PENDLETON- After just three hours of deliberation, a 12-person jury found Rashan Sarad Brown guilty of four counts of aggravated murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder Tuesday afternoon.
The jury's verdict was unanimous. Brown was sentenced by Judge Jeffrey Wallace this morning to true life in prison, which means no possibility of parole.
Brown, 24, was convicted of killing Julie Ann Wilde, 28, and Victor Hugo Torres, 19, during a robbery just before midnight Dec. 12, 1999, in Hermiston. Wilde and Torres were found shot to death on Southeast 10th Street; Wilde was found lying outside the white Ford Escort, shot twice in the face, and Torres was lying across the driver's and passenger's seats, shot 11 times.
"It was an exhausting process," said Umatilla County District Attorney Chris Brauer after Tuesday's verdict, which came at about 5 p.m. "I'm sure the trial jury is happy it's over and that they can go home to their families. But unfortunately, there are people in this courtroom who cannot do that anymore."
The families of Torres and Wilde wept quietly as the jury foreman read the verdict while Brown viewed the courtroom via closed circuit television from the grand jury room at the courthouse. Brown's prior disruptive and often obscene behavior kept him out of the courtroom during the entire trial, although Judge Wallace gave him opportunities each day to decide to be present.
"Finally, after waiting for so long, we got justice," said Nancy Torres, Torres' sister, after the verdict came Tuesday, more than four and a half years after the crime was committed.
Deputy District Attorney Dean Gushwa rested the state's case Friday after calling more than 25 witnesses and offering nearly 100 pieces of evidence. Brown's defense, Geoffrey Gokey and Duane McCabe, called just three witnesses, both opening and resting their case Monday.
During closing arguments Tuesday, Gushwa reminded the jury of all the evidence the state and its witnesses presented that pointed a guilty finger at Brown.
"(Brown) thinks his web of lies are going to get him out of these murders," Gushwa said. "... There's justice that needs to be brought here four and a half years later, and that's a conviction on every count charged."
However, Gokey tried to file a motion for a mistrial after Gushwa's closing arguments, saying Gushwa misled the jury with comments referring to Travis Powell, who was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and distribution of a controlled substance back in November of 2000 for his part in the murders. Wallace denied Gokey's motion.
Gokey's closing arguments focused more on what the jury did not hear during witness testimony and see of the evidence.
"This case is not about the evidence you heard," Gokey said. "It's about the evidence you didn't hear, and won't."
Gokey asked the jury if it would have helped to know if hairs, DNA and fingerprints found at the scene and on the bodies belonged to anyone else.
"Of course it would have helped," Gokey said. "... This same evidence can point to a number of people."
But the jury pointed to Brown.
"I was surprised that the verdict was unanimous, in that I hoped the jury would use critical thinking skills to make a decision on Rashan's life," said Tonya Brown, Brown's mother, in a statement. "It is evident they let the DNA weigh heavily while other clear and forensic evidence proved or left considerable doubt Rashan was not the shooter. I'm sorry true justice has not been served in this case, yet I pray God's justice prevails for the Torres, Wilde and Brown families."
Becky Carlson, Torres' fiancee, Torres' parents, sister, 8-year-old daughter and nephews were present, as were Wilde's sister and parents.
"My hope, which has come true, was to have (Torres') murderer convicted," said Carlson before sentencing this morning. "I would never wish this pain on anyone except Mr. Brown."
"This has been a real horrible, emotional struggle for me," Wilde's mother, Linda Harschman, said in a statement read this morning by Kathleen Davidson, director of the Victim's Assistance Program of the DA's office. "I have suffered such an emotional distress."