Attorneys, the district attorney, the judge — and even the unshackled defendant — took a trip to Paradise Point in Port Orford Wednesday to visit the site where, a year ago, Allen Douglas Vonnevin and Glen Burkhow Jr. allegedly dragged and left a man they’d beaten.
And by noon Thursday, Coos County District Court Judge Martin Stone issued his verdict to Vonnevin: Not guilty of attempted murder.
But the judge did find Vonnevin guilty of assault in first degree, assault in the second degree and kidnapping, all Measure 11 crimes.
“He said it wasn’t his intent for him to die,” Dial said. “We had a good argument, but it didn’t convince him that they intended him to die.”
Measure 11 crimes — the most severe of incidents — have minimum sentencing guidelines in Oregon. Vonnevin could spend a minimum of 90 months in prison for his involvement in the incident — or depending on whether Stone decides to run the sentences concurrently and if aggravating factors are considered.
Vonnevin will be sentenced next Thursday.
Vonnevin and Glen Burkhow Jr. were accused last winter of getting Burkhow’s sister, Mandy, to lure Russell Peters to the beach where they would assault him.
The defense hoped to show that the incident was merely an assault gone awry, but District Attorney Everett Dial intended to prove there was “substantial” evidence the assailants’ actions were steps that could have led to Peters’ death.
The trip to the beach the day before depicted to the judge — Vonnevin opted to go with a bench trial instead of one by jury — where the defendant’s truck was in the parking area, where co-conspirator Mandy Burkhow parked her truck that brought the victim to the site and where Russell Peters was left on the trail to the beach.
It was also designed to show that, in the dark night of Jan. 12, 2013, the location in which Peters was deposited was isolated and out of sight of anyone who might have been in the parking lot.
Indeed, the only people to show up that night passed him by because they didn’t see him at first, testimony indicated Tuesday.
Even medical personnel testified they had difficulty locating the injured man.
Peters was only spotted when a couple left from a bonfire to get blankets and upon their return, the man thought he might have seen a body. He escorted the woman back to the fire, returned to the spot, found Peters and called 911.
It was up to Dial to “substantially” prove the attackers had left Peters there to die; the beaten Port Orford man suffered five broken ribs, five broken vertebrae, a punctured lung and a gunshot wound in both legs that resulted in the destruction of both bones in his lower right leg and a permanent limp.
Wednesday after the field trip, Stone denied the expected motions to acquit Vonnevin on the charges of attempted murder, aiding and abetting and kidnapping, but acquitted him of robbery and theft charges. A second theft charge was dismissed.
Glen Burkhow Jr.’s jury trial is set to begin March 18.
Dial summoned a handful of witnesses to the stand Wednesday, who testified overhearing comments made in the Port to Starboard Restaurant and Lounge that evening, helped clean blood from Burkhow’s truck and other plans to fabricate a story justifying the assault.
Additionally, numerous text messages sent between Mandy and Glen Burkhow in planning the assault were presented as evidence in the case.
Port Orford Police Officer Levi Easlon, who was called to the scene that night, said it was so dark it was difficult to even find where Peters was on the bluff below the parking lot. Photos were presented that showed pools and splatters of blood leading from the truck and down the trail to the beach.
When asked if he saw blood, Easlon said, “I saw a lot of blood. Mr. Peters had trouble opening his eyes for all the lacerations on his head.”
Robin Culley of Port Orford occupied the stand most of the morning Wednesday, tearfully recalling the conversation — what the men wanted to do to Peters — among the Burkhows and Vonnevin.
“I was concerned, but at the same time, you hear people talk like that all the time,” she testified. “I didn’t think they were going to jump up and start duct-taping people to chairs. You don’t actually think people are going to do it.”
But they did, the court proved.
Using methamphetamine as a lure, Mandy Burkhow drove Peters to the beach where, under the text message direction of her brother, parked the truck next to brush on the east side of the lot. Glen Burkhow and Vonnevin opened the door and began to assault Peters, pulled him out of the truck, beat him with a baseball bat and dragged him by the pants cuffs across the lot and down the trail to the beach.
Mandy later returned to Culley’s residence where she ordered Culley to light a fire and help clean her truck.
“She was frantic,” Culley said. “Mandy told me to help bring bloody newspaper, cleaning supplies — she was frantically trying to make it look like it was not bloody in there. I brought it to the fire and I put them in the fire.”
Later, the four met at China Mountain, then relocated to a hotel in Bandon where they fabricated a story that would say Mandy and Peters were at the state park when he tried to rape her. Vonnevin and Burkhow heard a scream and cry for help — the story went — and ran to her aid.
“It was made very clear to me this is the story,” Currey said. “This is the story.”
The story was later recanted.
When the three later turned themselves in, Vonnevin showed detectives where he’d stashed the bat — in a submerged tree root in Garrison Lake — used in the attack. Peters blood, identified by DNA tests, was also found on clothing.
Defense attorney Rick Inoguchi said he felt the evidence presented was insufficient to prove an attempt to murder Peters.
“There was no testimony that what Vonnevin did would cause the death of Mr. Peters,” he said. “There was some evidence from the doctor that if left untreated, the injured lung could cause his death.”
Dial, however, argued that the planning and statements from the accused that he wanted to “permanently (expletive) up the guy,” held Peters down and instructed Burkhow to, “Hit him harder! Hit him harder!,” leaving him in an isolated and dark area of the park with serious injuries — including the gunshot wound, he noted — were, in totality, substantial steps toward causing the death of Peters.
Inoguchi argued that, with Vonnevin holding Peters in a headlock and punching him in the face while in the cab of the truck, there was no way he could have also been assaulting him with a bat.
“I don’t think you can infer that Mr. Peters’ back was there to be struck,” he said.
Charges of aiding and abetting were also argued, with Dial saying Vonnevin helped Burkhow commit his crime.
“The plan was concocted,” Dial said. “Vonnevin drove Mr. Burkhow to the location. The bat was in his vehicle. Vonnevin was pinning down the victim and telling Burkhow to hit him again. That all goes to the state of mind of Vonnevin at the time.”
Most case law, Stone pointed out, indicates that aiding and abetting cannot be brought into an assault case, but he denied the motion to acquit Vonnevin of the charge.
“When I factor in what I’ve heard, it’s clear to me that the conduct of both defendants was intrinsically intertwined. It rises to the level of aiding and abetting.”
He also declined to acquit Vonnevin of kidnapping charges, saying that forcibly taking his body from the truck to the beach implied kidnapping.
He was acquitted of the robbery and theft charges, however, as it could not be determined who took his backpack, which contained knives, a camera, cellphone and $1,000 worth of methamphetamine.