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True crime. Casually done.

The Rare Case of Ellen Friar

Written by Kevin Jennings

          Despite what Sigmund Freud would have us believe about our innate, Oedipal desires, there seems to be no empirical evidence to suggest children actually want to murder and replace their parents.  In fact, parricide, the killing of a parent, is the rarest type of murder, accounting for only 2% of homicide cases in the United States.

              In 2017, the FBI reported that there were only 186 cases of patricide, the murder of one’s father, and it is one of those cases that we are going to discuss today. While patricide itself is already extremely rare, there are still enough of them to perform some statistical analysis. For example, the vast majority of patricides are committed by perpetrators who are males, who are between 18-30 years of age, who have a history of mental illness, and most frequently commit the murder with a knife. Today’s case checks none of those boxes, making it among the rarest of murder cases.

The Murder

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6884345/Teen-gets-25-years-role-fathers-murder.html?ito=link_share_article-image-share#i-66909529b7088ac8

              In the early morning hours of October 2, 2017, Aaron Friar was asleep on the couch in his Medford, Oregon home with his three young daughters in their rooms. He had briefly jostled awake when there was a bang in the hallway, but his daughter Ellen, or Ellie as she went by, told him she was going to the bathroom and had accidentally kicked a trashcan. Aaron told her to stop scaring him, as there had been a break in attempt at the house the day before. He laid back down and it wasn’t long before the sound of snoring was coming from the couch yet again.

              Less than an hour later, the aluminum baseball bat that Aaron kept by the door for protection came crashing down on his skull. As the bat came down on his face a second time, he was able to yell “who the fuck is there?” but the bat came down again, and again, and again. And possibly again, but it was definitely either 5 or 6 times. Aaron’s shouts had turned into gargling as blood filled his throat, then there was silence.

              His body was wrapped in a blanket with a towel wrapped around his head to try to stem the outpouring of blood. Someone had already pulled his car around to the door, and he was carried to the trunk by two people while the third tried to clean up the large pool of blood by the door before taking all the cash from Aaron’s wallet and performing two other tasks in the house. The trio of conspirators then drove away, dumping Aaron’s body down a dirt embankment along with his clothes and other evidence, then abandoning his car elsewhere.

              When the police arrived at Aaron’s house to perform a welfare check due to noises a neighbour had heard coming from the house, specifically the gurgling of blood in Aaron’s throat, they saw signs of a disturbance, but nobody was home. It would not be long before police picked up three persons of interest who were found traveling together on foot.

              It’s important to note that most of the information about this case comes from the interrogations that followed. While there was evidence found related to Aaron’s murder, none of the three people interrogated ever went to trial. As such, there are certain allegations that will come up that have never been proven or refuted in a court of law, so it is impossible to speak to the veracity of these claims. It should be pretty obvious what I’m referring to, but I’ll be sure to mention it again when they come up.

The Interrogation of Ellen Friar

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6884345/Teen-gets-25-years-role-fathers-murder.html?ito=link_share_article-image-share#i-66909529b7088ac8

              It was nearly four and a half hours into Ellie’s interrogation as she sat at the table sobbing, her jacket drenched with her tears while she scribbled aimlessly on some paper using crayons the police station had provided her. The interrogator had left the room, but Ellie had requested not to be left alone so another female office was standing in the doorway to keep her company. The allegedly pregnant fifteen year old girl stopped drawing momentarily to turn to the officer with her tear filled eyes and ask, “Can I have a hug?” The answer of course, was no.

              But I’m getting a little ahead of myself here. There were three interrogations taking place simultaneously, and the other two suspects were not questioned for nearly as long as Ellie, so what made her so special? Well, the goal of an interrogation is to gather information and ideally elicit a confession. There’s a lot of criticism of police interrogation methods and false confessions, but that’s not what was at play here. The reason Ellie’s interrogation took so much longer than the others is that she was completely full of shit, and the police wanted to get something at least vaguely close to the truth out of her.

