26 Dec 2014

Stranger (a lawyer) in Portland courtroom shows defendant mercy -- forks over $983 so he won't become felon

In the often cold and unforgiving world of Multnomah County Circuit Court, a Portland civil attorney last week did something rather extraordinary: 

He offered to loan a complete stranger $983 of his own money to keep the man -- a 27-year-old dad -- from having a felony conviction on his record.
Call it an act of faith in humankind -- or perhaps a foolhardy move -- depending on your perspective.

Here’s how the unusual scene played out last Thursday:
Colin M. Murphy, a civil attorney who handles business disputes, was sitting in a courtroom’s gallery waiting for his case to be called when he overheard a defense attorney and a prosecutor talking about a different case scheduled 15 minutes ahead of his.

They were saying what a shame it was that a defendant was about to blow a plea deal that would give him an opportunity to be sentenced to a misdemeanor instead of a felony for his role in stealing a pickup truck.
According to police reports, Castor Majuro Conley had bought a 1993 Nissan pickup truck from a thief, then sold it to someone else who sold it to a car-crushing yard for scrap.
Court records show that Conley, married with a 17-month-old child, had only one misdemeanor conviction on his record, a fourth-degree assault in 2011.
Murphy wasn’t familiar with many of the details of Conley’s life or most recent case. But he knew the DA’s Office was willing to offer the man a break. He also knew that a felony conviction meant Conley could very well lose his job, any good future job prospects and rental housing.

And that’s when Murphy spoke up in Judge Stephen Bushong's courtroom and offered the loan.
“All of us sometime in our lives have done something we would rather not have done,” Murphy told The Oregonian on Monday, explaining why he decided to act. “And the time will come when perhaps we are going to be held accountable. And I think at that point we would like to have somebody show us mercy.”
Lawrence Taylor, Conley's defense attorney, said he was stunned. 

 
“I’ve practiced for 22 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it, and I don’t expect to again,” said Taylor.
Taylor had never met Murphy before or even seen him in court. "It was mere coincidence," he said. "In fact, we were only there that day because we got a set-over because my client needed an extra week. He thought he could come up with the money.”
But Conley hadn't been able to scrape together the $983 in restitution he was required to pay the victim, Shawn Stratton of The Dalles.

Stratton, 53, had parked his 1993 extended cab Nissan outside a friend’s office near Northeast 107th Avenue and Halsey Street about 6:40 p.m. on Dec. 19, 2013. Twenty minutes later, when he stepped outside to drive to dinner, his pickup was gone.
Portland police investigated, and a 30-year-old man told police that he used a “jiggle key” to steal the Nissan, before selling it to Conley. According to police reports, Conley told police he bought the Nissan for $150 to $200, then sold it to another man for $275, and that man in turn towed it to West Coast Car Crushing -- whose operators are facing a long list of criminal charges for allegedly buying stolen cars that were illegally towed there from across the metro area.

Conley pleaded guilty to unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, which is a felony under Oregon law. But Deputy District Attorney Kevin Demer said he agreed to allow Conley's conviction to be classified as a misdemeanor in exchange for Conley coming up with the $983 in restitution by Thursday for the victim, who was out hundreds of dollars in an insurance deductible and stolen camping equipment he had in his truck.

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