Friday, August 10, 2012

David Simonsen

Simonsen and Williams
Saturday, September 3, 1988, was hot and dry along the southern Oregon coast. It was the beginning of Labor Day weekend, and people flocked to the ocean to escape the rat race in the cities, only to find that it was just as crowded, if not more so, at the seashore due to the holiday. Out-of-state tourists were still finding their way to Oregon’s magnificently rugged coastline. Many came from other west coast states. Others, having traveled greater distances, were on the last leg of their vacations and would soon have to begin the journey back home.
Despite the crowds, most of the visitors to the southern Oregon coast would hold pleasant memories of the final holiday of the summer. But one couple, who were spending the day about 12 miles southeast of the community of Coquille, would have bleaker memories of that holiday weekend.
The couple, blasting rock music from their four-wheel drive’s stereo, turned onto Lampa Mountain Road shortly before 1:00 p.m. that Saturday. The single-lane dirt and gravel road, used by the local electric company to access their power lines, was in a remote area surrounded by forest. It was a favorite spot for local teenagers, who sometimes used it as a private place where they could “park” undisturbed. But the couple, who were from a nearby community, were only out to get away from all the tourists for a while.
At one point the couple stopped at a narrow turnaround. One of them spotted something strange lying off the road in dense brush. Their natural curiosity getting the best of them, the couple got out to investigate. After walking only a few yards, however, they could easily see what they had stumbled onto was something they wished they hadn’t. They had discovered two dead bodies, and from all outward appearances it was obvious that neither victim had succumbed to natural causes.
In a panic, the young couple ran back to their four-wheel drive and headed back down the mountain to civilization. They stopped at the first telephone they could find and notified the Coos County Sheriff’s Department of their unnerving discovery. Although neither wanted anything further to do with the horror they had unwittingly uncovered, the couple reluctantly agreed to wait at a location determined by Sheriff Veral Tarno, who needed their assistance to lead him and his deputies to the body site.
Within half an hour Sheriff Tarno, Detective-Sergeant Steve Dalton, a team of deputies, and a representative from both the medical examiner’s office and the district attorney’s office were at the remote location. One look at the hu¬man remains was all it took for Tarno and Dalton to determine that the victims, both female, had been murdered.
Both victims, observed Tarno and Dalton, had been shot in the face at close range. Although it was difficult to determine their ages because their faces had been rendered unrecognizable, the two lawmen guessed that they could be anywhere from late teens to mid 20s. The victims’ hairstyles and the firmness of their bodies suggested to the seasoned lawmen that they were still youthful. Both victims were bound at the wrists, and then tied to each other with rope. Both were nude from the waist down, which suggested to the lawmen that rape and kidnapping were probable motives for their “execution-style” murders. A cursory examination of the bodies and of the immediate area failed to turn up any identification on or near the corpses.
“That’s the biggest thing right now,” Tarno told a group of reporters who had quickly learned of the double homicide. “We need to get them identified.” He explained that identification of a homicide victim was the cornerstone of an investigation. In wishful speculation, Tarno said it was possible that the two women were roommates and that it might be several days or longer before their families reported them missing.
Although evidence found at the crime scene was scant, a shuttle-bus ticket to California’s redwood forest country indicated the two women might have been tourists. Just where they were from, Tarno knew, might prove difficult to determine, but at least now probers had a California connection to work with.
When Detectives Tarno and Dalton got back to their offices, they began checking their Oregon missing-person reports. After coming up empty-handed, they asked authorities in California, Washington, Idaho, and Nevada for assistance. They described the victims to their out-of-state colleagues as being between the ages of 18 and 25. One of the victims was 5 feet 4 inches tall, 100 to 110 pounds, with short brown hair that was frosted at the ends. The other victim was listed in the APB as 5 feet 10 inches tall, 150 to 160 pounds, also hav¬ing short brown hair frosted at the ends. Both victims were Caucasian.
Following the autopsies, Coos County Medical Examiner Dr. Gerald Bassett confirmed that each victim had died from a single gunshot wound to the forehead. The blasts from the shots had virtually destroyed their faces, he said. Tests conducted by the Oregon State Po¬lice Crime Lab at Medford indicated that both women had been raped, and showed they had been dead for three or four days when they were found, placing their time of death as sometime on August 31st or September 1st. Because of the hot, dry weather, both corpses had already begun to decompose.
