A Casper man nationally recognized for his role as a foster parent and adoptive father was bound over to Natrona County District Court on Friday on 20 felony charges of sexual abuse of minors.
Steven Randall Marler, 48, also faces six misdemeanor charges related to various incidents, including allegedly hitting a child in the nose and pushing another off a roof.
Marler listened at the defense table in court Friday as Assistant District Attorney Brandon Rosty questioned Natrona County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Lisa Lauderdale about her interviews with children fostered and adopted at the Marler home and who described alleged sexual encounters with Marler.
At one point, the investigator testified how Marler allegedly told one of the children that, “I know I shouldn’t love you like this.”
Court records show four alleged victims of sexual assaults and four other victims listed on the misdemeanor charges.
The preliminary hearing in Casper Circuit Court before Judge Nichole Collier filled a courtroom to overflowing. About 10 minutes into the hearing, court officials opened a second overflow courtroom and turned on a video feed.
Lauderdale testified to comments made by male and female children in Marler’s household who recounted girls being taken into Marler’s bedroom or him coming into the girls’ bedroom or a treehouse where the alleged assaults happened.
All children were identified by initials as was Marler and his wife, Kristen. Marler was referred to as “Mr. M,” his wife as “KMM.”
When one of the girls told Marler’s wife that she was sexually assaulted, Lauderdale testified that the girl said, “Mr. M threw (the girl) across the room, kicked her and threw objects at her.”
Boys who had been in the home also confirmed Marler’s actions with his adopted and foster daughters. One boy “talked about (how) he would see Mr. M go into girls’ bedrooms and stay for long times,” Lauderdale testified.
The girls would then get “drinks, soda, candy, more than the rest of the children,” she said the boy reported.
Lauderdale testified about information girls shared about their explicit encounters with Marler where he would undress them, have them touch his private part, and in two incidents reflected in the charges, commit sexual intrusion into a victim once with his finger and in another incident with his private part.
One female victim told investigators that she “ran away from the home because she had been sexually assaulted by ‘Mr. M.,’” Lauderdale said.
Defense attorney Devon Peterson asked Lauderdale about his wife’s presence when the alleged assaults took place.
Lauderdale said those interviewed said it would happen during her trips to Las Vegas, or other times when she would be out of the household for extended periods of time.
Peterson also asked Lauderdale about instances where alleged victims spoke of “massages” from Marler and something the kids called “daddy taps,” and where they occurred.
“In the family room, great room with windows … and massages in the bedroom” Lauderdale said.
“Was this done in front of others?” Peterson asked.
“Yes, some of the time,” Lauderdale said.
Peterson took issue with one first-degree count of sexual abuse that allegedly took place in the family’s treehouse bunk, where Marler is alleged to have put his private part into a victim. He said the encounter did not meet the legal standard of complete penetration.
Rosty cited Wyoming case law stating the standard was met.
Peterson also tried to raise the issue of documents related to the case being released to Cowboy State Daily, which published a story on the charges in December. Rosty objected and Collier sustained his objection.
In recounting the laws and Lauderdale’s testimony to meet the standard for binding Marler over to Natrona County District Court, Rosty also quoted an alleged comment from Marler recounted by a victim: “I know I shouldn’t love you like this.”
“The state has met the burden on every count,” Collier said. “Every count will be bound over.”
Collier continued Marler’s $225,000 cash or surety bond.
Marler is charged with two counts of sexual abuse of a minor in the first degree stemming from alleged incidents with two young victims. The charges carry a penalty of up to 50 years in prison.
He faces seven counts of sexual abuse of a minor in the second degree involving alleged incidents with three victims. Those charges carry a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
Marler also is charged with 11 counts of sexual abuse of a minor in the third degree involving alleged incidents with four victims. Those charges carry a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.
In addition to the felony charges, Marler is charged with one count of child endangerment and five counts of battery that involve incidents with six alleged victims. The child endangerment charge carries a penalty of up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine or both.
The battery charges carry a penalty of six months in jail and a fine of $750 or both.
In 2013, Steven and Kristen Marler were recognized by the federal Administration for Children and Families with an Adoption Excellence Award, one of only three families across the nation to get the award that year.
The federal group cast the Marlers' home as a haven.
“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.”
Dale Killingbeck can be reached at email@example.com.