              For the first five minutes Ellie was in the interrogation room, she sat alone silently and emotionlessly, completely unfazed by the events that had taken place only seven hours earlier. When Detective Stephanie Smith first entered the room, Ellie put on her best little girl voice for their conversation, one of several tactics she would employ to try to garner sympathy. Yes, I realize she genuinely is a little girl, but I promise you the voice she spoke in for the first few hours of her interrogation was entirely for show and markedly different from the normal speaking voice she would use later.

              As Stephanie entered the room, their conversation began like this:

              “Hi.”

              “Hello.”

              “Are you Ellie?”

              “No.”

              “What’s your name?”

              “I have the right to remain silent.”

              You absolutely have the right to remain silent, which the detective agreed with, but it’s probably not a great sign when the first word out of your mouth other than “hello” is a lie. After being read her rights, she was told she could remain silent, but they still had to know her name. Laws about this vary by state, but in Oregon you are in fact required to give your name and address if you are arrested.

               Ellie identified herself as “Rain”, an 18 year old who had completed high school and graduated with honours. I don’t believe this is one of the rules for Casual Criminalist yet, but we definitely need to add “Don’t lie to the police about easily verifiable information.” If you’re innocent you probably have no reason to be lying to the police at all (but still shutup until you get a lawyer), but if you’re guilty definitely save your lies for things that actually matter.

              Since Ellie doesn’t want to cooperate, why don’t we peek in at one of the other interviews, perhaps one of the strangest police interviews ever conducted.

The Interrogation of Russell Jones

              From the moment the three were arrested, 22 year old Russell Jones was extremely cooperative and amicable. While he was open about his hatred for the cops that were nothing more than high school bullies with badges, he seemed to believe that all of the police he interacted with both during his arrest and while in custody were among the nice ones. As soon as he entered the back of the police cruiser, he was happily chatting away with the arresting officer.

              During their conversation he revealed that, like police are supposed to be, he was also in the protection industry. Sort of. His actual source of income was disability payments in the total of $735/month, but he would lose those benefits if he was employed so any work he did had to be under the table, something he probably shouldn’t be telling the police. It didn’t matter though, as he admitted to never having received monetary compensation for his protection services anyway.

              When asked what kind of protection he offered, he mentioned he worked with people 20 and younger, presumably mostly female. Specifically, he worked with people who would legally be considered runaways to find them places to stay and hide on the basis that “They have to run away for some reason.” To be fair, he has a point. Obviously we’re not talking about a four year old that throws a tantrum and wants to run away because they couldn’t have ice cream for dinner, but when a 15 year old wants to run away there probably is a good reason for it, and legal emancipation is difficult to obtain.

              Upon arriving at the station, Russell was taken to an interrogation room. When asked to sit down he tried to assert his dominance and control by saying he wanted to stand but suggesting the officer sit down. When the officer informed him he’s not allowed to sit unless Russell is, they both took a sit and began chatting. Excellent display of dominance. Russell remained very friendly and chatty with the booking officer, and when the two investigators came in the officer asked to speak to one of them outside.

              Most likely they discussed how open and helpful this guy was going to be, so when the investigator returned a minute later he had a bottle of Mountain Drew for Russell. They asked if he wanted anything else and he requested a cigarette, so the three went outside the station where Russell could smoke while being read his rights. They also grabbed some McDonalds, and after returning inside left Russell alone to eat his food.

              This is when things begin to get strange. Russell was well aware he was being recorded, having commented on the video cameras when he was first brought into the room. He chomped away on his disappointingly soggy fries and began talking to himself. First he looked at the cameras and commented “These are actually nicer than the hospital ones.” He then noticed the Ethernet jacks on the wall and playfully stuck his pinky in one of them, pretending to electrocute himself. At one point, while deep in thought, he also said out loud “It wasn’t really self defense, so much as it was defending her.”

