Friday, August 10, 2012

Dwayne Gray

Dwayne Gray
No one saw the older model car wind­ing its way up the darkened Larch Moun­tain Road high above the Columbia Riv­er Gorge late Tuesday night, August 25, 1981. Once past the community of Corbett, Oregon, residents are few and far between, and those that lived in the area had long been asleep by the time the speeding car slipped by unnoticed. The car and its occupants just kept ascending the mountain along the curvy, often dan­gerous road until it reached Palmer Mill Road, where it pulled over and stopped. The occupants climbed out of the car and, in swift moves known only to them and the night animals that live in this heavily wooded area, they dumped a dead body in a grassy area alongside the road.
The following morning, Wednesday, August 26th, U.S. Forest Service em­ployees were up and about early. After their morning meeting at their Larch Mountain headquarters, teams of em­ployees climbed inside their marked pickups and began their routine patrol and survey of the area. It was a beautiful summer’s day, already hot in the lower elevations but still comfortably cool within the confines of the mountain for­est. It would have been like any other summer’s day for the forest Service em­ployees had they not found the dead body at the 2500 foot level of Larch Mountain.
The driver of the pickup pulled over immediately, and the crew climbed out to check on the fully clothed male lying at the side of the road. They could see right away, however, that the man was dead. He appeared to be in his late twen­ties or early thirties. There were injuries over various parts of his body, most of which appeared concentrated around his head.
There was a great deal of blood about his head and chest, and large flies were already swarming over the open wounds. One of the employees lost his breakfast, and another was so emotionally upset that he had to be sent home for the re­mainder of the day. Another employee notified police of the discovery.
A short time later, troopers from the Oregon State Police (OSP) and deputies from the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Department arrived at the remote moun­tain forest location some 30 miles east of Portland, Oregon. A van from the OSP crime lab was also dispatched to the area with several technicians and a deputy coroner and deputy district attorney were sent to the scene as well.
During questioning by investigators, the Forest Service employees said they had been working in the same area the previous morning, at which time they had seen no body and hadn’t observed anything to indicate the area had been disturbed. They said they had never seen the victim in the area before. After not­ing the names of the Forest Service em­ployees and where they could be reached later if needed, the investigators thanked them for their assistance and told them they would likely be in touch.
Troopers cordoned off a large area surrounding the victim’s body, desig­nating that area as the crime scene which would be later searched for evidence. They first concentrated on the victim’s body, noting that he had what appeared to be puncture wounds in the area of his chest that had been inflicted through his shirt. Powder burns were also present, indicating he had been shot at close range in the heart. There was also evidence that he had been shot in the head at close range, and had been brutally bludgeoned in the back of the head.
Before detectives could proceed any further with the probe, they had to identi­fy the victim, which would, naturally, provide a solid starting point in this, or any, homicide investigation.
After all those concerned were fin­ished examining the victim’s body, it was released to the custody of the state medical examiner’s office and taken to the Multnomah County morgue in Port­land, where a thorough autopsy would be performed as soon as possible.
Knowing that most evidence, if any, would be found on, under or near the victim’s body, the crime lab investi­gators and the detectives carefully sear­ched those areas but came up emp­ty-handed.
Next, a sector or grid search of the area was conducted with hopes of find­ing the murder weapons. However, after several hours of unsuccessful searching, the investigators gave up. They pre­sumed, at this point, that the killer had disposed of the weapons at another loca­tion or was still in possession of them.
Later that same day, the victim’s body was positively identified as that of 29 ­year-old James R. Stark, who had lived on the 8500 block of Southeast 87th Ave­nue in Portland. When detectives went to the home to question the victim’s wife, 32-year-old Dianne Kay Stark, and his children, they were told that Stark had not returned home the previous evening but had, presumably, stayed out all night drinking with his buddies. Dianne Stark appeared surprised to hear that her hus­band had been murdered but, on the oth­er hand, had not displayed a great deal of grief. The detectives wondered why.
As the investigation continued, detec­tives checked out all of Jim Stark’s known relatives, friends and acquain­tances. No one sleuths talked to except, of course, his wife, reported having seen the victim on the day before his body was discovered on Larch Mountain Road. Stark had no apparent enemies, at least not to the knowledge of those ques­tioned. However, many of those inter­viewed expressed their disapproval of Stark’s drinking habits and the allegedly abusive manner in which he treated his wife and kids. However, in spite of the alleged abuses he inflicted on his family, no one the cops initially talked to be­lieved that Dianne or any other family members were capable of carrying out an act of murder against Stark. As a result of their interviews, police had no firm ini­tial suspects.
