Innocents Convicted of Murder in Oregon
Oregon has come perilously close to sentencing people to death for crimes they did not commit. Five people have been convicted of murder, or aggravated murder, and given sentences ranging from twenty years in prison to life without the possibility of parole.
Christopher Boots and Eric Proctor were convicted of murder in Lane County in 1985 and sentenced to twenty years each. The evidence was thin and forensic evidence was later debunked. Most importantly, the person who committed the robbery and murder was identified. Released in 1994, after eight years in prison, Boots and Proctor settled with the City of Springfield for $2 million.
Santiago Ventura Morales was sentenced for the murder of another Mexican man in 1986. There were problems from the beginning, the county had no interpreters who spoke Ventura’s Mixtec dialect and he could not understand or cooperate in the investigation and trial. Most concerning, however, was that another person had confessed to the crime. Jurors, who had convicted him, almost immediately expressed doubts but it took a lengthy investigation by private citizens to identify the murderer and convince the authorities Ventura Morales was innocent and should be released. Ventura Morales was released in 1991.
Laverne Pavlinek implicated her partner John Sosnovske in the murder of a young woman whose body was found in the Columbia Gorge in 1992. Apparently she did it in order to escape an abusive relationship. The evidence shows she learned enough from news reports and information she gleaned from her interrogators to convince them of Sosnovske’s guilt. Sosnovske pled guilty in order to avoid a death sentence and received a sentence of life without parole. Pavlinek was also convicted of murder and given a life sentence. Their case fell apart when Keith Jesperson, the “Happy Face Killer” who was in prison for other murders, confessed and gave information that only the police knew. Sosnovske and Pavlinek were released in 1995.
Now, Phillip Scott Cannon has been released from prison after serving more than ten years for an aggravated murder for which he was convicted with evidence that has been debunked . (See additional story).
Death penalty supporters insist that the system in Oregon has made no mistakes because no death sentenced person has been exonerated. It is only through pure luck that this has not happened.
Oregon does not need the death penalty – it is too risky and cannot be undone.