Man freed after authorities destroy evidence in 1998 homicides
By Helen Jung, The Oregonian
December 18, 2009
In a motion filed Friday morning in Marion County Circuit Court, the Polk County district attorney's office requested dropping of the charges against Cannon, saying that "dismissal is in the best interest of justice for the reason that necessary evidence is unavailable."
In a statement, District Attorney Stan Butterfield said the evidence was destroyed in 2005, after Cannon's direct appeals were exhausted, despite a county policy calling for retention of evidence in murder cases through all post-conviction appeals.
The dismissal of charges reopened deep wounds for the three victims' families.
"There's no closure for our family," said Thomas Osborne, the father of one of the victims. Suzan Renee Osborne was found shot in the head at a mobile home with Jason Roger Kinser and Celesta Joy Graves. "There's no closure for his (family) either. It's just a bad deal all around."
Osborne said he couldn't believe it when Polk County authorities told him they lost additional evidence.
"The justice system, as far as I'm concerned, absolutely sucks," he said. "How do you lose evidence?"
Jennifer Murdock, Graves' sister, said only: "We are very unpleased that he is being cut free."
Glenn Betts, Kinser's stepfather, said Friday from his home in Lakewood, Wash., that he would feel better about the release if there was evidence ruling out Cannon as the killer.
"If the guy is innocent, I want him out," Betts said. "But if there's any doubt about his innocence, he's been convicted and I want him in."
The dismissal came after prosecutors were told to take another look at the case, which relied in part on evidence from "comparative bullet lead analysis," a technique abandoned by the FBI in 2005 because of its unreliability. After Geiger challenged the use of the bullet analysis, the state agreed in August that Cannon should receive a new trial.
The Polk County district attorney, with assistance from the state attorney general's office, re-evaluated the case. During the review, authorities discovered the evidence had been destroyed.
Butterfield declined to provide further details, saying the investigation remains open. He said the evidence was destroyed before his term and that he "enacted policy changes to make sure nothing like this happens again."
The prosecutors' motion, which was approved by Marion County Circuit Judge Albin Norblad, dismisses the charges "without prejudice," meaning prosecutors may refile charges if they are merited.
No weapon was found and no motive was established in the three killings. Cannon testified that he had been called to look at a plumbing problem at the victims' trailer. They were alive when he left, he said.
But two witnesses who were on their way to deliver meth to one of the victims said Cannon had acted strangely and stopped them from trying to get inside, according to news reports at the time. The landlady, who lived nearby, saw smoke coming from the trailer and found the bodies.
Truth in Justice note: There have been no disclosures regarding what consideration(s) the meth dealers received in exchange for their testimony. Further, it is worthy of note that the landlady subsquently was implicated in the killing of her husband and the murder of her boyfriend, both shot in the head, and is serving a prison sentence in the latter shooting death.