|Opening statements in Vonnevin case|
|Written by Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer|
|February 19, 2014 10:20 am|
More than a year after he allegedly participated in an assault that almost left a man dead on the beach in Port Orford, Allen Douglas Vonnevin had his day in court Tuesday.
Vonnevin, 34, and Glen Burkhow, 33, are accused of attempted murder in the Jan. 12, 2013 incident.
The case, expected to last through the week, is being heard before Coos County Circuit Court Judge Martin Stone in Gold Beach. Originally, both cases were going to be held together but, late last week, the defense requested the two Port Orford men to be tried separately — and Vonnevin in front of a judge, rather than a jury.
Burkhow’s jury trial will be reset after Vonnevin’s case is finished.
The first day of court did not start smoothly, however, as security issues had not been addressed.
Vonnevin, who was handcuffed, was supposed to have his hands free so he could take notes, Stone said. In lieu of cuffs but to ensure safety in the courtroom, he was also to have had a “stun belt” affixed to him. Additionally, the metal detector requested to be installed outside of the courtroom was not set up.
“That was an order of the court,” Stone said. “This is not a good start. I am not a happy camper.”
The problems delayed the court proceedings about a half-hour.
District Attorney Everett Dial opened by chronicling the events of the evening when Vonnevin, Burkhow and his sister, Mandy Burkhow, were drinking at the Port to Starboard bar in Port Orford, where they outlined a plan to assault Russell Peters at Paradise Point State Park north of town.
Dial said Burkhow was heard to have said she could lure Peters to the park by offering him methamphetamine. Peters alleges he didn’t want to go, Dial said, but eventually conceded, and the two drove to the lower parking lot overlooking the beach.
Dial said he intends to show during trial that instructional text messages from Burkhow to his sister read, “Have the passenger door unlocked,” and “Drive the passenger side by the brush and drive real slow.”
“The victim was concerned by the way Mandy Burkhow was behaving, all the texts,” Dial said. “He was in fear of Mr. Vonnevin; two weeks earlier he had threatened to break his spine.”
At 8:59 that evening, text messages obtained by the prosecution indicated Mandy texted that “she was getting out of the car,” Dial said. At that point, Peters allegedly took a gun from his pocket and tucked it under his right thigh.
Then, Dial said, the passenger door opened and Vonnevin began striking Peters with his fists; Peters then dropped the gun to protect his face and eyes. During the struggle, the gun, a .38 revolver, went off and struck Peters in both legs.
The attackers then pulled Peters from the truck, Dial said, and beat him repeatedly with a baseball bat. Vonnevin and Burkhow then allegedly dragged Peters 92 feet along the trail to the beach and left him at the base of a bluff out of sight from anyone in the parking lot.
Peters suffered lacerations that required more than 15 inches of stitches, five broken ribs, five broken vertebrae, two shattered bones in his lower leg where the bullet struck him, a broken nose and punctured lung.
The blood loss, punctured lungs and cold weather that night could easily have been enough to kill him, testified Susan Gail Wilcox, the first-responding EMT on scene that night.
Mandy Burkhow, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges last year, left the scene in her car; Vonnevin’s vehicle, however, was stuck in the sand. Later, the three met in Bandon, destroyed some of Vonnevin’s bloody clothing and fabricated a story, Dial said.
“None of the three involved called 911 to assist,” he said. “None offered any aid. They simply left him out on the beach.”
A group of four others who were enjoying a bonfire on the beach discovered Peters at about 2 a.m. — five hours after he was beaten and dragged to the beach — and called 911.
“On the way down — I had a little flashlight — and I flashed it across and saw a shape, a body, lying in the sand,” said witness Tom McCall of Port Orford. “He was quiet; there was a lot of blood on his head and leg. He said he was sitting in the truck and the door yanked open and he was being hit with a bat.”
Wilcox said Peters was propped up in a semi-seated position with his pant leg soaked in blood. The EMTs who rescued Peters transferred him to a Cal-Ore ambulance that took him to Curry General Hospital in Gold Beach.
There he was treated for the punctured lung and lacerations and taken by Life Flight to Eugene where he underwent surgery on his leg. To this day, he uses a cane to walk, as he has limited movement in his foot.
Dial called to the stand Dr. Tom Brand, a semi-retired physician who saw Peters at the community clinic in Port Orford later last summer.
Brand detailed the severity of Peters’ injuries, notably the broken ribs and the punctured lungs they caused.
“It is textbook training, it all says that condition must be treated right away,” he said. “It’s a life-threatening condition.”
He said the bullet had entered the left leg near Peter’s knee and exited through his lower inner calf, then struck his right leg, where it lodged.
“In the process it broke two bones,” Brand said. “It shattered them into many little pieces.”
The challenge facing Dial is to prove the incident wasn’t merely an assault gone awry, but that Vonnevin intended to kill Peters.
“The defendant aided and abetted Glenn Burkhow in the assault,” Dial said. “He was part of the planning, he was part of the transportation. He aided in punching Russell Peters and encouraging Mr. Burkhow to hit him with the bat.”
Defense attorney Rick Inokuchi admits an assault did occur.
“But things went sideways when the gun appears,” he said. “The gun changes the whole dynamics of the case. I don’t think anyone intended to seriously injure Mr. Peters. I don’t think anyone intended to cause his death. Aiding and encouraging is not enough.”
Testimony continued Tuesday afternoon, and renews Wednesday morning.