At one point, Sheriff Tarno considered the possibility that the two victims had been in the area as part of an international group that had been working in the Oregon Dunes Recreation Area earlier in the summer. He discovered that three women from what was then known as West Germany had been on that crew and had planned to do some traveling in the United States following the end of their work in August. However, Tarno soon learned that the three German women, as well as all other females on the work crew, had been accounted for and were reportedly safe and sound.
Days later, one of the investigators pointed out that both women’s hairstyles were without question distinctly European. Despite the fact that European hairstyles were popular with many American women, Detectives Tarno and Dalton, with nowhere else to go with the case, looked closely at the possibility that the victims might have come from Europe. They examined the women’s clothing, and soon discovered that the garments had brand-name labels of European manufacturers. Tracing the labels further, the sleuths learned that the clothing was most likely purchased in Europe and most probably in West Germany.
Soon after the European connection was made public, Coos County authorities began receiving a few tips. As was usually the case, most didn’t pan out. However, one held promise.
Although he wouldn’t reveal the precise nature of the tip, Lieutenant Bob Green of the Coos County Sheriff’s Department said that two young women with German accents had been seen with two men inside a restaurant at Smith River, California, a small community on U.S. 101, the Coast Highway, which runs through California, Oregon, and Washington. Smith River, located approximately 120 miles south of Coos County and only about a two-hour drive from the crime scene, placed the women in question at least in reasonable proximity to where the victims’ bodies were found. Although the four had
appeared friendly with each other while at the restaurant, the investigators knew that things could have quickly turned ugly after the foursome left. Whether or not the women were the victims, however, remained to be seen. But, said Green it was a definite possibility that could not be ignored.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Lieutenant Green, commenting on the possibility that the victims were foreigners. “It’s a terrible crime, but when you have the possibility of the victims being tourists, it’s a sad state of affairs.”
Because of the possible foreign link, Coos County authorities contacted Interpol, the international police network, for assistance. And because the victims might also have been kidnapped and brought across state lines, the FBI also entered the case. Coos County officials also notified the West German Consulate in Seattle, which in turn notified police agencies in Germany about the double murder in Oregon.
“We’re still not entirely certain that they were Germans,” said a spokesman for the German Consulate in Seattle. “Obviously, if they are, it would be of concern to us… [but] we don’t want to create a rumor that turns out to be untrue.”
After talking with additional witnesses, it began to look more and more as though Tuxen and Reith were indeed the two women in question. Dalton guessed that their killers had picked them up somewhere between Eureka and Smith River. It was also possible that the two tourists had hitchhiked into Oregon before meeting the men who ultimately did them in. But because of the Smith River link, that theory seemed less likely to Dalton.
In a surprise move shortly after Simonsen and Williams were indicted, it was revealed that Simonsen had suddenly agreed to plead guilty to aggravated murder. In light of his signed confession, accepted by Coos County Circuit Court Judge Richard Barron, it was revealed that Simonsen had also agreed to make a videotaped confession to police. Despite his confession, however, Simonsen made no effort to assist the authorities in identifying the two women.
Under Oregon law, even when a legal confession has been obtained, a jury must be seated to decide a defendant’s fate. If Simonsen had struck an agreement to confess in exchange for a life sentence, a jury would have been empaneled only as a formality and instructed that they could not vote for the death penalty. Under Simonsen’s agreement, however, no such deal had been struck, and the jury’s sentencing options were left open.
In order to impose a death sentence, jurors would have to decide three issues: whether Simonsen deliberately committed the acts for which he was charged; whether he would commit future acts of violence; and whether he would be a continuing threat to society if given a life prison term. In order to impose a death sentence, the jury’s decision also had to be unanimous.
Calling Tuxen’s and Reith’s murders a case of cold-blooded murder, D.A. Burgett said he would, in fact, seek a death sentence, despite Simonsen’s confession. Burgett did agree, however, to drop most of the other charges against Simonsen. All of the charges against Williams, who did not confess and chose to go to trial, remained intact.
After a 12-member jury was seated on Wednesday, February 15, 1989, for the penalty phase, Deputy Prosecutor Steve Keutzer began outlining his case against Simonsen. During his opening statement, he told jurors the prosecution would prove that Simonsen, along with Williams, had discussed finding some women to rob, rape, and kill while they were on a trip from Medford to California, where they planned to buy some illegal drugs on August 31, 1988. Keutzer and D.A. Burgett stressed that the defendants’ plan made their ultimate actions decidedly more “cold-blooded” than if they had not intended to commit their crimes.