              The goal of isolating a person during an interrogation is to make them uncomfortable and bored. However, because of his combination of unmedicated bipolar disorder and severe autism, Russell was far too capable of amusing himself for this tactic to work, not that underhanded tactics were needed as he had been fully cooperative thus far anyway.

              There’s some speculation from professionals that Russell may have been suffering from schizophrenia and was having conversations with someone that wasn’t there. Personally, I disagree, because even if he experienced schizophrenia he didn’t appear to be suffering at all, but rather enjoying the experience thoroughly.

But more seriously, this is just a thing people do, right? I’m reminded of the supposed confession into a hot mic by Robert Durst during a documentary, but to me it just sounded like he was vocalizing a conversation he was playing out in his head, and the “confession” was an accusation from the person talking to him. Hell, five minutes ago when I took a smoke break and was thinking about this part of the script, I found myself saying the words I intended to write out loud. It’s certainly possible I have undiagnosed autism which is another speculated cause of Russell’s talking to himself (as a means of practicing future conversations), but I really thought this was something normal people did when they were alone. If you also talk to yourself, be sure to GET IN THE COMMENTS so I don’t feel so crazy.

As Russell continued eating his fries, he noticed something on the table. It was a black disc with an illuminated LED light surrounding the rim. Despite the fact he knew there were cameras in the room, there was something that hadn’t occurred to him. But after spotting the device on the table, he looked directly into the camera and said in a cold, accusatory voice, “You’re listening in on my conversations, aren’t you?” It was at this moment that some switch inside Russell seemed to completely flip.

The Interrogation of the Joker

            Unable to grasp the gravity of the situation he was in, Russell began acting as if it was a supervillain. Even though he was in custody, he felt he was in a position of power over the police. He pivoted from looking into one camera to looking at the other, saying “I don’t care if you’re a fed. I can still twist your little mind” with a maniacal grin on his face. He followed that with “Don’t piss me off” while staring as menacingly as possible at the camera.

              At this point, Russell remembered there were still fries left to eat, so he started munching away and talking to himself again. He commented to himself how nice the officers he had dealt with were, stating about one of them in particular, “He even bought me food last time. He bought me food this time too. Maybe I should do it more often…nah.” After finishing his food, he went back into his supervillain frame of mind, and began making demands of the police.

              He claimed that Ellie was under his protection and that she was to be released to him. He began gesturing on the table as though physically laying out the evidence he had given them, insisting that it is worth much more than soggy McDonalds. In traditional Monty Burns fashion, he steepled his fingers while speaking, a gesture that demonstrates perceived dominance over the person being spoken to. It was at this point that Russell finally made a discovery after looking again at the recording device, one that he felt gave him the upper hand in the negotiations.

That’s right, while the cameras were beyond his control, Russell had the ability to control whether or not the police could actually listen to what he was saying. He repeatedly turned the device on and off, at one point even asking “Do you wanna see a magic trick?” in his best Joker voice before waving his hands over the device and turning it off in one impressively smooth motion.

Feeling more powerful than ever, Russell continued to make demands while also implementing a time limit. Looking at an imaginary watch on his wrist, he gave them exactly two hours to release Ellie and the third participant to his custody. After threats and demands didn’t work, he began making a series of pig jokes and comments on the donut eating cop stereotype. He also attempted to sing pig-themed nursery rhymes, but got very confused as he couldn’t remember the words.

When the interrogators finally returned, they jokingly commented on the recording device being off, and then finally got to questioning Russell properly, getting his account of events for the first time. Despite all of his demands, and his numerous boasts about twisting their minds, manipulating them, being a master of reverse psychology, and even threatening to “release my bipolar”, he once again became extremely cooperative.

While he had been at the scene, Russell was not the murderer. He said when he first walked into Ellie’s house and saw Aaron’s body, he immediately ran to the bathroom either to throw up or just in case he did. This makes sense as the Medford Police had described the murder victim as the most gruesome thing they had ever seen. That action of running to the bathroom and a later comment he made about being freaked out that they were driving with a dead body in the car were the only indications any of the three would ever give about feeling any remorse of guilt over what happened.