The next day, while detectives were busy completing their reports of Jim Stark’s murder, the Southeast Portland office of the Oregon State Police re­ceived an anonymous telephone call from a male tipster who urged them to check out a car belonging to Dwayne Allen Gray, 27. The caller told police that blood matching that of the victim would be found inside Gray’s car. Gray, it was noted, was Dianne Stark’s broth­er, the victim’s brother-in-law.
Sleuths wasted no time acting on the tip. Search warrants in hand, they went immediately to Gray’s home, located on the 6200 block of Southeast 92nd Ave­nue in Portland. They checked inside Gray’s car, found bloodstains and ob­tained samples. As a result of their dis­covery, the probers also had the vehicle towed to the OSP crime lab where it could be gone over more thoroughly.
In the meantime, while waiting for the results of the blood analysis, results of Jim Stark’s autopsy revealed he had suf­fered “gross injuries” to the back of his head which could have been inflicted by repeated blows with a hammer.
In addition, the autopsy report re­vealed, Stark had been stabbed in the chest with a sharp object and had been shot in the head and the heart at close range. John Drum, public information officer for the Multnomah County Sher­iff’s Department, would not release a statement revealing the type of gun de­tectives believed was used in the murder.
A short time later, results of tests com­pleted on the bloodstains found inside Dwayne Gray’s car came back positive. There was no doubt that the blood was of the same type as Jim Stark’s. With this evidence to back them up, detectives re­turned to Gray’s Southeast Portland home, where they arrested him and charged him with the murder of James Stark.
During questioning, Gray denied any involvement in Stark’s death, and told police that he had been out on the night Stark was believed killed. He also said he had been to a nearby nightclub, where he stayed until 2:30 a.m., closing time, at which time he returned home and went to bed. He said that friends at the club could corroborate his story, as could his girlfriend, Louise Martin, who was liv­ing with Gray at the time of Stark’s death.
Why was blood matching Stark’s found inside Gray’s car? The detectives wanted to know. After repeated and in­tensive grilling by the investigators, all Gray would say was that Stark’s blood could have been in his car because Stark had cut his hand earlier in the summer while out on a carpentry job with Gray.
Shortly after Gray’s arrest, detectives attempted to re-interview Gray’s girl­friend, Louise Martin, but she refused to answer questions. They got better results with Martin’s sister, Debra Little, who told detectives that Gray had confessed to Louise Martin how, early on the morn­ing of August 26th, he and another man, George Smith, killed Stark. She said Gray had purportedly told Martin it wasn’t an easy job; everything had gone wrong. She related that Gray told Martin that his accomplice. George Smith had hit Stark on the back of the head with a hammer while they were inside Gray’s car, and that Gray subsequently shot and stabbed Stark. Ms. Little added that Gray had stated he had been hired by Stark’s wife, Dianne, to kill her husband for $2,000, which Gray purportedly said he intended to split with George Smith.
With this new evidence, police went to the home of Dianne K. Stark and ar­rested her on charges of conspiracy and aggravated murder in connection with her husband’s death. Similarly, George Smith was also arrested on the same charges, and all the suspects were lodged in the Multnomah County Courthouse Jail in downtown Portland with no bail.
After careful study of the evidence, what little there was, and the information obtained from those who would cooper- ate, albeit marginally, the theory devel­oped by the detectives naturally focused on Dianne Stark as the one who instigat­ed the whole affair. Her apparent motive was alleged abusive treatment her hus­band inflicted on her and the children. Gray and Smith allegedly killed James Stark for the $2,000.
Detectives also considered the fact that Dwayne Gray was Dianne Stark’s brother, and may have been motivated to kill Stark because of the way Stark had been treating his sister. But if that were truly the case, then why accept the mon­ey? Why not just do it for free? And what of Smith’s alleged involvement?
Of course the question of why Dianne Stark didn’t just leave her husband was also raised. It seemed to the cops that a divorce and a restraining order would have sufficed, along with a little jail time for Stark’s alleged violence to his fami­ly. This approach would have been the logical, not to mention moral, thing to do. But she didn’t leave him, nor was there any evidence that she had tried to.
Although detectives and the prosecu­tors felt they had a strong case against the three defendants, they encountered sev­eral setbacks and delays before the actual trial. The state’s case initially ran into trouble on August 30, 1981, when one of the potential prosecution witnesses, Louise Martin, was hospitalized for a drug overdose. Although she recovered, it was not revealed whether the overdose was an accident or a deliberate attempt at suicide. In any case, it cost the state some time in bringing their case togeth­er.
