Clatsop County’s first death penalty trial in 15 years started last week in Circuit Court.
Randy Lee Roden, 28, is on trial for allegedly murdering his girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter and abusing her two sons while they all lived together in a Seaside apartment. The gruesome scene discovered in December 2014 is described as among the worst child-abuse cases in the county.
The trial, in courtroom 300, will focus this week on jury selection. Prospective jurors will be screened in the courtroom in groups of six until the 12-person jury is selected, with two to four alternates. The pool of available jurors will be asked about their attitudes toward capital punishment and whether they think they can be impartial.
Judge Paula Brownhill decided to have the jurors questioned in groups, rather than individually, after her experience presiding over the county’s last death penalty case.
In 2001, Anthony Scott Garner was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison for fatally stabbing a woman on a motorboat in the Warrenton mooring basin and setting the boat on fire to cover up the crime.
“We questioned jurors individually in 15-minute segments, and it took over a week to select 12 jurors,” Brownhill said. “In the Roden case, we will bring jurors into the courtroom in groups of six rather than one at a time.”
The District Attorney’s Office believes it has enough physical evidence and expert opinion to connect the crimes to Roden. The state will present evidence showing the 2-year-old, Evangelina Wing, and her brothers were tortured, burned, bitten and caged in the Seaside apartment their mother, Dorothy Wing, shared with Roden.
Evangelina Wing apparently died of battered child syndrome with blunt force trauma to her head. Blood spatter was found in almost every corner of the apartment, staining holiday decorations and the wall behind a Christmas tree.
Roden’s defense is that he did not commit the crimes. His lawyer, Conor Huseby, is adamant that someone else is to blame, possibly the children’s mother.
Dorothy Wing, 26, pleaded guilty in January to first-degree manslaughter and two counts of first-degree criminal mistreatment. She was sentenced to more than 15 years in prison, contingent on her truthfully testifying at Roden’s trial.
“Mr. Roden’s defense will be what it has always been; he simply did not commit the crimes the state has accused him of,” Husby wrote in a court document.
Roden’s trial could last up to two months. Trial days will be Tuesday through Friday, with occasional time off of those days if a session finishes early or the court has an emergency hearing in another case.
Multiple witnesses for the prosecution and defense will testify. Many are traveling from Georgia, where Roden grew up.
Witnesses for Roden include his close friends, sister, half brother and sixth- and third-grade teachers. The defense also plans to call Janice Ophoven, a pediatric forensic pathologist, who claims the toddler likely died from complications of a flesh-eating infection, rather than from blunt-force trauma.
The prosecution will call two of Roden’s ex-girlfriends, who can detail a pattern of violence against women and children.
One ex-girlfriend, who dated Roden from March to July 2014, will say he did not like children, he abused her children both physically and emotionally and her children were fearful of him. She will testify that Roden was very controlling with her and the children, threatened to move out and warned he would commit suicide in order to control her behavior, according to court documents.
Roden is serving an eight-year prison sentence for violating probation from a domestic violence conviction in 2013 involving his other ex-girlfriend. The woman is traveling from Tennessee to testify against Roden.
“(She) is a past girlfriend and prior crime victim of Mr. Roden and has abundant information about his character,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Ron Brown wrote in a court document.