Despite how forthcoming Russell was however, there was one small twist that the police encountered while trying to get everything from him that they needed for a conviction as a conspirator to murder. While it was clear that Russell understood the concept of the law and things being unlawful, that’s not good enough. It was much less clear whether or not he understood the difference between right and wrong. Given what Ellie had told him about her father, he seemed to struggle with grasping the idea that murdering him was wrong.

https://kobi5.com/news/medford-teen-sentenced-in-dads-murder-99304/

The Interrogation of Ellen Friar Part II

            The initial interrogation of Ellie, humouring her fake name of Rain, continued. She tried her best to act concerned and surprised, but was an absolutely dreadful actor. She employed every trick she could think of both to garner sympathy and get herself out of interrogation, though she continued to answer questions despite her initial desire to invoke her right to remain silent.

              Ellie insisted that she had gone out walking alone and ran into friends, feigning ignorance that her father was dead. She also did her best at pretending to be distraught upon learning that her dog, Sparklebeak, was no longer at the house, even though both she and the interrogator knew that Ellie had taken the dog with her. Playing up her fake emotional distress, she ignored the questions being asked of her to stare off into the distance and whisper “That’s my baby. Where is my dog?”

              She continued evading questions and giving false answers, claiming that the third person in custody was not her boyfriend, but that she had recently dated someone else for a couple weeks named Justin. When asked for Justin’s last name, she said she didn’t know. The interrogator found that to be highly dubious, but to be fair in college I was dating a girl for about three months before either of us thought to ask the other’s last name.

              Though she lied about not being in a relationship with the other suspect, she said one thing that definitely was truthful: her father did not want her to be dating him. Aaron had even allegedly pulled a gun on her boyfriend to keep him away from her, and I don’t really blame him. When we get to him Simon, I suspect you’ll agree.

              It was at this point that Ellie began opening up about her father. Again, because none of these three ever went to trial, the truth of these claims has not been established. The one thing we can say for certain is that this was not something she made up on the spot. These allegations were things Ellie had told both Russell and her boyfriend months prior, so it was not an improvised plea for pity like her continuously pretended to choke on her water or whining about being overtired.

              Ellie claimed that her father was an alcoholic and was abusive to her verbally and physically. She claimed he would call her things like “whore”, “cunt”, and “slut” and had struck her on multiple occasions. She also claimed that he was very rude and abusive to her about the way she ate because she was a vegetarian and had been since she was five years old. Throughout the interrogation, she slipped in comments about her father being abusive every chance she could, even when it wasn’t really relevant to the question she was asked.

              An hour into her interrogation, Detective Stephanie finally revealed that they spoke to someone at the school and they knew that she was  not a graduate but in fact a 15 year old sophomore. Ellie continues to try to change the subject, increasing her fake coughing and mentioning that she knows about minors that were smoking marijuana that she can rat on. I’m pretty sure you can only cut a deal to avoid prosecution when you can help nail someone for a more serious crime, so trying to get out of a murder charge by saying you know some kids that were smoking a doob is pretty desperate.

              After a period of fruitless interrogation, Ellie was left alone and given some paper and crayons to draw with. It may seem like an odd choice for a teenager, but the hope was that whatever she drew could provide the investigators with some sort of insight (it did not). Also, unlike pencils or pens, crayons are dull and fragile as well as being non-toxic, so she wouldn’t be able to harm herself or anyone else with them.

              When Stephanie returned to resume questioning, she was now armed with all the information from Russell and Ellie’s boyfriend’s interrogations. Able to ask more forceful questions, she was finally able to get a story of the murder out of Ellie, just not a true story.