The next setback occurred when a grand jury was convened to decide whether or not to hand down indictments against the suspects. When Debra Little was called to testify before the grand jury regarding Gray’s alleged confession, Little denied any knowledge of it and refused to cooperate further. As a result, Gray and Smith were released due to lack of evidence, but Dianne Stark was held because of statements she allegedly made to police regarding her role in the death of her husband. Debra Little, on the other hand, was convicted of perjury and sentenced to five years in prison. But the case was far from over.
Dianne Stark and her attorney, Larry Matasar, claimed that Dianne Stark was extremely emotionally disturbed at the time her husband was killed. The de­fense contended that James Stark repeat­edly beat and sexually abused Dianne Stark during violent outbursts that ap­peared to have been caused by his reput­ed heavy drinking, all of which allegedly began sometime in 1977 only slightly after the two were married.
“Within a few months,” Defense At­torney Matasar wrote in a memo submit­ted to the court, “He (James Stark) be­gan to drink alcohol in excess on a regu­lar basis. He frequently sexually abused (Dianne Stark) and beat her. On some occasions, Dianne refused to go to bed with him when he was drunk. He then would beat her…In August of 1981, the violence escalated.” Matasar also added that Stark had threatened to kill his wife if she ever left him. Matasar contended that, only at this point, an emotionally upset Dianne Stark solicited her brother to kill her husband.
In light of the fact that Dianne Stark was not the actual person who killed her husband, Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge John Murchison ruled that Mrs. Stark could not, as a matter of law, use the extreme emotional disturbance defense.
Because of Judge Murchison’s deci­sion, Dianne Stark and her attorney worked out a plea-bargain arrangement with the district attorney’s office, which allowed her to plead guilty to the lesser charge of conspiracy to murder. At the time of the guilty plea, Tuesday, Decem­ber 16, 1981, John Bennett, a Mult­nomah County deputy district attorney, announced that the state would move to dismiss the aggravated murder charge at time of sentencing. Maximum sentence for the conspiracy charge is 20 years in prison and a fine of $2500. Larry Mata­sar, Stark’s attorney, asked Judge Mur­chison to allow a “substantial amount of time” before sentencing, citing that he might call several witnesses whose testi­mony could be important in rendering a sentencing decision.
At her sentencing hearing, Dianne Stark testified that she had considered leaving her husband on a number of oc­casions because of his heavy drinking and physical and sexual abuse towards her, but hadn’t done so out of fear for her life.
“I knew he would find me,” testified Mrs. Stark. “I knew if he found me he would kill me.”
Among those called to testify at the sentencing hearing was Dianne Stark’s former supervisor at the Oregon State Motor Vehicles Division who described her as a model employee until she be­came increasingly depressed because of her family problems and resigned. Also testifying was a doctor who is a national­ly recognized expert on domestic vio­lence and who operates a center for bat­tered and abused women in Denver, Col­orado.
According to the doctor’s testimony, Dianne Stark had been a victim of ex­treme sexual and physical abuse and had been forced to watch as James Stark beat another family member during his vio­lent outbursts. The expert testified that, although Mrs. Stark tried to prevent the violent attacks, her attempts had been in vain due to a condition of “learned help­lessness” acquired by Mrs. Stark as a result of her husband’s violence.
Defense Attorney Matasar pleaded with the judge to place his client on pro­bation instead of sentencing her to prison because he believed she acted under psy­chological stress due to her husband’s violence toward her and that it was un­likely she would ever be involved in such a plot again.
On the other hand, Deputy District Attorney John Bennett argued that Mrs. Stark should receive a prison sentence because any human, even one as violent as James Stark, had value and didn’t deserve to die. Bennett also cited the fact that Mrs. Stark had continually refused to cooperate with police in their investi­gation of her husband’s death, particu­larly regarding the two men police main­tain she hired to kill her husband.
“That means that these two men, who were not battered but who killed James Stark for money, are walking free,” said Bennett, who later emphasized that po­lice were still trying to build a case against Dwayne Gray and George Smith.
On Friday, January 30, 1982, Judge John Murchison sentenced Dianne Stark to nine years in prison for conspiracy to murder in connection with her husband’s death. Murchison did not set any mini­mum amount of time to be served, but instead left that decision up to the State Parole Board.