On the other hand, Defense Attorney Earl Woods Jr. said he intended to prove that Williams had been controlling Si¬monsen’s life and his actions for some time, and that Simonsen had eventually become Williams’ “robot.” Woods contended that Williams persuaded Si¬monsen to begin injecting drugs during the summer of 1988. It was during that period, said Woods, that Simonsen had injected drugs for the first time in his life.
“He was grossly under the influence of drugs,” Woods argued. Woods further pointed out that his client was the victim of a broken home. That his parents were divorced during his youth, said Woods, led Simonsen to an early life of crime and to an arrest for burglary. His broken home life, Woods contended, also brought out his aggressive personality, which was only encouraged by Williams’ negative and often violent influence.
Early in the proceedings, Detective Steve Dalton testified for the prosecution, outlining much of his investigation into the victims’ deaths. He explained how, once the identifications of the victims were made, he traced Tuxen and Reith to a Smith River restaurant where they were seen on August 31st with two men who fit the descriptions of Simonsen and Williams. Dalton described how witnesses told him that the four young people appeared to be “having a friendly conversation.”
After Dalton left the stand, D.A. Burgett added a footnote to Dalton’s testimony by contending that the witnesses’ perception of a “friendly conversation” at the Smith River restaurant did not support the defense, but instead supported his position that the killers’ “act” at the eatery was merely a prelude, a part of their plan to commit “cold-blooded murder.” He said that the defendants knew in advance of meeting the victims precisely what they intended to do to them after winning their confidence.
At another point, a tearful relative of Reith’s who had traveled from West Germany to attend the trials identified Reith from a photograph taken when she was still alive. He also identified Reith’s signature on a packet of trav¬eler’s checks drawn on a West German bank. Other relatives of the victims, who had also traveled to the United States for the trials, wept quietly in the courtroom. A reporter from the European newspaper Bild was also present in the courtroom.
Fred Newman, a lifelong friend of Simonsen’s since grade school and the person who tipped police to Simonsen’s and Williams’ involvement in the murders, also told jurors that Simonsen was lured into drug use and violence by Williams. Newman described Simonsen as a good person who was led astray by Williams. Newman said he knew that Simonsen and Williams began injecting methamphetamine during the summer of 1988, and that they often carried sawed-off shotguns.
At that point, D.A. Burgett entered one of the shotguns as a state’s exhibit, contending that it was the weapon used to kill the victims.
Newman said he feared retribution from Williams. After he tipped police in September, he said, he took his family and fled to safety in California, afraid, for a while, to even let the police know his whereabouts.
The most damning evidence entered at the trial was David Simonsen’s videotaped confession. Simonsen, on the video, was seen and heard describing how he and Williams had been injecting methamphetamine for several days prior to committing the murders.
Simonsen described how he was in a daze as a result of a massive dose injected only a short time before he and Williams committed the rape and murder. As the tape continued, Simonsen said he looked both victims “directly” in their eyes prior to pulling the trigger on the sawed-off shotgun approximately three feet from the victims’ foreheads.
“They were just staring at me,” he said in the taped confession. “They weren’t full of tears, they just stood there.” Although he had been the triggerman, Simonsen said it had been Williams’ idea to rob, rape, and then kill the victims.
“Two innocent young women have been given the death penalty,” said D.A. Burgett in his closing argument, “and this man is their executioner.” Pointing at Simonsen, Burgett urged jurors to hand out a death sentence.
On Thursday, February 23, 1989, after brief deliberations, the jury voted unanimously to sentence David Simonsen to death. Simonsen remained quiet and exhibited little emotion when the verdict was announced. When asked if he wanted to make a statement before sentence was passed, Simonsen said only, “I want to thank the court for giving me enough money so I could buy these clothes and dress appropriately for the court.” Judge Richard Barron then ordered that Simonsen be sentenced to death by lethal injection.
Similar evidence and testimony was introduced at Jeffery Ray Williams’ trial, which began in April 1989. Deputy Prosecutor Bryon Chatfield outlined the circumstantial evidence against Williams and prosecution witnesses placed Tuxen and Reith with Williams and Simonsen on the day they were believed to have been killed and also testified that Williams boasted about the murders following a trip he made to California to buy drugs during the early part of September. Chatfield also presented details of Williams’ long criminal history that dated back to his early teens and presented records that showed he had done time in Oregon and Idaho prisons. He often carried guns, said Chatfield, and had a history of intimidating friends.