              Ellie claimed that Russell went into the house with a machete and that afterwards she saw it covered in dried blood. She also claimed that she saw them put a tarp into the trunk of the car, and she suspected her father was in the trunk but that she didn’t know. In her story, everything that happened was Russell’s idea and he acted entirely alone, with her oblivious to what was going on. When they stopped on the dirt road, she insisted that he alone took her father out of the trunk.

              She then talked about their subsequent trips to Walmart where she purchased makeup and hair dye, as well as their stop at the SSI (Supplemental Security Income) office to sign up her boyfriend to be able to collect Russell’s disability checks. This part of the story was true, but the detective wanted to press further on her lies.

              When confronted with questions about the baseball bat, Ellie reverted back to her original, childish voice and demeanor, feigning surprise and asking if that was what Russell used, stating that her father kept the bat for protection. The matter of her father’s abuse came up again, and Ellie decided to lay out more allegations.

              She claimed that wherever she was sleeping in the house, her father would come lay next to her and start masturbating. Stephanie asked if her father ever ejaculated, and this seemed like a question Ellie wasn’t prepared for as she almost immediately broke down. She confirmed that he had and that it got on her hand, tears streaming down her face as she described going to the bathroom to repeatedly scrub her hands because of how dirty and ashamed she felt, wondering why he did this to her. She wept heavily, struggling to get out the words “Fathers aren’t supposed to do that to their daughters”. When asked if she wanted some tissues, Ellie said she’d be fine, jokingly commenting through her tears that her jacket was waterproof.

              Since nearly everything Ellie had said up until this point was a lie, we can’t be certain if this story is true. Friends and family of Aaron continued to stand by him, claiming that he was an excellent father and that he loved his daughters more than anything. If it is true, it definitely speaks to motive as to why an extremely bright girl who appeared to be living a normal life by middle class, gifted child standards would want her father murdered.

              I’m not going to make a judgment as to whether or not Ellie’s claim is true, all I can say for certain is this: I have watched nearly 9 hours of CCTV footage of this 15 year old girl, and this is the only instance throughout the entire ordeal where she displays anything that could be considered genuine emotion. And to fans of Simon Whistler Out of Context, I hope you enjoy the first half of that sentence.

The Interrogation of Gavin MacFarlane

            Gavin was an unusual boy. He was described as not being popular, but getting along with a lot of different groups of people. He was also known for his short temper and his tendency towards violent outburst, something that became worse at the age of 17 when he stopped taking his ADHD medication. His school had done several evaluations to gauge whether he was a risk to himself or others, and there was an understanding among students that if there was ever going to be a school shooter, this was the guy. But no one actually thought he’d do something like that. He would comment about wanting to kill people and even said it would be easy to do and get away with, but no one took him seriously. He probably didn’t take it seriously himself, either.

              Aside from being a bit odd and needlessly edgy, he was also somewhat secretive in his associations with people. He had various groups of friends that didn’t know about each other. That’s not necessarily abnormal, but he had at least two separate friends that had come forward saying that Gavin lived at their house, neither of whom knew about one another. It’s like being a homeless teenager and having two families all rolled into one.

              There was just one other “quirk” about Gavin, to put it extraordinarily charitably. After Gavin turned 18, a friend of his found out that he would often hang out in front of the middle school, to which he told Gavin in so many words, “The fuck are you doing, bro? And also, don’t do that.” That’s right, at the time of Aaron’s murder, Gavin was the 19 year old boyfriend of the 15 year old Ellie. They had known each other for a year and been dating and sexually active for at least 6 months. Like I said, I’d have pulled a gun on him too if that were my daughter. Aaron had actually called the police on him for statutory rape previously, and Gavin lost many of his friends and even dropped out of school three months before his graduation as a result of the well-deserved vitriol he received when his classmates caught wind of the fact he was dating a 15 year old.

