Friday, August 10, 2012

Deborah McCrea

Pickup Truck
It had been cloudy and raining on and off for most of May 18, and the morning of May 19. 1982, in Hillsboro, Oregon, making for a rather dismal setting in spite of the fact that summer was just a month away. But this wasn’t unusual weather for the Pacific Northwest because sum­mer can be officially announced on all the calendars, but it will still be dark and gloomy here. However, most make the best of the weather’s shortcomings, and it was business as usual in Hillsboro — that is, it was until an act of extreme violence was committed against two un­suspecting victims in this otherwise peaceful community of about 30 thousand people.
It was approximately 1:15 on this fate­ful morning in May 1982 when 59-year-­old Ralph Paul Littleton and his long­time female companion left the cafe lo­cated in the 1100 block of West Baseline Road and quietly walked through the parking lot toward the woman’s pickup truck which was parked nearby. Several yards away and apparently unseen by Littleton and his female friend was an­other pickup truck occupied by one per­son who was sitting behind the steering wheel. Later police reports would give no indication whether or not the couple had noticed the occupied pickup. But even if they had noticed it, it wasn’t likely that they would have taken any action to avoid the occupant, even though so doing would likely have saved them from, or at least delayed, the dread­ful fate that lay in wait for Littleton and his companion. Therefore, having no reason to fear for their lives at that point, the couple apparently climbed into the cab of their pickup and sat there talking for several minutes.
Police reports would later reveal that, while engaging in the conversation, Lit­tleton’s friend noticed a pickup truck drive through the parking lot and circle the block. The truck, believed to have been the same one parked in the lot out­side the cafe when Littleton and his com­panion came out, never returned, or so they thought, and Littleton and the woman continued with their conversa­tion.
Although it was never revealed what activities or events Littleton and his friend engaged in earlier that evening, it is reasonable to assume from police pro­files that neither had any reason to fear for their lives and were, naturally, quite unprepared for the brutal savagery that brought about Littleton’s untimely and unnatural demise and left his girlfriend critically injured. The carnage she wit­nessed that night would be permanently etched into her mind and would, quite probably return as a recurring night­mare for her to live over and over again, if she survived the ordeal.
Within minutes after Littleton and his girlfriend saw the mysterious pickup leave, several shots rang out eliminating the quietude of this peaceful morning and also drawing the attention of those inside the cafe. Milt Jamieson, owner of the cafe, was one of the first to distin­guish the loud popping sounds as gun­fire, and he, his employees and custom­ers all made tracks for the parking lot to see what had happened. What they saw wasn’t a pretty sight, but then shootings never are.
Jamieson and the others saw that the driver’s door was open revealing Little­ton who was slumped over in the seat and bleeding profusely from what looked like chest or stomach wounds. He wasn’t moving, and the shocked onlookers fi­gured he was either dead or unconscious. Littleton’s female companion was also slumped over the seat, bleeding from wounds to her stomach as well. Howev­er, she was breathing heavily and was barely conscious but unable to talk. Jamieson, who happened to be a close relative of the female victim, stared in shock and disbelief at the people he had said goodnight to only minutes earlier, but he quickly regained some of his com­posure and ran back inside his cafe to telephone for help.
His hands shaking, Jamieson reached for the telephone and dialed the 911 emergency number. He was quickly con­nected to the dispatcher at the Hillsboro Police Department; and, in a near panic, he reported the grim news of what had just occurred. Jamieson returned to the scene of the shooting after he had been assured that help was on the way, but as he tried to comfort his seriously wounded relative, he had a feeling or sense of helplessness that bordered on despair. A few minutes later, which seemed like an eternity to Jamieson and his wounded relative, the emergency vehicles turned into the parking lot.
A short time later Hillsboro Police Chief Herman Woll and Detective Tom Robinson arrived after having been noti­fied at home of the shootings. It was soon determined by the paramedics that Ralph Littleton was dead, but the skillful medical workers ascertained that the woman, although in critical condition was still alive. She was carefully taken from the cab of the pickup and loaded into a waiting ambulance which rushed her to a nearby hospital. Chief Woll ordered an officer to accompany the seriously wounded woman to the hospi­tal so that he could take a statement if her condition improved enough for her to talk. The officer also had to be prepared to take the dreaded “dying declaration” from the victim if her condition worsened to the point where it could be determined that she would not survive. Littleton’s body, on the other hand, was ordered by Chief Woll to be left undisturbed until additional forensic personnel from the crime laboratory arrived to process the crime scene.
