Umatilla County District Attorney Dan Primus said he saw how self defense could play a role in Timothy Kellys killing of Daniel Dechand earlier this month. But instead of dismissing the murder charge against Kelly outright, Primus opted to let a grand jury make the call.
I presented the evidence that I had to the grand jury at that time, everything we had, he said.
The grand jury came back with a determination of not true bill, a rare event. Without an indictment, Primus had to dismiss the initial charge of murder against Kelly. Not true bills are uncommon, and Primus and Sheriff Terry Rowan said as rare as the grand jurys finding was, in this case it was not surprising.
Kelly, 22, of Irrigon, shot and killed Dechand, 25, of Hermiston, shortly before 1 p.m., Feb. 4, in a Chevrolet Blazer outside Hermiston. Primus three days later brought a charge of murder against Kelly and got a warrant for his arrest.
Primus said he made that call based the physical evidence, including in the SUV where the shooting took place, and the statements from the only third-party eyewitness to the shooting, David Wayne Newton, 51, of Hermiston. He was the driver who brought Dechand to Good Shepherd Medical Center, where he died. Kelly turned himself into police Feb. 10, and his arraignment was the next day.
The case began to change once Kelly was in custody, Primus said. Kelly told detectives Dechand planned to rob him and threatened that he had a gun. Dechand made a move as if he were going to pull a weapon, and thats when Kelly fired three rounds into Dechands left side and back, according to Primus, who said he scrutinized all the available evidence.
Primus said he witnessed police question Newton the first time, and Newton did not reveal Dechand tried to rob Kelly. Rowan said detectives questioned Newton twice more after Kellys statement. Newton was not forthright the second time, but the third time, right before grand jury, he was more clear about what he saw, Rowan said.
Newton may have hedged because he was worried about what consequences he could face, Rowan said, but ultimately Newtons story backed up Kellys.
Following the arraignment, Primus had five judicial days days state court is in session to present the case to the grand jury, which convenes Tuesdays and Thursdays in Umatilla County. Monday Feb. 17 was a state holiday, so the five days were up Feb. 19. Primus said he opted for Tuesday, Feb. 18, because that allowed more time for the investigation to continue.
Taking the case to grand jury was the right move, he said. Grand jury proceedings are not open to the public, but Primus said it is a check on the powers of his office that ensures the system works.
Rowan, who returned Tuesday from a Western states sheriffs conference in Las Vegas, said he was confident in the case the major crimes team put together despite the dropped murder charge. And while Kelly is free and the prosecutions case is closed, the sheriffs office is continuing its investigation by seeking cellphone and social media records.
Obtaining a search warrant for a vehicle is a direct process compared to using a search warrant to obtain cellphone and Facebook information, Primus explained. In the latter, investigators are seeking the information from a corporation, which could have headquarters outside of Oregon, and corporate lawyers are going to eyeball the warrant hard. Companies then need time to seek out the particular information.
There are all kinds of variables that are out of our control, he said.
Given those circumstances, Primus said, detectives are moving as quickly as they can on these searches. Once they have, he said, they will review it to make sure no one overlooked something and theres nothing inconsistent with the story from Kelly and Newton.
The objective to the search is to complete the case file, Rowan said, and if new evidence arises the case could move forward again.
Primus said how that could happen is not clear and would be new territory for his office. Given that the grand jury cleared Kelly on the murder charge, Primus said he might not even be able to bring a lesser felony against Kelly on this case. He said he is researching what he would have to do if new evidence undermined Kellys story.
But he and Rowan also said there is nothing at this time to counter Kellys story.
Kelly did not respond to a request for comment.
Contact Phil Wright at email@example.com or 541-966-0833.