              As for his actual interrogation, he put up absolutely no resistance. After being read his rights and informed of some of the evidence, like that they had found Aaron’s body dumped, Gavin immediately started telling exactly what happened. He showed no remorse, calmly explaining what they did and what the plan was. He even mentioned that the original plan involved chloroforming everyone in the house before the murder, but that you can’t buy chloroform on the internet anymore. This prompted a very genuine and understandable “The fuck did you just say?” reaction from one of the interrogators while he confirmed that Gavin intended to chloroform Ellie’s two younger sisters.

As he slowly realized the gravity of what he had done and what it meant would happen to him, Gavin began to break down. He cried throughout much of the interrogation, even pulling his legs up onto the chair so he could sit curled up in the fetal position. Throughout the entire ordeal it was clear that he didn’t feel guilt over what happened, just fear and sorrow over what would now happen to him. He repeated over and over through his sobs that he never wanted to kill Aaron, but Ellie made him do it.

I mentioned before that Gavin was a loose cannon in terms of his anger issues, especially when it came to his friends or people he cared about, but this was well beyond anything he was known for. His typical reaction would be one, maybe two punches, and that was the end of it. I’m not saying that’s cool or acceptable, but it’s a far cry from murder. Interviews with his friends and family all stated that they believed Ellie forced and manipulated him to do it, with one going so far as to say that Ellie was 100% at fault. That number is definitely wrong, but actual percentages are going to be tough to decide.

So was Gavin telling the truth that he never wanted to kill Aaron? According to Ellie, yes. After five hours of interrogation, Detective Stephanie finally got her to stop lying and come clean, albeit slowly and while still trying to minimize her part. Ellie claimed that her original plan was to run away, but that Russell brought up the idea of “taking care of” Aaron. She also mentioned Gavin’s hesitance, saying “I kind of forced Gavin into this”, stating that she kept pressuring him.

When asked how she felt driving with her dead father in the drunk, Ellie described it as an adrenaline rush. While the two men were dumping his body, she said that she threw the bloody bat high into a tree, while just relaxing and enjoying nature. Very curiously, near the end of her interrogation, she mentioned that she wanted to be tried as an adult.

Gavin’s was the shortest of the interrogations as he immediately folded under zero pressure, and he had no imaginary friends to talk to or magic tricks to perform to pass the time. His was also the least interesting, unless you just really want to watch a murderer curled up in the fetal position crying. So with all the details from the confessions of the three co-conspirators, let’s dive into exactly what happened, sans a refrain of the bloodier details from earlier.

The Timeline

              Months before the murder, Ellie begins planning to run away with her boyfriend Gavin to escape her allegedly alcoholic and abusive father. Gavin enlists Russell to help them run, and Russell brings up the idea of killing her father. After he mentions it a couple times, Ellie thinks it’s a good idea, but Gavin really doesn’t want to. Ellie continues to pressure Gavin with no success.

              To put more pressure onto Gavin, two weeks before the murder, Ellie fakes a pregnancy. With Gavin finally on board, they begin planning the murder, which includes violating Rule #1 of Casual Criminalist (In Russell’s handwriting). There are pages and pages of plans and diagrams, just in case the confessions weren’t enough.

              You can see from that portion of the written plan that the original idea was to also kill Russell’s father, but they obviously never got that far or seemed to have any clearer plans to do so as they did with Aaron.

The night before the murder, Russell and Gavin attempt to break into Ellie’s house to kill Aaron while she is at a marching band competition. When they realize his girlfriend is there as well, they decide to abort the mission and try again the next night.

              The following night, October 2, Russell and Gavin arrive at Ellie’s house at around 1 am. She passes bags of all her belongings out the window to load into the car and Gavin sneaks in through her window. While they wait for her father to get drunk and fell asleep, they talk about getting married and what their future will be look. Whatever they thought it would look like, they were wrong.

              Once Aaron is heard snoring, she insists on the baseball bat being used to kill her father. Gavin claims not to have seen it, so Ellie goes to find it, stating she would be really mad if it is there. She retrieves the bat from by the door and gives it to Gavin. He goes out into the hall, but it’s dark so he kicks a trash can and immediately retreats to Ellie’s room. She covers for him saying she was going to the bathroom and Aaron makes his comment about the break in the night before.