Despite the efforts of the German Consulate, there were no official or unofficial records of any German nationals traveling on the West Coast who had been reported missing—yet. Likewise, in the days that followed, additional efforts to produce missing person information with the German police failed to turn up any new leads. Along those same lines, missing persons’ reports in the United States failed to provide any leads to the victims’ identities. This prompted Sheriff Tarno to lean even more toward his belief that the women were foreign.
“We’ve had a lot of calls,” said Sheriff Tarno, “but nothing comes close to matching the descriptions.”
Identification of both the suspects and the victims was hampered by a “lack of workable information,” said Tarno. By September 9th, Coos County’s mystery of the female murder victims was still unsolved, and hope for a solution was waning fast.
However, by the next evening, Saturday, September 10th, Coos County authorities received their first big break in the case as a result of a telephone tip. A resident of Medford, Oregon, whom authorities would not identify out of fear for his safety, told investigators that a friend, 20-year-old David Lynn Simonsen of Medford, had told him that he was involved with another man in the killing of two women on the Oregon Coast. The tipster identified the other man as 27-year-old Jeffery Ray Williams of Ashland, a small town about 11 miles south of Medford, known for its world famous Oregon Shakespearean Festival.
The lawmen worked fast throughout Saturday night and all day Sunday. It wasn’t until late Sunday evening, after obtaining the necessary warrants that Coos County authorities, assisted by Jackson County sheriff’s deputies and Medford and Ashland police officers, converged simultaneously on the suspects’ respective homes. As a result, David Simonsen and Jeffery Williams were apprehended without incident. Upon their arrests, warrants to search their persons were served for the collection of head, body, and pubic hairs, blood samples, and photographs of their unclothed bodies to see if any defen¬sive-type wounds left by the victims might be present. Details related to the searches were not released publicly.
The next day, Monday, September 12th, authorities executed additional search warrants. Sheriff’s investigators scrutinized Williams’ residence in the 600 block of Siskiyou Boulevard, near the Southern Oregon State College campus in Ashland. They also searched Williams’ pickup truck. Among the evidence they seized were a number of shotguns, one of which, an illegal sawed-off type, was believed to be the murder weapon. According to Lieutenant Bob Green, investigators also developed information following the suspects’ arrests which indicated that both women had been robbed, in addition to having been kidnapped, raped, and murdered. However, sleuths still had no information as to the women’s identities.
“We have a darn good case,” said Sheriff Tarno. “It’s just a matter of putting it together and taking it to the district attorney.” Tarno added that the telephone tip provided investigators with “some very good information, absolutely reliable,” which resulted in the arrests.
Did the sheriff believe that the two women were abducted in the vicinity of Ashland or Medford, since that was where the suspects were arrested? Reporters at a news conference wanted to know.
“We don’t know,” responded Sheriff Tarno, “and it’s difficult to speculate. They could have traveled through Ashland, they may have been going up or down Interstate Five, or they may have been going down the Coast Highway.” It was even possible, he said, that the two women may have met their killers in Smith River, California, a lead that investigators were still working on.
As David Simonsen and Jeffery Williams were booked into the Coos County Jail in Coquille, each was charged with two counts of aggravated murder, first-degree kidnapping, first-degree rape, and first-degree robbery. A conviction on a charge of aggravated murder could bring the death penalty, which Coos County District Attorney Paul Burgett, who has a reputation for obtaining death sentences, announced he would seek.
The next major break in the case came on Monday, October 10th. It was nearly six weeks after the victims’ bodies were found when homicide Detective George Schafer of West Germany’s Wattenscheid Police Department contacted Coos County Detective Steve Dalton. Schafer told Dalton that he believed the two victims were West German college students who had failed to return from a three-month vacation in the United States, a vacation that was due to end on September 30th. The students’ names, explained Detective Schafer, were Unna Tuxen, 24, of Osnabruck, and Katrin Reith, 22, of Wattenscheid. Both women, said the German detective, had been students at the University of Marberg, a small school in southern West Germany, and both matched the physical characteristics of the Oregon victims. Schafer assured Dalton that he would send dental and fingerprint records as soon as he could obtain them.
