Saturday, June 25, 2005

Sharon Wilks' Killers Get Manslaughter

by Lori Tobias, The Oregonian, June 25, 2005

"Roommates guilty in woman's death"

ASTORIA -- Two women were convicted Friday of manslaughter for leaving their disabled roommate to waste to death in her bedroom while they traded her medications for street drugs. One of them pushed the roommate's body into a 40-foot ravine.

Jurors found Theresa A. Beverage, 31, guilty of first-degree manslaughter and Nicole A. Harris, 34, guilty of second-degree manslaughter in the death of Sharon Wilks, 56.

Wilks' body was found Feb. 28, 2004, at the bottom of a ravine trapped in her electric wheelchair. Beverage confessed that she pushed Wilks, who was paralyzed from the chest down, over the steep incline behind their apartment after finding her dead in her room two weeks earlier.

"It's good, real good," said Wilks' sister, Pamela Shoop, who clutched a teddy bear from her sister's funeral throughout the trial and sobbed as the verdict was read. "I think my sister trusted them. All they would have had to do was pick up the phone and I'd still have my sister."

Wilks, who suffered a long list of medical conditions and had a history of alcohol and drug abuse, went to live with the pair in December 2003.

Dr. Kevin Baxter testified that Wilks looked better than she had in months at a January appointment, but then she stopped keeping her appointments and he never saw her again.

When Wilks died, she had four bedsores that were infected to the bone and no sign of prescription drugs in her system. Her medication included 10 to 12 painkillers a day.

Clatsop County District Attorney Joshua Marquis said Beverage and Harris abandoned Wilks in her room in late January without food or drugs, then traded her prescription drugs for cocaine and methamphetamines.

"Withdrawal from dependency on oxycodone and Valium would be horrible in and of itself," Marquis said. "Worse, her body was being eaten away every day by nine deciduous ulcers."

Defense attorneys painted a picture of Wilks as a verbally and sometimes physically aggressive woman who ignored doctors' advice, abused her body and frequently told friends she wanted to die.

"All she had to do was ask for the help she needed. She could use a slide board to get in and out of bed. She could take a bus around town. She had resources available, but she could not be compelled to accept care," said Charles Fryer, Harris' attorney.

Marquis originally sought a conviction of murder by abuse. The charge was unusual -- it is normally filed against parents or guardians of children or caretakers of the elderly, not roommates, said Margaret Paris, a professor specializing in criminal law at the University of Oregon in Eugene.

The jury's decision to return guilty verdicts on lesser charges wasn't surprising, she said. "It is an indication why most of these cases don't get charged as murder by abuse," she said. "The murder by abuse is a real reach, a real gamble."

Marquis agreed such cases are challenging but said "the jury made it clear that Sharon Wilks' life had value and these women took that life."

Jurors deliberated for roughly 14 hours over two days before reaching their verdict. Sentencing is set for Sept. 16.

First-degree manslaughter carries a mandatory penalty of 10 years in prison, and secondary manslaughter carries a mandatory term of six years and three months. Beverage also was found guilty on charges of abusing a corpse, and both women were found guilty on multiple charges of criminal mistreatment.

Marquis is expected to ask that the sentences run consecutively.

Lori Tobias: 541-265-9394;

Monday, June 6, 2005

Clatsop County Jail Update

By TOM BENNETT, The Daily Astorian, Monday, June 06, 2005

"The situation at the jail is reaching a crisis stage":
County administration, public safety officials spar over criminal justice funding

The dispute between Clatsop County administration and public safety officials over how to fund the local criminal justice system continues -- this time over a proposal to rent more jail beds.

The county commissioners want the panel representing local public safety agencies to follow a budget directive from County Administrator Scott Derickson to fund new services within the existing criminal justice budget.

But members of the panel, the Public Safety Coordinating Council (PSCC), have voted to oppose that policy, setting up a likely confrontation at the group's next meeting Tuesday.

The PSCC Executive Committee has recommended the county spend an additional $200,000 to rent extra jail beds, on top of the 20 beds the county rents in Tillamook County Jail.

The recommendation came in response to the growing overcrowding problem in the local jail, according to District Attorney Josh Marquis. While the lack of jail beds has been a problem for years, lately it has gotten worse, with more and more sentenced criminals serving only one or two days behind bars, he said. Local probation officers are complaining to his office that supervision of parole and probation clients is getting tougher because the offenders are being released so quickly.

"The situation at the jail is reaching a crisis stage," Marquis said.

When the long-awaited Community Corrections Transition Center opens next year, the county will have to divert some of the funds it uses to rent beds to operate the facility, Marquis said.

But in a May 31 letter to Circuit Court Judge and PSCC chairwoman Paula Brownhill, the county commissioners said the bed-rental proposal would only be considered if it adhered to Derickson's budget directive.

"It's Clatsop County's goal to see the PSCC fulfill its charge by effectively coordinating public safety services and resources. This opportunity has yet to be fully realized," the letter stated.

Derickson, who was out of town today, said last week that the county commissioners want the PSCC to take a much bigger role in directing the county's public safety dollars, one of the recommendations of an outside study of the county's criminal justice system.

"There is a sense of frustration that the county is coming up with a lot of ideas, when we would like to see the elected officials come forward," he said.

In a Feb. 25 memo, Derickson informed the PSCC that funding for any new programs or services would have to be found within the existing budgets of the criminal justice system. The memo prompted criticism from Sheriff Tom Bergin and Marquis, who complained that the directive would force public safety officials to "cannibalize" one budget to support another.

At a special meeting of the PSCC in March, Derickson laid out a formula for funding an ambitious expansion of the county's substance abuse treatment services recommended by the coordinating council, using a variety of funding sources, including from the county Health and Human Services Department. "I showed how the PSCC could work with the Health Department to achieve their goals," he said. "We are already looking across the board anyway to find the money. It's a real misnomer to say we can't look at funding outside the public safety system."

But at a May 17 meeting of the PSCC Executive Committee, the group voted 3-1 to recommend to the board of commissioners that it look at the entire county budget, not just the criminal justice system, when seeking funding for new programs. Marquis, Bergin and Circuit Court Judge Phil Nelson supported the motion, while Brownhill opposed it. Committee member and County Commissioner Sam Patrick was absent, as was Derickson, who is a non-voting member of the panel.

In their May 31 letter the county commissioners also indicated their intent to add Commissioner Pat Roberts to the PSCC Executive Committee as a voting member, a move Derickson said was recommended by Brownhill.

Marquis said he was not opposed to Roberts joining the committee, but questioned whether it was consistent with the commissioners' stated goal of having officials of the public safety agencies take the lead in setting policy.

"If that's the case, it's important that the PSCC not be dominated by the board of commissioners or the county administration," he said.