Milton-Freewater man pleads guilty but insane to murdering wife

Villegas

Oscar Villegas of Milton-Freewater pleaded guilty but insane Thursday to murdering his wife and trying to murder their two children. The pleas could send the 27-year-old Villegas to a state hospital for the rest of his life.

Villegas changed his pleas Thursday morning in the Pendleton courtroom of Umatilla County Circuit Judge Lynn Hampton. He appeared via video from the county jail a few miles away. He told the judge he did not want to be in court in person.

Villegas’ attorney, Kara Davis, explained that two independent evaluations of his mental heath found he suffered from “bipolar disorder with psychotic features,” a chronic condition. She said the clincher for those findings came from evidence showing Villegas experienced delusions a year before the crimes and even went to an emergency room for help.

While a doctor noted his symptoms, Davis said no one diagnosed him.

Villegas stabbed and cut his wife, Maria Villegas, and their children on May 26, 2016, in their Milton-Freewater home. Maria Villegas died from her injuries. Davis argued Villegas could not understand the consequences of his actions in the moment nor could he control his behavior. He also tried to kill himself, she said, and his mental state has improved with treatment and confinement.

Jaclyn Jenkins, Umatilla County chief deputy prosecutor, said the state had a third expert review the two evaluations, but those findings were inconclusive to whether Villegas was in the midst of a mental episode when he committed the crimes.

“This is not how we wanted the case to play out,” Jenkins said. “I believed this is the only course available to us at this time.”

Hampton asked Villegas if he was now “in the full state of his mind,” and he replied he was.

Villegas pleaded guilty except for insanity to murder for the death of Maria Villegas and to two counts of attempted aggravated murder, one for each child. Per the plea agreement, Hampton sentenced Villegas to a maximum term of life for the murder and to maximums of 20 years each for the attempted murders. The charges all run consecutive.

Rather than prison, Villegas will serve his time in a state mental hospital under the eye of the Psychiatric Security Review Board. If the state finds Villegas no longer would be a threat to himself or others, he would not return home. Rather, Davis explained, he would be deported.

“My client is a legal, permanent resident but was not born here,” Davis said after the hearing. Yet federal case law allows for deportation of such residents who are guilty of serious felonies, even in the case of guilty except for insanity.

Davis also said most offenders who are guilty but insane end up serving as much time or more in a mental hospital than if they were going to prison.

Hampton also forbid Villegas from having any contact with his children. The judge noted the children are in the care of his side of the family and stressed they must report any attempt he makes to contact them.

“They’ve been monitoring that, yes,” Davis responded.

Several family members and friends of Maria Villegas attended the hearing. Two of them addressed the judge before the sentencing.

Maria Villegas’s mother spoke through tears and said this was not justice for her daughter, who came to the United States to have a better life.

“My daughter, my baby,” she cried. “I’m never going to hold her again because of what happened.”

A woman who said Maria Villegas was like her little sister told the court their lives will never be the same.

“We carry this hole in our hearts because she’s not there,” she said.

After sentencing Villegas and ordering him to the care of the psychiatric board, Hampton said “that brings these proceedings, these sad proceedings, to a close.”

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Contact Phil Wright at pwright@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0833.

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