               They wait for him to fall asleep again, and at around 2:30 am Gavin goes to the couch, assaulting Aaron in his sleep. He wakes up momentarily and shouts, but his life is quickly ended. Ellie grabs her father’s keys to bring the car around and lets Russell, who really had brought a machete as a backup plan, in through the front door. Russell sees the gruesome scene and immediately runs to the bathroom to potentially vomit.

              Gavin and Russell wrap Aaron in a blanket and wrap a towel around his head to soak up as much blood as they can. Gavin grabs his legs and Russell grabs under his torso and together they put his body in the trunk while Ellie goes back inside. She grabs a towel to mop up as much blood as she can then steals all the money from her father’s wallet, roughly $40. She then goes to say goodbye to her little sisters, telling them she won’t be coming back. She asked if they heard anything, and they say they heard their father say a bad word, which means they also would have heard everything that came after, the gurgling of blood so loud the neighbour could hear.

              Ellie then grabs Sparklebeak and goes to the car. They drop everything off at one of the houses Gavin stays at, then head to dump Aaron’s body. They abandon the car and head to Walmart so Ellie can buy some makeup and hair dye, but she gets the wrong hair dye and goes back to return it. Just in case there was any doubt about their lack of remorse, Gavin can be seen on the Walmart security footage smiling and sticking his tongue out at one of the cameras. (The health and beauty section of Walmart usually has TV monitors showing the security feed as that section suffers extremely high amounts of shoplifting, so this would have been to amuse himself and not some grandiose statement about his contempt for authority or the high level of civilian surveillance)

              After leaving Walmart, they head to the SSI office so Gavin can be put as the payee to Russell’s disability claim. Shortly thereafter, a police cruiser runs up onto the sidewalk, cutting off their path. They are handcuffed and brought in for questioning. Getting away with murder was not nearly as easy as Gavin had boasted to his friends it would be.

The Sentencing

              I mentioned that none of the three ever went to trial, but that’s not because they somehow got away with this, it’s because none of them were quite stupid enough to try to plead not guilty, especially after all three gave nearly identical accounts of what transpired in their interrogations. While there is currently a moratorium on executions imposed by the governor, the death penalty is still on the books in Oregon. Given their confessed guilt and the risk of being sentenced to death followed by the election of a more bloodthirsty governor, it was definitely wise to throw themselves on the mercy of the court.

              A fun little tangent for Simon is that Oregon has abolished the death penalty on three separate occasions, twice by popular vote and the third time by the state Supreme Court declaring it unconstitutional. In all three cases, voters chose to reinstate capital punishment, most recently in 1984.

              In October of 2018, a year after the murder, Gavin pleaded guilty to murder and aggravated burglary. He was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years.

              Three months later in January, Ellie entered her guilty plea for conspiracy to commit murder and aggravated burglary. She was sentenced to 25 years to be served in a juvenile correction facility until she turned 25, at which point she would get transferred to big girl prison. However, her sentence was broken down into 20 years for murder and 5 years for burglary, and the 5 years for burglary can essentially be erased by good behaviour.

              As for Russell, that was a trickier matter. I mentioned that it was unclear during his interrogation whether or not he knew the difference between right or wrong, and his case was delayed as he was evaluated to determine whether or not he would be fit to face trial. It was eventually determined that he was, so he would have to answer for his crimes.

              Originally it was reported that in April of 2021 Russell put in a plea of no contest and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. For anyone unfamiliar, a no contest plea means that you do not admit guilt, but you accept that the evidence would most likely result in your conviction if it went to trial. Because a no contest is not a conviction, it does not go on your criminal record and cannot be used against you in the future.

