The Oregon Supreme Court on Friday overturned the death sentence of notorious serial killer Dayton Leroy Rogers, citing its own landmark ruling last month that applied the state’s new aggravated murder law to the case of another condemned man.
The decision was expected by legal experts and means Rogers, 68, will be sentenced for the fifth time. Few death row inmates in Oregon have had their sentences overturned as many times as Rogers, who is serving time at Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla.
For Rogers, the court cited its recent conclusions in the case of David Bartol, 50. The court ruled that Bartol’s crime no longer meets the definition of aggravated murder under Senate Bill 1013, the 2019 law that limited the charge to four types of killings.
Aggravated murder, the only crime that carries a possible death sentence, now applies only to defendants who have killed two or more people as an act of organized terrorism; killed a child younger than 14 in a premeditated act; killed another person while locked up in jail or prison for a previous murder; or killed a police, corrections or probation officer as part of a premeditated plan.
Rogers was originally convicted of aggravated murder because he had multiple victims.
Rogers is the first death penalty case to be affected after the Bartol opinion. Legal experts say the Bartol ruling is expected to have broad implications for other cases as well. Currently, 23 people have been sentenced to death in Oregon.
“We feel it’s the outcome that should have occurred decades ago,” said Richard Wolf, who has represented Rogers since 2008.
In 2015, Rogers’ most recent resentencing, his defense team said it would agree to six consecutive life sentences and would drop all state and federal appeals and would not seek a commutation from the governor, according to Wolf. Wolf said the offer was rejected by the Clackamas County district attorney.
Clackamas County District Attorney John Wentworth said Friday that his office has worked for three decades to “bring justice and closure to the families of Dayton Leroy Rogers’ victims and our community. Now the seven justices of the Oregon Supreme Court have ignored the 48 Clackamas County jurors who have called for Rogers’ death.”
Wentworth said Rogers will be sentenced under the laws in place at the time he was convicted in 1987, meaning he’s likely to get life with the possibility of parole after 30 years, a term he’s already served.
But Wentworth said Rogers isn’t likely to be eligible for parole. He said he expects the court to order Rogers to serve the sentences consecutively, which would amount to a life term.
Rogers’ surviving victims and the parents of many of the women he killed testified at previous sentencing hearings, but most have since died “waiting for Rogers to finally have his sentence upheld,” Wentworth said.
Wolf said he expects Rogers’ latest resentencing will be resolved in negotiations with the District Attorney’s Office and not in another hearing.
Rogers’ case ranks among the state’s longest running and most costly in Oregon history. According to Oregon Public Defense Services, the state has spent an estimated $2.5 million on Rogers’ defense.
Rogers ran a small-engine repair business and lived outside of Canby. His horrific and escalating history of violence began in 1972 with the stabbing of a 15-year-old girl, who survived, and ended in 1987 and 1988 when he was charged with the murders of seven women.
The case unfolded in a roundabout way, with the death of his last known victim coming to light first.
In 1987, he was arrested in the stabbing death of Jennifer Lee Smith, a 25-year-old Portland woman whose nude body was found behind an Oak Grove restaurant. She worked as a prostitute. Shortly afterward, he was named the prime suspect in the deaths of six other women whose decomposed bodies had been discovered earlier in the Clackamas County woods. Authorities say they also worked as prostitutes.
Authorities initially suspected Rogers was the Green River Killer, who killed dozens of women and dumped their bodies at remote locations in Washington and Oregon. But forensics cleared Rogers of those crimes, which were later linked to Gary Leon Ridgway. Ridgway pleaded guilty in 48 deaths in exchange for being spared the death penalty.
At Rogers’ first murder trial, his attorneys maintained he killed Smith in self-defense. Prosecutors said he killed Smith for the thrill of it.
A Clackamas County Circuit Court jury convicted Rogers, who then was sentenced to life in prison. The “Molalla Forest Murders” trial followed in 1989. The jury deliberated six hours before finding Rogers guilty of aggravated murder in the deaths of Lisa Marie Mock, 23; Maureen Ann Hodges, 26; Christine Lotus Adams, 35; Cynthia De Vore, 20; Nondace Cervantes, 26; and Riatha Gyles, 16.
De Vore’s daughter, Fiona Prendergast, was 8 or 9 months old when her mother was killed.
Now 35 and a mother herself, Prendergast said she’s devastated by the court ruling and is waiting to hear from prosecutors about “what this means moving forward.”
Prendergast was raised by her grandparents, Wayne and Sherrie De Vore of Oregon City.
She said her grandparents “have taken a large step back” from the case.
“This has been a 30-year heartbreak,” she said. “They can only take so much more.”