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The Crime that Changed Punishment June 2, 2007

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

This story was published in the Willamette Week on September 23, 1996

Lead Story

In 1992, Steve Doell’s daughter was killed. Since then his rage has helped transform Oregon.
By Maureen O’Hagan
Her name was Lisa Doell.
Just 12 years old, she was a star pupil at Waluga Junior High who dreamed of becoming an actress. She had just gotten off the school bus that October afternoon in 1992 and was walking along Lake Oswego’s North Shore Drive.
The car struck her from behind. Within two blocks of her grandmother’s house, she was killed instantly by the impact. The teenager behind the wheel sped away.
When police caught up with 16 year-year-old Andrew Whitaker, he explained how it happened. He just “homed in,” stepped on the accelerator and ran her down. “It wasn’t an accident,” Whitaker told the police. “I did it on purpose.” He had even bragged to a friend about the dent in his father’s silver Oldsmobile.
The crime was bad enough. The punishment only added to the horror. Instead of intentional murder, a jury found Whitaker guilty of manslaughter, which under state law carried a minimum sentence of three years.
Thirty-six months didn’t seem like much when weighed against a girl’s life. Especially at a time when fear of violence was sweeping the country, when politicians were duking it out to win the tough-on-crime crown, and when Oregon’s criminal justice system was already under fire.
“In that kind of atmosphere, sometimes a very small spark can cause a large explosion,” says Dick Springer, who at the time served on the state Senate Judiciary Committee. “That’s kind of how I would see Lisa Doell’s death.
Her father’s grief and rage have been part of the fuel. For five years, Steve Doell has played a central role in a kind of people’s revolution. Last year, he became head of Crime Victims United, an advocacy group that—since his daughter’s death—has had a remarkable success in shaping crime policy in this state by taking power away from elected officials and putting it in the hands of voters.
In the last four years, five silver-bullet ballot measures—two of which were crafted specifically with Lisa Doell in mind—have steamrolled years of legislation and precedent.
Love it or hate it, the influence that crime victims like Steve Doell have had in changing this state’s priorities in undeniable.
Need proof? Since 1993, the combined budget for the Department of Corrections and the Oregon Youth Authority has almost doubled—from $440 million to $836 million.
This November, Doell, 48, will take an even more public role as a co-sponsor of Measure 61, which will take the revolution one step further by lengthening sentences for 35 different crimes. Most observers expect Measure 61 to pass if it reaches the ballot, although the state Supreme Court is now considering a signature-count challenge by opponents.
While Oregon’s justice system now determined the same way as it’s tax policy is—through the initiative process—it’s tie to take a look at the clout of one grief-stricken dad.
Just over ten years ago, Oregon’s system of crime and punishment was a joke. We hadn’t added a prison bed in years. Because of overcrowding, virtually all prisoners were released at least six months before their scheduled parole dates, and some inmates were given temporary leave to make room for the endless supply of new convicts. “There was a gigantic gap between what was being said in the courtroom and what was actually happening,” Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schrunk recalled. “(In some cases), 10-year sentences were really 60 days. It was ridiculous.”
There was also a problem with equity. While there were maximum sentences on state law books, judges had tremendous leeway in doling out punishment. For example, a thief from Coos Bay might be sentenced to five years behind bars while one in Portland would get a short stint in jail.
In 1987, the Criminal Justice Council, a committee of prosecutors, defense lawyers, judges, probation officers, legislators and citizens, embarked on what would become a two year project to transform that broken system.
They came up with a system called Sentencing Guidelines. It was essentially a new scale of justice that weighed the need to punish offenders, particularly violent ones, against the desire to keep prison sending at a reasonable level.
Under the guidelines, sentences were standardized across the state, although judges still had the power to tailor those sentences to individual offenders using specific criteria.
Most important, in 1988 then Gov. Neil Goldschmidt reluctantly agreed to build hundreds of new prison beds (a promise that was later followed through by his successors) so that offenders would serve their full sentences. Parole, the bane of crime victims, was eliminated.
Oregon’s sentencing guidelines were considered about the best in the country,” says Multnomah County Presiding Judge James Ellis, who worked on the committee.
There was just one problem: Even with the new prison cells, there wasn’t room for everybody at the inn, so some sentences still seemed too lenient. For example, the standard sentence for a car thieves was generally probation, possibly including some jail time—even for two-time offenders. Some violent offenders could receive probation if they had no prior offenses.
But without building even more prison beds—something few in the Legislature had the stomach for—the sentences couldn’t change.
The story of the disturbed teenager and the girl he killed helped convince voters to take matters into their own hands.
In the summer of 1992, Steve Doell was floundering. After working in sales and marketing at Tenneco for 15 years, he was without a job. The company offered him a promotion, but it would have required moving to Los Angeles. “It was either up or out,” he recalls. He chose the latter because he wanted to stay in Lake Oswego near his two children, Lisa and her older brother, Scott, who were living with their mother. The couple had divorced three years earlier .
At the time, Doell figured he would find a new career in a related field. Then, on October 21, he got the awful news: Lisa had been killed by a hit-and-run driver.
The next 12 months were torture for the Doells. They endured a seven-day remand hearing to determine whether Whitaker should be tried in juvenile court. “It was very long and very painful,” Steve Doell says. “You have to listen to clinical psychologists and psychiatrists saying why [defendants] area just real good people who were having a bad day. That’s very painful to the family.” In the end, the judge sided with the prosecution. Whitaker would face trial as an adult.
Then, the Doells sat through a eight-day trial and three days of jury deliberation. In the end, Whitaker was found innocent of intentional murder, despite the fact that he told police he had run the girl over on purpose. He was found guilty of second-degree manslaughter, a crime which under Sentencing Guidelines carried a maximum sentence of 36 months.
Steve Doell decided to fight. He joined Crime Victims United, and advocacy and support group headed at the time by Bob and Dee Dee Kouns. The couple, now retired, began working on crime issues in 1980, after their daughter Valerie disappeared in California. (Her body has never been found, and no one has been prosecuted for the crime.) Today, the group has about 800 members statewide, only about 25 to 50 of whom are active. “It’s run on a very thin dime,” Doell says. He says he relies on a settlement from his daughter’s death to pay his bills.
CVU worked to change the justice system on two fronts: through the legislature and through the initiative process. Legislature successes were few; CVU was often blocked by Democrats who were in control of both chambers until 1991. The group did get several initiatives approved by voters—for example, a victims’ rights measure in 1986—but these were insulated victories in a climate otherwise unreceptive to getting tough on crime.
From the early 90’s, that all changed.
In 1994, the country underwent the Republican revolution, as Democrats were tossed from office nationwide. In 1995, Republicans gained control of both chambers of the Oregon Legislature, giving CVU a more receptive audience.
In addition, inmates who were convicted before the Sentencing Guidelines took effect were still being released early. Publicity over these released—and the growing fear of crime—played into CVU’s hands. And, of course, there was the story of Lisa Doell.