“We are looking at those two girls as possible victims,” said Sheriff Tarno after learning of the tentative identifications, “but we have no positive identification yet.” Tarno said he was frustrated by the delays in making the positive identifications. However, he felt confident that they were getting closer to finding out who the victims were.
Tarno was right. A few days later, the long wait was over. The much sought- after documents arrived from West Germany, and the Lampa Mountain Road victims were positively identified as the two West German college students, Unna Tuxen and Katrin Reith. Now that sleuths finally had the cornerstone of their investigation — the victims’ identifications — firmly in place, Sheriff Tarno and Detective Dalton had to build the rest of the case around their suspects.
They would start by tracing the college students’ movements after their arrival in the United States to see if they could determine when and where the women had met their killers.
Tarno and Dalton soon learned that Tuxen and Reith had arrived by air in New York City in July 1988. After seeing the sights in New York, the two college students gradually made their way to visit a relative of Tuxen’s in New Mexico. After spending a few days there, the two student tourists drove to San Diego. Upon leaving San Diego, the relative from New Mexico told Detective Dalton, Tuxen and Reith intended to hitchhike north to San Francisco, after which they were to have seen the Redwood National Park in Northern California, near Eureka. Dalton surmised that the women had made it at least as far as Eureka before running into their killers. Dalton presumed this in part because of the shuttle-bus ticket to the Redwood National Park that had been found at the crime scene, and because witnesses had provided information about two women with German accents who were seen with two men in a Smith River restaurant. Tuxen’s relative also told Detective Dalton that the women were supposed to have made telephone calls to her periodically after their departure from New Mexico but had failed to do so, another vital piece that now fit neatly into Dalton’s homicide jigsaw puzzle.
Robert Brasch, Williams’ defense attorney, argued that Williams hadn’t pulled the trigger when Tuxen and Reith were killed. He argued that much of his client’s problems stemmed from abuse he suffered as a child. Brasch described Williams as a child who grew up without love. In an attempt to gain sympathy from the jury, Brasch put Williams on the witness stand in his own defense.
“Are you scared?” asked Brasch.
“Yes,” Williams replied.
“Why are you scared?” asked the attorney.
“Because I don’t want to die,” responded Williams.
Prosecutor Chatfield, on the other hand, hoped to sway the jury in favor of the victims by emphasizing their total innocence in the violent ordeal. He said it appeared that Tuxen and Reith had cooperated fully with their abductors in the mistaken belief that they would be released.
“I suggest that they were trying to save their lives by doing what they were told,” said Chatfield. “But they were shot in the head instead.” Chatfield argued that Williams should be found guilty for aiding and abetting in the commission of the murders. He contended that Williams’ long criminal background and violent history was proof enough that he would be a continuing threat to society.
The six-man, six-woman jury agreed with the prosecutor. After deliberating only three and a half hours, they returned guilty verdicts of aggravated murder against Williams. They also found Williams guilty of rape, kidnapping, and robbery in connection with the murders. On Friday, April 28, 1989, following a sentencing hearing, the same jury took only two hours to recommend that Williams be sentenced to death.
“These cases were extremely hard on everybody,” said Judge Barron before formally passing sentence. “It’s too bad that your life led to this, but two women are dead for no reason.” Barron then ordered that Williams be executed by lethal injection.
Relatives of the victims, visibly upset, told reporters afterward that they weren’t happy with the sentences for Simonsen and Williams. As opponents of the death penalty, they said they would have preferred that the two defendants be sentenced to life in prison.
Both Simonsen and Williams appealed their convictions and sentences to the Oregon Supreme Court. The court upheld Simonsen’s convictions of aggravated murder, but, due to recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court in which it was ruled that “mitigating circumstances,” if any exist, must be considered by a jury before imposition of a death penalty, Simonsen’s death sentence was returned to a lower court for re-sentencing. However, after a new Coos County jury heard the sentencing evidence at tremendous additional cost to taxpayers, it was decided that any mitigating circumstances present in Simonsen’s life did not warrant a penalty less severe than death. So, on January 29, 1992, David Lynn Simonsen was again sentenced to death.
Editor’s Note: Linda Marie Scaletta
Fred Newman is not the real name of the person so named in the foregoing story. A fictitious name has been used because there is no reason for public interest in the identity of this person.

1 comment:

  1. I was in the county jail with 1988 Jeffrey Williams was kind of a bully and David simonsen I got along with okay we used to play a game called 3574 desserts

    ReplyDelete