A former Wyoming state lawmaker said “it made me sick” to read about the sexual and physical abuse allegations against a Casper couple once honored nationally for being foster and adoptive parents.
Tom James, who served in the Wyoming Senate from 2018- 2022 representing Sweetwater County District 13, not only has been involved with crafting foster care rules, he spent three years in the system as a teen.
“We can’t let the few bad foster parents overshadow the good ones,” he said. “And there are a lot of good ones. This couple is innocent until proven guilty on these current charges; however, the complaints brought forth are most horrific.”
Steven Randall Marler of Casper faces 26 criminal charges in Casper Circuit Court, including 20 counts related to alleged sexual abuse of minors involving four children, five counts of battery against four minors, and one count of child endangerment against a fifth, according to court documents provided to Cowboy State Daily.
Those actions are alleged to have happened over a 10-year period starting in December 2011.
His wife, Kristin Marler, pleaded no contest to misdemeanor child endangering in 2022, court documents say. She was initially charged with child abuse.
That 2013 Award
In 2013, the couple were recognized by the Administration for Children and Families, a division of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, with an Adoption Excellence Award, one of just three families across the nation to get the recognition that year.
James, along with his wife Jennifer, said he’s sent an email to the agency requesting the award be rescinded if Steven Marler is convicted on any of the allegations.
“My wife and I have reached out to the Health and Human Services Administration’s Children and Families to request this couple’s award for excellence be retracted by the agency, once proven guilty,” he said. “Although complaints and charges occurred later, we feel this couple should be stripped of this national recognition in light of recent events.”
James said foster parents have responsibilities under the system which, when broken, can damage and traumatize children who were entrusted to their care. He believes secondary trauma can be extreme “given that the child has come to understand and hope for a better life than the one they had left behind.”
As a state senator, he said he quickly learned that government can be very inefficient in how it operates and carries out its responsibilities.
“There have been a lot of cases where foster care has been an issue,” he said. “It makes me sick that people would actually do this. But it also makes me sick that the government would overlook these types of situations.”
The charging document alleges that with one victim, Steven Marler committed two counts of sexual abuse of a minor in the second degree and three counts in the second degree against a minor from Dec. 31, 2017, through Jan. 31, 2021.
The document also alleges he committed five counts of sexual abuse of another child from May 31, 2013, to April 17, 2014. Those charges include one count of first-degree sexual abuse using a finger, two counts of second-degree sexual abuse, and two counts of third-degree sexual abuse.
He’s also charged with nine counts of sexual abuse of a third child that stretched from a period from Dec. 31, 2011, to Jan. 1, 2020, that included alleged sexual acts with the victim in a treehouse. Marler faces one charge of sexual abuse with a minor in the first-degree, three counts of sexual abuse in the second degree, and five counts of sexual abuse in the third degree involving that victim.
Marler also has one charge of sexual abuse with a minor in the third degree from an incident involving a fourth victim between May 31, 2013, through April 2014, in the victim’s bedroom, according to the charging document.
The battery counts against Marler, which involve using physical force to “unlawfully, unknowingly or recklessly cause bodily injury to another” stem from an incident in which he allegedly punched a victim in the nose so that it bled, according to the charging document.
The document alleges Marler endangered a child by kicking “the victim off the roof and did not get (the child) medical attention.”
James’ Foster Care Experience
James said that in his situation, he was placed in foster care in Oregon between the ages of 15 and 18, where he had a very positive experience.
“I was very fortunate to be placed in the foster care system under a wonderful woman who I consider my only true mother, Roxanne Bagley of Portland, Oregon,” he said. “She taught me about life, honesty, accountability and expectations. She especially helped me understand that a man is only as good as his word; a concept I hold dear in my personal life and in politics. She set me on my straight path when I could have easily gone the dark way.”
While in foster care, James said the state’s case manager would show up announced to check on the house. He wonders how allegations in the Marler case, if true, could have happened for such an extended period of time.
“It’s on the case manager to go in and check on the children, do background checks and their due diligence,” he said, adding that when it comes to abuse, “one time is too many.”
The Adoption Excellence Awards grew out of the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997. The awards were created to honor states, local agencies, private organizations, courts, businesses, individuals and families “making key contributions to increasing the number of children from foster care who are adopted or placed in other permanent homes,” according to the agency.
The Marler’s 2013 award cast the couple’s home as a place of refuge.
“The Marlers' motivation for becoming foster parents was to support biological parents who are unable to care for their children,” according to an announcement of the award at the time on the agency’s website. “They accomplish this by encouraging and working directly with biological and extended families to help them toward reunification. They have an exceptional ability and willingness to respect the children’s relationship with their parents.”
The sexual abuse of a minor in the first-degree charges carry a penalty of up to life in prison, the second-degree charges of up to 20 years in prison, and the third-degree charges of up to 15 years in prison.
The battery and child endangerment charges are misdemeanors. The battery charges carry penalties of up to six months in jail and a fine of $750. The child endangerment charge carries a penalty of up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Court records show Marler was released on $225,000 cash or surety bond. His bond terms require him not to leave Natrona County or have contact with victims or with minors without supervision.
A preliminary hearing on the charges in Natrona County Circuit Court is set for Jan. 19.
Dale Killingbeck can be reached at email@example.com.