By 1994, the political climate was ripe for crime fighters. Then state Rep. Kevin Mannix, an ambitious Democrat from Salem (who is now running as a Republican), jumped on the opportunity. He proposed a triumvirate of ballot

Measures—10, 11 and 1 7—that would dramatically alter the way justice was meted out in this state.
Measure 11 was the most sweeping of the three. It required long minimum sentences for certain crimes, including robbery, rape and murder, and it applied to first-time offenses. It also required offenders as young as 15 to be treated as adults—a provision Mannix says he added with Whitaker’s grueling remand hearing in mind.
Doell’s daughter was a key player in the campaign.
Lisa’s death was mentioned in radio ads, in the Voter’s Pamphlet and in editorial boardrooms. “We heard a lot about Lisa Doell and her circumstances,” recalls Ingrid Swenson, a Portland defense lawyer who fought the measure.
For example, Lisa’s paternal grandfather, Edward Doell penned this Voters’ Pamphlet statement: “My beautiful 12 year-old granddaughter, Lisa Marie Doell, was murdered October 21, 1992 in a violent and random act…If your family were victimized by violent crime, which sentence would you want imposed on the criminal?”
Opponents of the measure were unable to counter such volatile emotional fuel. It passed overwhelmingly, with 65 percent of the votes in favor, thereby tossing out a large portion of the Sentencing Guidelines. Judges could no longer tailor the sentences to the crime. Without this discretion, they were, as one prosecutor said, “like potted plants in the courtroom.”
“Measure 11 is the gorilla that ate the whole system,” Swenson says. “It runs the whole show here.”
That same year, 675 percent of voters approved Measure 10, which prevents the Legislature from overturning any part of Measure 11 without a two-thirds majority. And 70 percent of voters passed Measure 17, which required all state inmates to work full time to earn their keep.
If the justice system was knocked upside down in 1994, it was given another stiff kick two years later.
In 1996, CVU pushed for Measure 26 and 40. Once again, Lisa Doell was a key figure in the campaigns. Steve Doell even helped to write one of the measures with his daughter in mind.
A Voters’ Pamphlet statement in favor of Measure 26, which eliminates the Constitution’s prohibition against “vindictive justice”, read: “Remember the horrific story of a teenage boy who purposely ran over a young girl simply for the thrill of doing it?” The statement was signed by Sen. Gorden Smith, Rep. Chuck Carpenter and Rep. Beverly Clarno.
Doell took particular interest in the crafting and passage of Measure 40, called a crime victims’ “bill of rights.” Among other things, the measure allows 11-1 jury verdicts in murder cases (instead of only unanimous verdicts)and changes the rules of evidence—provisions that stemmed directly from his daughter’s case.
Both initiatives passed with overwhelming margins, although portions of Measure 40 have since been thrown out by the state Supreme Court.
Taken in combination, says Emily Simon, a Portland defense lawyer, the measures have amounted to “virtually a revolution in the way in which the criminal justice system works.”
Like the Kounses before him, Doell has also worked another angle—the Legislature.
“He’s a pretty tireless guy,” says Mark Gardner, special counsel to the attorney general. “He’s [at the Capitol] all the time. He’s lobbying and lobbying and lobbying.”
Observers in Salem have mixed opinions about his skills. Some, like former Rep. John Minnis, say he’s a “very articulate man” who knows how the political game is played. Rep. Peter Courtney calls him “a CEO type” and a “force to be reckoned with.”
Others call him awkward and criticize his stiff demeanor and his sometimes unyielding disposition. One lawyer describes his as an “ice man with a volcano underneath.”
“It’s a mystery to me where this guy gets his power,” says Portland defense lawyer Paul Levy. Who has testified on criminal-justice issues in Salem. “I’m not sure it is him. I think it’s what he represents: the fear of crime.”
That’s not a concept many politicians want to be seen as knocking. “I know how politicians and candidates fear [Doell] and worry about him,” Courtney says.

