A year and a half after police found Max Chamberlin fatally shot in the back seat of a car in Ecuador, his parents in east Multnomah County are still awaiting justice.
The trial of the man accused of shooting the 22-year-old Chamberlin should have begun Feb. 16 in Manta, a seaport town of more than 200,000 people. However, it was postponed after the prosecution discovered a possible connection between the family of defendant Emilio Bowen and one of the judges.
"We're trying to get a fair trial," says Ellen Madnick, the victim's mother. "Our team decided it would be in our best interest to postpone it."
Max Chamberlin, who grew up in Corbett and Portland, was killed in Manta, a town he first visited as a high-school exchange student living with the Bowens in 2003. He remained close with his host family, and would often spend vacations at their home.
Bowen lived as an exchange student with Chamberlin's family during the 2004-05 school year at Lincoln High School.
After graduating in 2005 from the Metropolitan Learning Center in Northwest Portland, Chamberlin quit his job as a sales representative for AT&T to return to Ecuador for several months.
During his stay, Chamberlin bought a small parcel of land and began building a three-unit apartment complex using $40,000 of his and his parents' money. Madnick and her husband, John Chamberlin, believe Bowen killed their son to get the money from the project.
"[The apartment complex] showed up in Emilio's name unexpectedly, three months after Max died," says John Chamberlin. "The evidence against Emilio is overwhelming."
But the couple believes the biggest obstacle in their case is the Bowen family's political connections in the province of Manabí. When Madnick arrived in Ecuador after her son's death, all papers related to the apartment project were missing.
The gray Renault Logan in which Chamberlin's body was found was returned to its owner, the father of one of Chamberlin's friends, along with any potential forensic evidence.
âThe police investigation, and I think I may be being too polite, was a coverup,â says John Chamberlin.
"The Bowen family is well known in the province of Manabí," says Maritza Wright, one of the Ecuadorian prosecutors. "In the past, they belonged to strong political parties and would give orders to authorities at their convenience."
Even though the prosecution has gained the support of Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and the Ecuadorian government, Madnick says corruption in Manabí is an issue. "Manabí is a rogue state in a way," she says. "They don't necessary follow the rules of the country.â
Two witnesses for the prosecution, along with one of the prosecutors, have received verbal threats they believe came from the Bowen family or their supporters, Wright says.
Bowen, 23, surrendered to police in the capitol city of Quito on Aug. 31 after being indicted. He was placed in a "special jail" for policemen, according to Madnick. "He's on the Internet and Facebook all day," she says.
A photo from Bowen's Facebook page shows him smiling in a bulletproof vest in front of a police car. Wright calls this gesture "a way to send an important message of protection.â
After an October hearing, Bowen reached out to Madnick, asking her to come to Ecuador to speak with him. Madnick refused.
"I think it was a trap," she says. "I wouldn't be surprised if he was trying to have me killed."
According to an ex-girlfriend of Bowen's, he had Chamberlin's likeness tattooed on his chest a couple of months before his death. Calls to Bowen's attorney in Ecuador were not returned.
In emails written to Madnick in April 2010, he calls Chamberlin his "most beloved brother" in Spanish, and denies any part in his death. He also claims he invested his own money in the apartment complex.
FACT: The office of U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) told WW in a statement that it "is continuing to seek justice for Max Chamberlin and to closely monitor the trial in Ecuador of his alleged killer, and ensure that the full resources of the U.S. government are available to assist in any way possible."