A Salem man who was convicted of kidnapping, sodomy sexual abuse and coercion in Deschutes County years ago is out of prison and back in Deschutes County Jail.
Nicholas Waldbillig was convicted of these crimes in 2016. He now has a chance at a retrial because the verdict was non-unanimous.
A combination of U.S. Supreme Court and Oregon Supreme Court rulings allow retrials for criminal cases if all of the jurors couldn’t agree.
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“It could have been an 11-1 or 10-2 guilty verdict, which was adequate when the conviction was entered. But due to U.S. Supreme Court Case Law and Oregon Supreme Court Case Law, that’s no longer enough. It has to be a unanimous verdict to be convicted,” Deschutes County District Attorney, Steve Gunnels said.
The Supreme Court decision in Ramos v. Lousiana (2020), and the Oregon Supreme Court decision in Watkins v. Ackley (2022), settled precedence in the retrial process for already convicted criminal offenders.
Ramos concluded criminal cases require a unanimous verdict to convict a defendant of a serious offense.
Watkins furthered that decision in Oregon, stating the requirement of unanimous verdicts apply to older criminal cases as well.
Gunnels says the biggest challenge in retrials is finding the witnesses from the initial trial, locating wherever they may be in the country, ensuring they remember the facts of the case, and speaking to them about their willingness to testify again.
Two defendants, including Waldbilling, have been transferred from prison to Deschutes County Jail for a pending retrial. The county expects at least eight more cases to be brought back, Gunnels says.
“When we look at retrying a case, we have to believe that we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt to a unanimous jury that this person is guilty of the crimes charged,” Gunnels said.
Gunnels says murder convictions will not be coming back, as the rule has always been that murder convictions have to be unanimous.
If after the case is reviewed and cannot move forward due to lack of witnesses or any other reason, the case is dismissed and that defendant is released.