In addition to lobbying, Doell dabbles in electoral politics. For example, Eugene legislator Karsten Rasmussen lost a reelection bid in 1994 after he was blitzed with eight straight days of radio ads branding him as soft on crime. Doell read the script, which mentioned his daughters death.

“That is the kind of thing that sends ripples through [the Capitol].” Said one Legislature-watcher.
Doell has also had influence in judicial appointments. Henry H. Lazenby Jr., the governor’s legal counsel, says that “we weigh [CVU’s viewpoint] along with other opinions” when closing judges. Dick Springer, who was seeking appointment as a referee in late 1997, thinks Doell’s influence may be more significant.
“He appeared twice before the Supreme Court to testify and present written testimony that really blistered me as an enemy of the people because I had chosen to disagree with him.” Springer says. The court chose not to appoint Springer as a pro term judge. (Some say that he wouldn’t have gotten the job with or without Doell, and in fact a bar committee did not recommend him.)
This year, Doell and former Rep. Bob Tiernan decided to take their concerns over individual judges to a broader level by sponsoring a ballot initiative that would have drastically changed the way they were elected. Lawyers were so worried about this measure that they formed a P A C and quickly raised almost $60,000. to try to block it. At the last minute, Doell and Tiernan withdrew the measure but threatened judges with bringing it back in 2000. The District Attorneys Association, which has benefited from crime victims’ initiatives, was the only major group of lawyers not to oppose the measure.
Steve Doell and his supporters acknowledge that they have revolutionized the way justice is doled out in Oregon. And they argue their efforts have been effective in reducing crime.
In fact, the violent crime rate has declined since 1994. “There were 12,000 Oregonians who weren’t raped, murdered, assaulted or robbed because Measure 11 passed,” Mannix says.
The best criminal justice experts in the country can’t agree on exactly what causes the rise and fall of crime, although they all say that incarceration rates are but one piece of a puzzle that includes demographics, economics and carious other factors.
“It’s complicated,” says defense lawyer Levy, “and the desire of folks like Mannix and Doell is to make it seem simple.”
Even Mannix concedes that Measure 11 was drafted without the benefit of any real analysis of the correlation between sentences and crime rates. “It’s my own personal scale of justice,” he says. “Even if it didn’t make a dent in the crime rate, it was the right thing to do.”
While opinions differ on the effect of ballot measures on the crime rate, there is no debate about the extent to which Doell’s efforts have tied the hands of judges.
Judge Ellis tells a story of his first Measure 11 case, a shoplifter who struggled when she was caught. According to Ellis, she said, “Let me go. I’ve got a gun”—even though she did not have a weapon. Because she physically resisted and claimed she was armed, the charge was second-degree robbery, a Measure 11 crime that carries a mandatory 70 month sentence. Eventually, she accepted a plea bargain—pleading guilty to a lesser offense—and went to prison for 14 months.
“She was a single parent with two preschool children and no prior record,” Ellis said. “I suppose you could say it’s a good lesson to a shoplifter, but it’s so wildly disproportionate to the level of the crime. I’m not sure what social end was achieved by that.”
As justice in Oregon has been transformed by Doell, so has the amount we pay for it.
“Voters made a decision for us in ’94 that we would spend money on construction and operation of new prisons,” says Bob Applegate, Kitzhaber’s spokesman. “That vote was a budget decision.” As tax revenues grew to unprecedented levels from a booming economy, they were quickly eaten up because elected officials were forced to allocate more money for prisons.
The shift has been dramatic. While overall the state budget has risen 39percent since 199 3, the correction portion has increased by 90 percent, mainly to pay for the building of new prison cells. Since 1994 the Department of Corrections has added 2,3 50 beds. It has started construction on one new prison and sited five more. During that time same time, the higher-education budget has risen by 0.5 percent, and human resources has increased by 16 percent.
