged her to come forward about the affair for years, and she finally told Caulley's new attorney in January.

"The last thing I wanted to do is hurt anyone; that is one of many reasons it took me 15 years to bring this forward," Bowman said. "I had to consider Jim's livelihood, career and family life, and then weigh that against the fact that an innocent man has been sitting in prison. Jim acted unethically in pursuing me. I was fairly young, scared and in an extremely vulnerable state of mind. Whether he meant to or not, Jim took advantage of that. His first priority should have been to his client who was on trial, Bob Caulley."

Lois and Charles Caulley were beaten and stabbed to death in their home on Jan. 16, 1994. Robert Caulley called police and said he had found their bodies.

Investigators initially thought the couple had interrupted a burglary, but nearly three years later, they focused on Caulley, who was then living in Texas. After several hours of interrogation, most of which wasn't recorded, they obtained a confession that Caulley has always maintained was coerced and manipulated.

Judges ruled that the interrogation was proper, and Caulley was convicted in the fall of 1997 by his own words. Caulley avoided the death penalty but is serving a sentence of 25 years to life.

Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said his office has not yet reviewed the motion for a new trial, but he said prosecutors faced a strong defense on Caulley's behalf.

Caulley's case was highlighted in "Test of Convictions," a five-day Dispatch series published in 2008. His is one of 30 cases the newspaper identified as prime candidates for DNA testing. So far, three men have been exonerated after serving a combined 72 years for crimes they didn't commit. Four others have been proved guilty, and several others received inconclusive test results, including Caulley.

Despite a bloody crime scene and several rounds of DNA testing, Rigby points out that there still is no physical evidence connecting Caulley to the crime.

Caulley first learned of the affair between his trial attorney and ex-wife a few years ago from his sister, but he wasn't made aware that the affair took place before and during his trial until this past January.

"I trusted Jim Owen with my defense," Caulley said in an affidavit. "I assumed he would work hard to get me acquitted. I never thought he would betray my trust and have an affair with my wife."

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