After sufficient police personnel ar­rived, immediate measures were taken to protect the crime scene from any further disturbance. Chief Woll and Detective Robinson directed officers to rope off all the areas of the crime site that would then be combed for clues. Additional uniformed officers were posted as guards to control the growing numbers of spec­tators and keep them away from the areas suspected of having the highest potential for yielding physical evidence. All of the cafe patrons and employees who were present when police arrived were de­tained for questioning with the hope they might provide useful information and help fill in the gaps to aid the in­vestigators in their efforts to form a rea­sonable hypothesis as to why the shoot­ings occurred.
Considering the fact that this crime scene, or any other crime site for that matter, was highly dynamic, fragile and constantly changing due to physical ele­ments, such as the weather, contamina­tion by curious onlookers and the probers themselves, and biological changes that occur within the victim’s body, De­tective Robinson and his crew of in­vestigators knew from training and experience that they would likely have only one opportunity to search the scene pro­perly. With that thought in mind. Robin­son and the others made a good pre­liminary survey of the layout as they too into account all the information and o inions that had been accumulated by the first officers and witnesses to arrive at the scene.
During this early stage of the investigation the probers avoided entering the most critical areas of the site until the dimensions and the order in which would be processed had been fully determined. At this point, it was necessary to observe and record rather than to any actions which could possibly down grade or destroy possible evidence.
Before much walking in the immediate location of the crime itself was allowed, the entire area had to be carefully photographed by police photographer.
Since the shooting occurred during dark hours of the morning, two sets photographs would have to be made: one set in the darker hours and another during daylight hours. This was necessary, according to the investigators, to make certain that all approaches to scene as well as the surrounding area were fully identifiable.
Photographs of Littleton’s body were taken at 90-degree angles with the photo­grapher holding the camera as high as possible while pointing it down toward the body. This was not an easy task to accomplish inside the cab of a pickup truck. Close-ups of Littleton’s body were also taken showing his wounds. After the body was removed, photo­graphs of the area under where the body lay were also taken. As an added pre­cautionary measure, sketches were also drawn.
Although the method of searching an outdoor crime scene is much the same as that used for conducting a search of an indoor crime scene, namely an orderly and nondestructive accumulation of all available physical evidence, the record­ing of the outdoor crime scene is usually more difficult because there are fewer reference points for an investigator to work from. For this reason Detective Robinson planned a detailed search of the cafe parking lot and, after daybreak, gave considerable attention to the route to be taken as he and his investigators worked in toward the focal point of the crime, Littleton’s body. However, in spite of their determined efforts, the in­vestigators found nothing useful in the way of evidence, not even a spent car­tridge. They resigned themselves to the fact that they’d have to concentrate on the pickup truck and the body of Ralph Littleton itself.
The fact that no spent cartridges were found prompted the detectives to specu­late that a handgun had been used; and, judging from the wounds inflicted on the victims, they guessed that it had been of small caliber. The fact that the door of the pickup was in the open position when the victims were found, indicated to law­men that the perpetrator had opened the door before firing; or, possibly, the victims knew their assailant and had opened the door to talk or go with their attacker to another location. Whatever the case, the smell of gunpowder was strong inside the cab of the pickup, and the clothing of both victims had powder residue and/or burns, indicating they’d been shot at point blank range.
Shortly after they arrived and deter­mined that Littleton was dead, the in­vestigators, knowing that moist blood containing whole red cells can be grouped much faster and with greater ease in the laboratory than dried blood and yields more information, obtained wet blood samples near Littleton’s body inside the pickup. The wet blood was collected with a medicine dropper and placed inside a glass tube along with an equal amount of normal saline solution. They made certain that blood taken from different areas was not mixed but instead placed in separate containers. The de­tectives were also careful not to disturb the crime scene any more than was necessary to obtain the wet blood sam­ples.
When Detective Robinson returned to Littleton’s body in search of evidence, his experience and training told him that the area directly beneath the victim’s body would likely yield the most impor­tant physical evidence, and normally that area would get the greatest attention. But in this case that did not appear to be true, primarily because the victims were shot while sitting inside the truck, and it wasn’t likely that the perpetrator entered the vehicle except to reach inside with the gun. Furthermore, Littleton and his companion had not been robbed, leaving little doubt that there would probably not be any evidence inside the pickup that could be used to link a suspect to the crime.