This biennium, Oregon will reach a dubious milestone. For the first time ever, the state will spend more on corrections (836 million) than it will on higher education (704 million).
Measure 61, the tough-on-crime- initiative on this November’s ballot, could cost an additional $850 million to $1.4 billion over the next 10 years and will require the construction of between 2,800 and 4,300 prison beds.
The problem, of course, is what isn’t getting funded. “Only about 50 percent of the people who seek drug and alcohol treatment and counseling can find it in this state,” Applegate says. “If you take the money we’ve put into expanding our prison system in the last four years and put a tenth of it in those kinds of services, might we be a safer place? That’s how we feel about it, but it’s too late. Measure 11 is law.”
If you believe, as Doell does, that protecting citizens is the most important mission of government, then this isn’t a problem. Clearly, Doell has no regrets.
“There’s certainly more noble things we could spend our money on,” he says, “but once we can get a real handle on the crime problem, which I think we’re starting to see. Then we can go more into the prevention mode. Hopefully, we can shift money the other way some day.”
Steve Doell and his ex-wife Colleen, divorced in the summer of 1989 because of “irreconcilable differences.” According to court documents, the split was difficult.
In November of 1989, Colleen Doell took out a retraining order against her ex-husband. In it, she claimed that Doell pulled their son, Scott, by his h air and hit him on the head and back: At about 3:30 a.m. [one day in October], Steve threatened Scott by telling him to keep the physical abuse a secret or he would have to walk home, as well as other unspecific retaliation.” Colleen Doell further claimed that her ex-husband “grabbed my neck, threw me against the wall of the house and choked me with sufficient force to cut off my ability to breathe or speak. Steve then struck my son several times in the head and grabbed my 9 year old daughter (Lisa) and trued to force her into his car as she screamed for help.”
Doell does not deny the incidents. “What I did was wrong,” he said. “There is no excuse for that type of behavior.”
Doell and his ex-wife also fought over child support. According to court filings, Doell suddenly stopped making child support and alimony payments about 12 months after the divorce. The lapse lasted 21 months, and the district attorney’s and the attorney general’s offices were called in to enforce the court ordered support payments. At one point Steve Doell was nearly $21,000. in arrears. He has since paid what he owes. Financial difficulties were part of it,” he says noting that he “did pay for other items that would never be listed there, like private school and that type of things.”
Measure 61 addresses a very real problem with state sentencing laws: Property criminals, even repeat offenders, escape any serious consequences for their crimes.
The measure calls for 12-month sentences for 35 different crimes, many of which are property offenses. It also tacks on an additional one-year sentence if the offender has one prior conviction, two years for two convictions and three years for three. The “kicker” sentences are mandatory, while the initial 12 month sentence is discretionary: in other words, the judge could give a first-time offender probation.
According to Multnomah County district Attorney Mike Schrunk, “There is a helluva problem with property crimes. We need to do something.”
But Schrunk is not supporting 61. One problem, he says, is the cost, estimated by state fiscal officers at $1.4 billion over 10 years for additional prison beds. Steve Doell, a co-sponsor of the measure, says that because many cases end in plea bargains, the price tag will be more like $850 million.
Schrunk also believes these offenders can be better served with programs like drug treatment. “If there’s one group we can manage in the community, it’s property offenders,” he says.
Critics of the measure also argue that the state Legislature has addressed some of the problems with property crimes in a 1997 law that increases sentences for some offenses.


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