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Verdict: $600,000

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 28, 2015 at 3:50 PM

The jury in the wrongful death lawsuit involving an 11-year-old foster girl determined the Huron County Department of Job & Family Services and Huron County Commissioners should pay $600,000 to her estate.

"I'm completely elated," said Jim Martin, who represented Connre Dixon's estate. "I do think it's an indictment on what's been going on."

Former Monroeville foster father Paul Efaw is serving three years in prison for Dixon's Oct. 18, 2004 stabbing death. Efaw originally had been named in the civil lawsuit, but Martin dismissed him without explanation before jury selection began.

Martin argued that HCDJFS ignored policies and procedures and violated the girl's right to safety by improperly placing Dixon, who had been sexually abused by a cousin, at the Efaw home.

Martin accused Efaw of "bizarre" behavior, such as defecating in a girl's face as punishment and telling another child to "play with his thing" after he put his finger through his zipper.

Efaw denied knowing anything about the allegations when he testified Thursday. The accusations surfaced originally during a 1988 custody battle with his first wife.

One of the eight jurors, New London resident Angela Shepherd, said they spent five hours Friday calmly deliberating about "where the money goes."

"We wanted to send it to (Dixon's) siblings, not to her heroin-addicted father," she said, but the jury was not allowed by law to indicate where the money is rewarded.

In November 2005, Dixon's mother died from an apparent drug overdose on Zantax, police said. The county insurance company, which is part of a consortium with other Ohio counties, is expected to pay for the lawsuit.

Shepherd said the jury also wanted to see the $600,000 to go toward a park in Dixon's memory, "not to her family who didn't want her in the first place."

If the jury could have directed the money to a school, one juror said he "would have written zeroes until his hand cramped," Shepherd explained.

Martin, during his closing arguments Thursday, asked the jury to "send a message to be fair to Connre Dixon in this case" and requested $1 million.

"(The jury's decision) shows the people of Huron County care more for the children of Huron County than department of job and family services does," Martin said.

HCDJFS Director Erich Dumbeck declined to comment.

One of the agency's attorneys, Jim Jeffery, said a possible appeal would be up to HCDJFS and the commissioners.

"It's disappointing, but we'll look at it," he said.

Commissioner Mike Adelman said the board would meet with the attorneys Tuesday to discuss what option the county should take.

"It would be less than honest to say I was not disappointed," he said. "But, having said that, I certainly respect the jury's opinion and all the consideration they had to make in this case. I respect it no less than the decision the jury made in Gravelle case."

Dumbeck said "he would have to think about it ... the whole situation. He didn't say exactly what," Jeffery said.

Visiting Common Pleas Judge Judith Cross, who presided over the lawsuit, said she couldn't comment "because of the possible appeal."

Huron County Prosecutor Russell Leffler presented the 2005 criminal case against Efaw, but had no role in the lawsuit.

Upon hearing about the jury's decision, Leffler said it was obvious the jurors "thought someone should have paid." The prosecutor pointed out it would have been difficult for HCDJFS to predict what happened after placing Dixon with Efaw.

Adelman declined to speculate about whether the jury was sending a message about the overall job the department was doing. He noted the attorneys asked about that during jury selection.

Leffler said he presented the best case he could when prosecuting Efaw.

"I felt Efaw should have gotten a lot more time (behind bars)," he added.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Staff writer Matt Hutton contributed to this article.

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