When Washington County Medical Examiner Dr. Ronald O’Halloran arrived at the scene, he examined Littleton’s body and made notes of observations. He told the investigator that Littleton died as a result of being shot at close range, probably with a small caliber weapon. He told the investigator an autopsy might be more definitive but doubted that it would reveal little more than the caliber of slug fired into the victim’s body. Detective Robinson released the body at that point, and it was removed to the morgue.
After several hours of processing and analyzing the crime scene, Robinson and his team of investigators were no closer to discovering a possible motive for the brutal shootings than they were when first started. Evidently no one except the victims saw anything. If anyone had, they weren’t talking. Of course it was possible that the shooting was a random incident, someone out for some sick kicks. But that type of senseless crime was rare here, and the detectives were reluctant to accept that as the reason Lit­tleton and his companion were shot. If robbery wasn’t the motive, what was? The investigators wondered — Revenge or hatred? It was possible, they reasoned, and seemed like that best theory to con­centrate on at this point. But who would hate someone that much, enough to kill another human being?
Background checks and interviews with people who knew the victim re­vealed that Littleton was originally from California. According to the detectives’ sources, Littleton left his family approx­imately 10 years earlier and moved to Washington State, where he met the woman he was with the night he was killed. Shortly after the couple met, they moved to Hillsboro, Oregon where they attempted to start a new life together. According to the people the investigators talked to, Littleton and his companion were well-liked and seemed very happy together.
However, as the detectives probed deeper into Littleton’s background, they learned that he apparently like to drink. In 1981, after an argument with his mate over his purported heavy drinking, Lit­tleton returned to California for a brief time to see the family he left behind, one of whom was a daughter now known as Deborah McCrea.
Deborah was 19 years old when Little­ton left California the first time, de­tectives learned, and had gotten married shortly after her father’s departure. Although the marriage didn’t work out for the young woman, she did give birth to a son. Interviews with relatives in­dicated that Deborah missed her father very much and longed to be with him in Oregon. It was after Littleton’s return to Oregon following his visit to California that Deborah decided to pack up her be­longings and travel with her young son to Oregon, so they could be near her father.
More interviews with friends and rela­tives revealed that Deborah still loved her father very much and talked often of wanting to live near him in spite of the fact that she’d been rejected by him many years earlier. But there were con­flicting sides to the story, the detectives learned, as they delved deeper into the woman’s background. The probers were told that Deborah was bitter and often exhibited anger over being left behind by her father. Also, the young woman had developed a drinking problem for rea­sons that were not made completely clear. Some said she took to drinking because of the paternal rejection, and others said the problem developed be­cause she depended too heavily on others for help and support. Whatever the rea­son behind Deborah’s drinking problem, the detectives learned that it had become very serious by the time she arrived in Oregon, prompting the sleuths to won­der if the woman’s anger and drinking problem combined were enough to set off a binge of violence that took her fath­er’s life as well as critically wounding Littleton’s companion.
Meanwhile, the vehicle in which the victims had been shot was towed to the Oregon State Police Crime Labs garage in nearby Portland, where it could be given a thorough going-over. In the systematic search of the pickup truck for evidence, the probers began by making a preliminary examination of the exterior of the truck first and, since the investiga­tion involved a homicide and an at­tempted homicide, it was decided that all areas of the truck would be given equal consideration.
Since the door to the pickup was in the open position when police arrived sleuths theorized that either Littleton opened the door himself or the assailant, opened it to make sure that he or she would have a clearer shot. Whatever the actual reason was for the door being open, the probers felt there was a good chance they could obtain some identifiable fingerprints from either the outside door handle or the door itself, or perhaps both. For that reason fingerprint technicians examined the entire exterior of the truck in their search for latent prints but concentrated their efforts on the more likely aforementioned locations. Although several good prints were obtained, investigators made no com­ment regarding the value of the prints or whether or not they would lead them closer to a suspect.
Meanwhile, as the probers continued with their investigative efforts, De­tective Robinson was notified that Littleton’s girlfriend’s condition had im­proved to the point where she could talk and make a statement. Robinson, equipped with a tape recorder, left im­mediately for Tuality Community Hos­pital.
When Robinson arrived at the hospital he was greeted by Milt Jamieson, the owner of the cafe where the shooting occurred and a close relative of the sur­viving victim. Jamieson was grim-faced and obviously still distraught over the shooting as he and Detective Robinson walked to the woman’s bedside. They were told by hospital staff to go easy on the woman with the questioning since she was in critical condition. Robinson quickly set up the tape recorder, and placed the microphone near the injured woman’s mouth.