              However, it seems that this original deal changed. Rather than serving 15 years without needing to have a conviction for conspiracy to commit murder (and aggravated burglary but who even cares at that point), instead Russell opted for a guilty plea with a 7.5 year prison sentence with the possibility of parole after 3 years.

Wrap Up

            I know how much you love these morally complex ones, Simon, so let’s see if we can break this one down. Ellie, Gavin, and Russell all plead guilty to Aaron’s murder, and rightfully so, but how guilty were they each? Gavin committed the act, but he was reluctant to do so and was pressured into it by Ellie, some even said he was manipulated by her. She was, by far, the intellectual superior of both men involved despite being an adolescent and them both being grown men, and with her intelligence it would likely have been trivial for her to manipulate them if she wanted to.

              But she was also an adolescent, and they were grown men, one of whom was sleeping with her. Would she have ever even wound up in this situation if Gavin hadn’t groomed her, becoming the boyfriend that her father disapproved of to the point of calling the police on him? 

              And then there’s Russell, the one with whom the idea of murder instead of simply running away originated. Though most accounts claim that all he ever wanted was to help people and he had even tried to create a shelter for homeless youths and runaways, that’s not the entire story.

Whatever you thought about Russell and his wacky interrogation antics before, does your opinion change knowing that three years before this happened, when he was 18 or 19, Russell was twice charged and once convicted with third degree sexual assault? In Oregon, third degree sexual assault involves either a person who does not consent, or is unable to consent because they are not 18. You might be thinking that charge would apply if he was 18 and had a 17 year old girlfriend, which is both accurate and something most people are willing to give a pass to.

But what if I mentioned that the conviction had also been accompanied by a third degree sodomy charge which was dismissed as part of the plea deal, and that the third degree sodomy charge would have meant that the girl was under 16? And does Russell’s diminished mental capacity and unmedicated bipolar disorder play into that analysis at all?

Then of course there’s the matter of Ellie’s motive. Patricide perpetrated by a daughter is too rare to have much meaningful statistical data, but we still have some important information. Two known motives (in separate cases) for such a murder include having a father who disapproved of the daughter’s older boyfriend, and prolonged abuse, particularly sexual abuse. We know she had one of those motives for sure, and she alleged the other. If the allegations are true, how much is Ellie to blame for wanting to run away, but, when presented with the option of murder, choosing instead of just running to also protect her younger sisters from the same fate she suffered?

It’s all way too morally complex, but because Simon and everyone in the comments (and again, GET IN THE COMMENTS) need the opportunity to disagree with me, I feel obligated to try to weigh in. In my opinion, Gavin is probably the worst. Even if he was coerced into it to protect his 15 year old girlfriend and fake unborn child, he was still alone in the room during the murder and also liked to hang around middle schools to try to pick up chicks. I have no issues with his sentence, other than perhaps that he has the possibility of parole.

With Ellie it gets more complicated. If her allegations are false, then she’s at least on par with Gavin. Lying about both abuse and a pregnancy to convince someone to murder your parent is beyond fucked up, and she should have received life in prison for that as well.  If her allegations are true, suddenly her situation becomes a lot more sympathetic. But sympathetic or not, she would still have been more than just an innocent victim who cried out for help and got in over her head. She put the bat in Gavin’s hands and gave him his marching orders. If her allegations are true, I think her sentence is reasonably appropriate.

As for Russell, it all comes down to his mental capacity. Since he was deemed fit to stand trial, his sentence seems unconscionably light. While he had the most passive role in the murder itself, he seemed to have the most active role in the planning. It feels like he was given a lighter sentence due to diminished capacity, but either he understood what he was doing was wrong or he didn’t. You can’t decide that he only sorta knew it was wrong so you’re only going to sorta send him to prison.

If there’s any moral to this story at all, it’s that next time I pitch a script to Simon I need to choose a murderer that is the living embodiment of evil so I don’t have to struggle with any moral ambiguity. Simon, how about an episode on Heinrich Himmler?

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