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New Money-Saving Prisons Law Blamed For Sex Offender’s Release February 11, 2010

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

He charged his pick-up truck full speed ahead into the Marion County Courthouse, shooting at a police officer, and setting fires inside the building.

That same man, Christopher Millis,  appeared in a Lane County courtroom Thursday, asking for an early release.

Critics are left wondering why Millis is even here.  After all, he’s a violent offender. But he’s at the heart of a controversial law that pits victims advocates against lawmakers aimed at saving the state money.

House Bill 3508 overwhelmingly passed both chambers of the state Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Ted Kulongoski following the 2009 legislative session. Sponsored by House Speaker David Hunt, D-Gladstone, and Senate President Peter Courtney, the bill was written to “suspend certain provisions of Measure 57,” a ballot initiative voters approved in 2008 that mandated sentencing for certain property and drug crimes.

Darren Tweedt, a former Marion County prosecutor who now works for Attorney General John Kroger, said he vividly recalled what Christopher Millis did back in November 2005.

“I’ve never seen that scope of damage in two different cities,” said Tweedt, who on Thursday represented the state in opposing any early release for Millis.

“This man has committed acts of terrorism against Marion County, his neighbors, a policeman. He should not have been released early,” Tweedt said.

And Millis wasn’t. A judge agreed that Millis did not qualify for early release – but some question how and why he even got a hearing.

Victims advocates say he is the prime example of why House Bill 3508, aimed at reducing sentencing requirements for “non-violent offenders,” doesn’t work.

“I think it’s a terrible thing to do to victims, ” said Anne Pratt, with Crime Victims United.

House Bill 3508 was intended to reduce by up to 30 percent the mandatory sentencing requirements imposed by prior voter-approved initiatives. Lawmakers hoped to save money and reduce prison overcrowding as a result, too, and so far it has saved the state millions, according to its supporters.

So how did a violent criminal like Millis get a hearing? His case has raised questions as to whether the law — as written — will meet its goals while also keeping violent offenders imprisoned.

Opponents now have another case to point to as evidence House Bill 3508 is failing.

Demetrius Payton, 34, is a registered sex offender who was released early from prison as a result of this controversial law. But he was just re-arrested and charged with sexually assaulting a woman while she slept.

“Imagine this: You are sleeping in your bed and a complete stranger rapes you,” said Sgt. Mike Geiger with the Portland Police Bureau’s Sex Crimes Unit. “You can’t get more frightening than that.”

State Sen. Chip Shields, the architect of House Bill 3508, did not return five different calls placed by KGW News.

Questions were left with a Shields aide: How was a sex offender released early from prison when he clearly had a violent past? How did a courtroom arsonist manage to receive an early-release hearing?

Those questions were not answered.



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