Dangerous convict asks early freedom
By Jennifer Nitson
Pete Sandrock calls Roger Matthew Walters one of the most dangerous offenders he ever prosecuted in his 25 years as district attorney for Benton County.
When Scott Heiser took the post in 1999, Sandrock showed him a file of papers more than a foot thick in his office.
"This is the Walters file,'" Heiser recalls Sandrock telling him. "In case this guy ever comes back.'"
In 1995, Walters was sentenced in Benton County Circuit Court to 30 years in prison after a jury found him guilty of the attempted kidnapping of a 13-year-old Corvallis girl in 1987. His lengthy sentence hinged on his status as a dangerous offender, as defined in Oregon statutes.
Now Walters wants out.
Walters, acting on his own behalf, recently filed a motion in Benton County Circuit Court to have his sentence amended. The court failed to prove his dangerousness beyond a reasonable doubt, Walters maintains.
He does not present any danger to society, Walters said in a recent phone interview from prison.
"There would never be a jaywalking the rest of my life, ever," he said.
Judge Locke Williams denied Walters' motion on the grounds that the sentence is a final judgment and Benton County Circuit Court has no further jurisdiction over the case.
Walters was initially sentenced to 60 years in prison for the same incident in 1987 after a jury found him guilty of attempted kidnapping, attempted rape and attempted sodomy.
He took his case to the Oregon Court of Appeals, and his conviction was overturned. The Oregon Supreme Court then upheld the original Benton County conviction. The case was again appealed, this time to the 9th Circuit Court in San Francisco, which sent it back for retrial in Benton County, stating there was insufficient evidence to support convictions of attempted rape and sodomy.
When he was again convicted and resentenced in 1995, the attempted rape and sodomy charges were dismissed, leaving only attempted kidnapping. Under current sentencing guidelines, established in 1989, the conviction would result in a sentence of about 28 months. Essentially, Walters got 30 years knocked off his original sentence, but, due to his dangerous offender status, he will still be incarcerated until 2017, when he'll turn 73.
Walters, now held in the Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario, thinks the 17 years he's already served is enough.
He has completed beauty school requirements and wants to open a beauty salon with a partner in Coos Bay, he said. He has also been reinstated as a Jehovah's Witness and wants to share his faith out of prison.
"I've worked on my conduct and I've strived to maintain and better my conduct year to year here," he said.
Heiser and Sandrock, however, think Walters should stay right where he is.
On Aug. 1, 1987, Walters approached a petite, 13-year-old blonde girl at a Corvallis garage sale. He asked her if she'd seen a white and black German shepherd. He claimed the dog was worth a lot of money and asked the girl to help him find it. She refused.
He offered her $10, then $20, then $30 as she started for her bicycle. He offered to drive her home, and again she refused.
She rode her bike home, where her family was having a yard sale of its own. Her mother called the police after finding out what happened.
Walters had followed the girl home and stopped, ostensibly to look at items for sale in her family's yard. He even talked to the girl's mother for a bit before the police showed up.
When an officer arrived it was found that Walters had been released from an Oregon state penitentiary a few months earlier. He was, in fact, still under post-prison supervision as a predatory sex offender.
Walters had been convicted in Lincoln County in 1981 for raping another 13-year-old girl, under disturbingly similar circumstances.
The Oregon Supreme Court summary of the case states:
"In the 1981 incident, the defendant approached a 13-year-old girl and asked if she had seen his lost dog, which he described as a white German shepherd. He offered her $20 to help him search for the dog, which she refused. Defendant then forced her into his car and took her to his trailer, where he raped and sodomized her. Defendant did not own a dog in 1981."
Nor did he own a dog in 1987, Sandrock said. The similarities did not end there. Most remarkable, Sandrock said, was the virtually identical appearance of the two victims.
The Lincoln County victim testified against Walters in Benton County. By then she was 21 years old.
"She was a dead ringer for the Benton County victim," he said. "They could have been sisters, they looked so much alike. It was truly incredible."
This underscored for jurors that Walters intended to commit the same crime he had in Lincoln County seven years previous.
"It wasn't just that they looked a little bit alike,"
Sandrock said. "They looked a whole lot alike. It was the same method. The same pretext. The same dog that didn't exist."
Walters is an extremely dangerous offender who should stay behind bars, Sandrock said. Letting him out could result in tragedy.
"In my 25 years as a prosecutor, I would consider Walters' rank in the top four or five criminals that I either personally prosecuted or supervised prosecution, in terms of dangerousness," he said. "If released from jail while still physically able, I'm reasonably certain he will again attempt to kidnap a woman or a girl and try to rape her, and he may try to kill her."
The penalty does not fit the crime, Walters argues, and he plans to file again for a review with the state Court of Appeals.
"I got 30 years with a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence for a conversation I had at a garage sale," he said.
If Walters continues his bids to get out of prison, judges and parole boards might consider Sandrock's opinion and his track record.
Had an Oregon parole board listened to Sandrock in 1991, the grisly death of one woman and the rape and torture of another might well have been avoided.
In March of that year, Cal Coburn Brown was let out of prison, having been judged by a prison psychologist as safe to release. Still, Brown was placed under the highest level of supervision as a predatory sex offender.
He'd been convicted in 1984 as a dangerous offender after an attempted assault on a Corvallis woman in her home.
After Brown was apprehended by Corvallis police, his backpack was found to contain a combat knife, duct tape and "materials with which to bind someone,"
Sandrock said. "It seemed pretty clear that he was fixated on violence against women, and it turned out that he was."
After his release from prison, Brown rented a Eugene apartment and enrolled at the University of Oregon.
He made it through his first month of parole without incident, but disappeared sometime after May 10. On May 23, a statewide arrest warrant was issued for Brown. Unfortunately, it came too late.
That same day Brown kidnapped a woman in Seattle, raped her, tortured her, stabbed her and stuffed her body in the trunk of a rental car at Sea-Tac Airport.
He then boarded a plane and flew to Ontario, Calif., where he had plans to meet another woman. They flew to Palm Springs together for the Memorial Day weekend, and there he attacked her and slashed her throat.
Brown left the hotel to get first aid supplies to keep her alive until the banks opened on Tuesday; he planned to withdraw money from her account. While he was out she managed to call the front desk of the hotel, and the police arrested him when he got back.
He pleaded guilty to charges in California and was then sent to Washington state, where he was convicted of murder. Brown, now 51, has been on death row ever since.
Brown's name often comes up in legal discussions of minimum sentencing and parole options, and Sandrock doesn't want Walters to become a similar example.
"Guys like Walters drove the public to vote for Measure 11," Sandrock said, referring to the mandatory minimum sentencing measure approved by Oregon voters in 1994.
"I don't make my statements lightly about how dangerous this man is," Sandrock stressed.
'They keep coming back'
Over the past 10 years, Walters has petitioned the courts several times to review his case and amend his sentence. He has repeatedly been refused, as he has exhausted all legal courses of appeal.
"His only recourse now is to receive executive clemency from the governor," Heiser said, pointing out that a criminal case often doesn't end with a jury's conviction.
"These cases don't really end," Heiser said. "They keep coming back and coming back."