On Wednesday, April 21, 1982, Dwayne Allan Gray was arrested inside a Clackamas County, Oregon, tavern after Multnomah County Sheriff’s Depart­ment Detective Bud Johnson discovered new evidence in connection with the murder of James Stark. According to John Drum, sheriff’s department public information officer, Gray was charged with conspiracy and aggravated murder and was lodged in Rocky Butte Jail with­out bail.
It was learned later that the break in the case came when Debra Little, after spending a few months behind bars, agreed to testify for the prosecution in exchange for her release from prison and expunging her perjury convic­tion. Louise Martin also agreed to testify in exchange for immunity from prosecu­tion. As a result of testimony from Little and Martin, Dwayne Gray was indicted by a Multnomah County grand jury.
After seating a jury of 11 women and one man, Gray’s trial finally began on Monday, June 28, 1982, in the Mult­nomah County Circuit courtroom of Judge Robert E. Jones. In his opening statement, Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney John Bennett described the murder conspiracy and said that evidence would show that Gray and another man, allegedly hired by Dianne Stark, killed James R. Stark for $2,000 and then dumped his body in a wooded area at the 2500 foot level of Larch Mountain.
J. Charles Wiseman, Gray’s defense attorney, told the jury that Gray had no agreement with Dianne Stark to kill James Stark, in spite of the marital prob­lems the Starks were having. Wiseman contended the evidence would show that the marital problems were not so severe that murder should be considered as the only solution. Wiseman told the jury that Gray was at home and at a Southeast Portland restaurant lounge at the time Stark was believed killed, and that medi­cal experts had determined the time of Stark’s death as late August 25th or very early August 26th. Wiseman said that friends of Gray would testify that he was at the restaurant lounge from I0:30 p.m. on August 25th until 2:00 or 2:30 August 26th.
At one point in the trial, Louise Mar­tin, who had been living with Gray at the time of Stark’s death, testified that Dianne Stark came to Gray’s home on the morning of August 25th. Ms. Martin said that Gray and his sister talked pri­vately, and that, later on that day. Gray told her that his sister offered to pay him to kill her husband, who, she said, had beaten a family member the night before.
Louise Martin testified that Gray went to Mrs. Stark’s home later that same day where he met with the victim, James Stark, and told him he had lined up a carpentry job for them to do later that night, a guise she said Gray used to get Stark to go with him without arousing Stark’s suspicion. Ms. Martin testified that she stayed out that night until ap­proximately 4:00 a.m. August 26th. Martin said that, when she arrived home, Gray was in bed and told her that every­thing had gone wrong. “The man wouldn’t die,” she quoted Gray as hav­ing said.
Martin testified that Gray told her that George Smith, who she said agreed to help with the plot for half the money, hit James Stark on the back of the head with a hammer while the three of them, Gray, Smith and Stark, were inside the car.
Gray then shot and stabbed Stark, according to Martin’s testimony, after which they threw the murder weapons into a river. She said she believed the weapons were thrown into the Columbia River.
Louise Martin added that Dianne Stark showed up at Gray’s home at mid­morning on August 26th, after the killing had occurred and, after she left, Gray pos­sessed several large bills amounting to approximately $2,000.
Louise Martin’s sister, Debra Little, testified at Gray’s trial that she had been told of the murder plans by her sister before they had actually been carried out, then had been told the following day, again by her sister, that Gray had said he shot and stabbed Stark. It was then, she recalled, that her husband tele­phoned the Oregon State Police and tip­ped them to look for blood in Gray’s car.
On the night of the murder, Gray testi­fied he was with someone from 8:00 to 10:30 p.m. on August 25th. Afterwards, he said he went to the Southeast Portland restaurant-nightclub, located near his home, where he stayed until closing time, 2:30 a.m. August 26th. Acquain­tances of Gray’s testified they saw him at the nightclub during the time in question.
After approximately eight hours of de­liberations, the jury of 11 women and one man found Dwayne Allan Gray guilty of aggravated murder. Gray waived his right to a pre-sentence inves­tigation and was sentenced to the manda­tory life in prison term by Judge Robert E. Jones. Jones also imposed a minimum 30-year term before Gray is eligible for parole.
The third defendant, George Smith, was acquitted of the charges of aggravat­ed murder by a jury.
Editor’s Note:
George Smith, Louise Martin and De­bra Little are not the real names of the persons so named in the foregoing story. Fictitious names have been used because there is no reason for public interest in the identities of these persons.

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