“Who did it?” asked Jamieson,over and over, trying to get the woman’s attention. After a short time, she finally opened her eyes and whispered in a bare­ly audible voice, “Debbie. Debbie.” When asked if it was Debbie McCrea, she nodded affirmatively giving Robin­son what he needed to arrest Deborah McCrea on suspicion of murder and attempted murder and possibly other charges.
Later that same day McCrea and her boyfriend, Larry Nelson, arrived at the cafe on the 1100 block West Baseline Road where the shootings occurred. Knowing that McCrea was wanted by police at this point, Milt Jamieson, the owner, surreptitiously notified the Hillsboro Police Department that their suspect in the double shooting was in his cafe.
Moments later the cafe was sur­rounded by officers and detectives, and the Washington County Sheriff’s De­partment was standing by to lend their assistance if needed. With all possible exits covered, detectives entered the cafe and arrested Deborah McCrea, charging her with the murder of her father and the attempted murder of her father’s com­panion. She was also charged with first degree assault. She offered no resistance and, after her rights had been read to her, McCrea was placed inside a squad car and taken to the Washington County Jail in Hillsboro. She was later transferred to the Clare Argow Women’s Detention Center in Multnomah County, a more suitable facility for female prisoners.
Although the detectives now had their suspect in custody, they still had a lot of legwork to follow up on. Through their investigation, they discovered details which produced an interesting, dramatic and sometimes touching trial that por­trayed the defendant as a jealous, hate- filled woman who simply could not han­dle the almost total rejection she experienced from her father.
At her arraignment McCrea pleaded innocent to all of the charges that had been levied against her, and she retained local attorney Charles Wiseman to de­fend her.
Following several delays, McCrea’s trial finally opened in Washington Coun­ty Circuit Court on Tuesday, November 17, 1982 in the courtroom of Judge Gregory Milnes. At that time her attor­ney, Charles Wiseman, told the judge and jurors that he intended to present evidence that McCrea was “partially not responsible” for her homicidal actions due to problems she was having with alcohol. It should be pointed out here that, under Oregon law, the influence of alcohol can be used to show a lack of criminal intent on the part of the de­fendant. Under the law, intent is a neces­sary element that must be shown in order to get a murder conviction.
“This trial is all about intent,” said Wiseman. “It’s all about whether (the defendant) had the mental state to intend to kill or seriously assault these people.”
Wiseman had earlier intended to use de­fense of lack of criminal responsibility due to mental disease or defect — Oregon’s equivalent of an insanity plea — but withdrew that avenue of de­fense.
During his opening statement, Wash­ington County District Attorney Scott Upham described how Littleton had left his family in California 10 years earlier and moved to the Northwest to start a new life, which he did with a woman he met in Washington State. In 1981, said Upham, while working as a cab driver in Hillsboro, Littleton returned to Califor­nia following an argument with his mate over his drinking. In May of 1982 Little­ton made two more such trips, each time reuniting with the family members he left behind, including McCrea. Upham said that after the final trip in May 1982, McCrea traveled to Hillsboro to be near her father. She arrived on May 8th, he said, and eleven days later Littleton was dead and his companion critically in­jured. The defendant “consciously mur­dered her father for jealousy, because he rejected her,” said Upham, insisting that McCrea be held “fully responsible” for her actions.
On the other hand, Defense Attorney Wiseman contended that McCrea lacked the criminal intent necessary to prove the charge of murder, as he’d stated earlier, and told the jury he would be asking them to consider her actions “reckless or negligent” but not intentional. “Perhaps she should be held responsible,” said Wiseman. “We’re not claiming it was an accident,” he said, again citing his client’s drinking problem. “There is a tremendous emotional aspect to this case,” he told the jury, stating that McCrea would likely testify even though “she doesn’t recall the shooting incident itself.”
One of the first witnesses to testify for the prosecution was the surviving vic­tim, who told the jury with tear-filled eyes that it was Deborah McCrea who confronted her and Littleton in the cafe parking lot early on the morning of May 19, 1982, and shot each of them twice at close range.
