By TED TAYLOR
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY
Supporters of a measure that would increase sentences for offenders who cause catastrophic injuries packed a hearing room in Salem Monday, but the bill will not move forward this session.
“I’m here today asking you to protect the victims of Oregon…so the punishment for abusers in the state of Oregon matches the damages given to their victims,” said Tina Jorgensen, the grandmother of 2-year-old Ezra Thomas of Madras.
Thomas suffered life-threatening brain damage after his mom’s then-boyfriend Josue Mendoza-Melo repeatedly smacked his head on the floor while watching him in 2017.
Today, Ezra requires care 24/7 and can do next to nothing on his own. Ezra has tracheal and feeding tubes, is legally blind and has between one to three seizures per hour.
“Every joy. Every ounce of joy was taken us from that day,” Jorgensen told the House Judiciary Committee.
Last year, Ezra’s family settled their case and Mendoza-Melo was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
House Bill 4122, introduced by The Dalles Rep. Daniel Bonham, would create a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years for those convicted of first and second-degree assault, attempted first or second-degree murder or attempted aggravated murder that results in permanent physical injury to victims.
The bill would be similar to “Jessica’s Law” passed in 2006, which increased the mandatory minimum for some sex crimes against children under 12.
“While I am disappointed that the legislature couldn’t take swift action in moving Ezra‘s law during a short session, I’m optimistic to see all of the momentum that is building behind this cause,” Bonham said. “Giving an opportunity for the voices to be heard and creating a work group for all the stakeholders to be at the table working will create a policy that we can all be proud of.”
Committee Chairwoman, Portland Rep. Tawna Sanchez, said she commended the sponsors for crafting a bill narrow in scope, hitting a segment of the law she said wasn’t adequately serving victims.
She said there are a lot of moving parts to something like this and changing a law to increase sentences is “not something that we’re always really excited about.”
“But recognizing, of course, this is a massive issue,” Sanchez said. “People are damaged every day by the violence and abusive behaviors of others and I do know this is something that needs to be addressed.”
Ezra’s story isn’t unique. Similar recent cases across the state prompted the measure.
In 2013, then 23-year-old Jessica Haynes of Madras was involved in a domestic violence situation and was shot in the head by Thomas Knapp leaving her severely injured.
Knapp received about five and a half years in prison.
In Marion County, Roy Fast was just 6-months old in 2013 when his mother’s boyfriend, Robert Pinksy, assaulted him, permanently injuring the boy.
Pinksy was sentenced to about nine years.
Jefferson County District Attorney Steven Leriche said those sentences don’t add up when you’re explaining them to a grandmother of a toddler or to a victim of domestic violence
“It’s hard for them to understand how someone can get five or six or seven years and they’re stuck with this for all their life,” Leriche told the committee.
Supporters filled the House Judiciary Committee hearing room, even spilling out into an overflow room, many wearing white #teamezra t-shirts and hoodies.
Nicole Kraus of Salem said “it just made sense.”
“I’m not asking any of you to support some extreme or radical change to Oregon law,” Kraus said. “I’m simply asking you to add time to those who permanently destroy the lives of their victims.”
A similar bill was introduced in Salem last session, but it died in committee.