The Oregon Court of Appeals reversed the murder conviction of former Milton-Freewater resident George West Craigen.
Roy Blaine, trial court administrator for Umatilla County Circuit Court, said the appeals court in two rulings found errors at trial and sent the case back, but it’s too early to tell if that results in a new trial.
Craigen, 56, is at Snake River Correctional Institution, Ontario, serving a life sentence for the 2011 murder of his neighbor, Rob Carter.
Craigen that year faced a criminal case of four counts of felon in possession of a firearm. The state brought one charge in 1991, another in 1994 and the last two in 2011. Craigen hired Pendleton attorney Dean Gushwa to defend him. The case had a status hearing Dec. 30, 2011, in Umatilla County Circuit Court.
Craigen was out of jail on bail and that morning shot and killed Carter.
Craigen evaded police for two days during a large and intensive man hunt. A tip led to his capture. Milton-Freewater police detective Robert Guerrero and Oregon State Police Detective Jeremy Gunter recorded their questioning of Craigen. During the interview, Craigen claimed Carter set him up on the 2011 weapons charges and that led to the deadly shooting.
Craigen’s trial began Sept. 15, 2014, and concluded two weeks later when the 12-person jury found him guilty of felon in possession of a firearm, unlawful use of a weapon, altering a firearm’s identification number and the murder.
The appellate court in a November 2018 ruling ruled the police should have ceased the interview when Craigen connected the gun case to the murder investigation. Continuing the interview, according to the ruling, violated Craigen’s rights because his lawyer was not present.
Gushwa at the time argued against the state’s use of the recording as evidence, but Circuit Court Judge Russell West allowed it. The trial did not hinge on whether or not Craigen was the killer. He did not deny he shot Carter. Rather, the defense claimed he suffered from “extreme emotional disturbance” or he was guilty except for insanity.
The jury heard the interrogation in its entirety, and the district attorney’s office used those statements to argue Craigen was not delusional but angry.
The appeals decision noted the recording “likely played some role in the jury’s rejection” of the insanity and emotional disturbance defenses. The appellate court found allowing the recording was an error.
The state asked the appeals court to reconsider the decision to overturn the murder conviction and look at other issues that could come up at trial. The court of appeals responded Wednesday and found West should have allowed Gushwa to present evidence of brain injury and depression when arguing Craigen suffered from extreme emotional disturbance or was guilty except for insanity.
However, according to the appellate court, West did not err in excluding evidence that Craigen’s injury or depression made him impulsive, subject to rapid changes in emotions or lacking in judgement. Still, the appeals ruling allows Craigen to present the defense again.
District Attorney Dan Primus said he declined to comment due to the magnitude of the case. Gushwa said the state may seek a deal rather than another trial, which are costly and stressful for victims.
“There’s no guarantee they will do it again,” he said.
And Gushwa might not serve as the defense attorney on a new trial. Craigen was a difficult client the first time. He even threw tantrums in court about Gushwa, and Gushwa filed motions to stop representing Craigen, but Judge West refused to let Gushwa off the case.
Gushwa said while he knows the case forward and back, maybe Craigen wants fresh representation.