The witness testified that she had be­come upset with McCrea because McCrea had moved into her one-bedroom apartment in Hillsboro and had not offered to pay any rent or other ex­penses. Furthermore, the witness stated, McCrea would often go off and leave her son at the apartment unattended for long periods of time. Fed up with the actions of McCrea, the witness testified that she confronted the defendant a few hours prior to the shootings and asked her to find her own apartment. After an eve­ning of drinking in Hillsboro bars, the witness said she met with Littleton in the cafe to discuss the problem of Littleton’s daughter.
Later, when she and Littleton went out to her truck, they continued discussing the problem when suddenly the truck door opened, revealing McCrea standing there.
“Ralph said, ‘Debbie, go to Beaver­ton and get a job and an apartment,’ the witness testified. “And she (De­borah) said, ‘I don’t want to go to Be­averton. I love you, Daddy. I want to be with you.’ But Ralph said, ‘Damn it, you’re not with me,’” the witness quoted the deceased. It was at this point that McCrea, without warning, began firing, shooting both Littleton and his female companion twice. The witness told the jury that she never saw the gun.
Following the girlfriend’s testimony, the tape recording made at Tuality Com­munity Hospital was played for the jury, which served to intensify the emotional aspect of the trial.
McCrea’s boyfriend, Larry Nelson, also appeared as a prosecution witness. He testified that he and McCrea had spent most of the day and evening of May 18th together drinking in several Hillsboro bars, but at one point earlier in the day McCrea had an argument with her father over missing an appointment they had made. However, in spite of the tact that Nelson said he and McCrea were together during the hours preceding the killing of her father and wounding of her father’s girlfriend, he recalled that McCrea borrowed his vehicle at approx­imately 10 p.m. to check on her 10-year-­old son who was staying unattended at Littleton’s girlfriend’s apartment near­by. McCrea left at that point, said Nel­son, and left him at the bar and did not return until after 1 a.m. Nelson remem­bered the time because he was upset that McCrea had left him for so long at a time when he was tired and wanted to go home. Nelson explained that he and McCrea went to his home in Hillsboro, where they spent the night together. Nel­son said he went to sleep right away, before McCrea came to bed.
The next morning, Nelson told the jury, McCrea awakened him, visibly up­set, and said to him, “I think I’m in trouble.” When he asked her why she was in trouble, Nelson quoted McCrea as having said to him, “I shot…Dad last night.”
Nelson told the jury that he did not believe McCrea at that point, and told her so. It was then that she led him out to the garage and pointed out to him a stack of newspapers, and urged him to feel inside. When he did so he felt the grip of his .22-caliber revolver which he nor­mally kept in the glove compartment of his truck. Nelson said that at some later point he and McCrea drove to the cafe where the shootings occurred and where McCrea was subsequently arrested after the owner tipped off the cops.
Another witness, Beth Smith, said she met McCrea while the two were lodged as inmates at the Washington County Jail. She testified that McCrea told her she intended to “nut out” or pretend to have psychological problems. Smith ex­plained that McCrea made a hangman’s noose from jail sheets and at one point pretended to go on a hunger strike. Smith also testified that McCrea told her that her boyfriend, Larry Nelson, committed the shootings; and, on another occasion, McCrea told her that the owner of the cafe, Milt Jamieson, did the shooting.
At approximately 4:30 p.m. on the third day of the trial, the prosecution called its second to the last witness, Lori Adams, who also had been a cellmate of McCrea’s at Washington County Jail. Right out of the blue, Adams told the jury that McCrea told her that she had served time in a California prison: a statement that immediately brought an objection from the defense as well as a motion for a mistrial on the grounds that the revelation of a criminal record was prejudicial. Judge Milnes agreed and declared a mistrial in the case.
“I had no idea she was going to say that,” said D.A. Upham. “It was the last thing I wanted her to say…You can’t, cry over spilled milk. We’ll just have to do it again.”
A new trial was held in April, 1983, this time in the courtroom of Washington! County Circuit Judge Jon B. Lunde be­fore a seven-woman, five-man jury. The same witnesses, evidence and testimony was presented, with the exception of the prejudicial testimony heard in the first trial. After the jury deliberations McCrea was found guilty of first-degree manslaughter instead of murder and was also found guilty of attempted murder and first-degree assault.
On June 13, 1983, Deborah McCrea was sentenced to two 20-year terms, to run concurrently, and was sentenced to two five-year sentences for her use of a deadly weapon in the commission of crime.
Editor’s Note:
Milt Jamieson, Larry Nelson, Bet Smith and Lori Adams are not the real names of the persons so named in the foregoing story. Fictitious names hay been used because there is no reason f public interest in the identities of the persons.

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