March 9th, 2005 Janine Robben, Nick Budnick, Chris Lydgate | Special Section Stories
 

2002

     
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The Monster

BY JANINE ROBBEN

Two pretty young girls. Same apartment complex. Same school. Same dance team.

Same fate.

The story began in January 2002, when Ashley Pond, 12, went missing. The last thing she told her mother, Lori, was "I love you," before she dashed off to catch her school bus.

Two months later, Miranda Gaddis, 13, also disappeared. Last seen getting ready for school, she didn't make it to the bus stop, either.

As police and the FBI mounted a national hunt for the kidnapper, the story grew more macabre.

The girls had been on the same dance squad, whose unofficial headquarters was the nearby ranch house of Ward Francis Weaver III, an industrial worker and the father of another dancer.

In May, Miranda's mother, Michelle Duffey, showed up in court to support Brian Daniel, a convicted murderer and meth-head. Later she called Daniel "a really great guy and a positive influence on my daughter."

Meanwhile, witnesses confirmed Weaver's claim that Lori Pond had previously dumped Ashley at his house for a period of months.

Weaver initially portrayed himself as a concerned neighbor, but later told reporters that he was the FBI's chief suspect, based, in part, on Ashley's allegations that he had sexually abused her in the past.

In July 2002, KATU interviewed Weaver about the disappearance of Miranda and Ashley. The interview took place atop a concrete slab in his backyard.

Weaver mentioned that he had recently poured the slab to support a hot tub. He said he hoped Miranda would come home. But Ashley, he said, should "stay where she is."

One month later, police found Ashley's remains buried beneath that concrete slab.

Miranda's body was found in a nearby shed.

The strange turns of the case did not end there.

It transpired that Weaver was the son of Ward Weaver Jr., who murdered a young woman and her boyfriend near Bakersfield, Calif., some 20 years ago and now sits on death row. Police found that woman's body beneath a concrete slab in Weaver Jr.'s backyard.

Weaver's oldest son, Francis Weaver, fiercely defended his father at first. But Francis turned on his father in August 2002, after Ward Weaver raped-and tried to murder-Francis' teenage girlfriend.

Investigators subsequently determined-based on their analysis of crime-scene DNA-that Francis was not Weaver's biological son, as both men had believed.

In August 2004, lead prosecutor Alfred J. French III got tangled up in presidential politics after he appeared in the infamous "Swiftboat Veterans for Truth" ad questioning John Kerry's service in Vietnam. Later, French admitted that his knowledge of Kerry was secondhand, and he stepped down from the Weaver case.

A month later, Weaver pleaded guilty to aggravated murder in the death of both girls, and was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. "I think everyone shares in the hope that there is a special place in hell for people like you," said Clackamas County Circuit Judge Robert Herndon.

The Portland Seven

BY NICK BUDNICK

On Oct. 4, 2002, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft held a press conference to make a stunning announcement-six terrorist suspects had been arrested in Portland.

It was, Ashcroft declared, a "defining day in America's war against terrorism."

In a nation still reeling from the shock of Sept. 11, the news reinforced suspicions that al Qaeda cells operated by fanatical psychopaths still lurked among us, waiting for their moment to strike.

"Few communities in the nation have greater cause for alarm about how deeply into America the tentacles of terror actually reach," agonized The Oregonian.

But the Portland Six (later expanded to Seven) were anything but terrorist masterminds. They were the Jihad That Couldn't Shoot Straight.

The antics began less than three weeks after Sept. 11, when a Skamania County sheriff's deputy discovered six people in a gravel pit clad in robes and using rifles and pistols to blast away at paper targets. (He wrote a report but made no arrests.)

Shortly thereafter, one of those men, Ali Khaled Steitiye, was arrested with $20,000 in cash, several weapons, 1,000 rounds of ammo and a calendar with the date 9/11 circled in red.

In October 2001, as U.S. forces began to rain destruction down on Afghanistan, the conspirators-who included a makeup salesman, a parking-lot attendant and a former intern for Mayor Vera Katz-began to talk about traveling to Kabul to join the Taliban resistance.

Following a comedy of errors, none of them made it to Afghanistan-but their half-baked plans did manage to alarm the FBI. After the secret detention of former Intel engineer Maher "Mike" Hawash in 2003, law-enforcement officials said the cell had been dismantled.

But when the evidence came out, only one of the suspects appeared to have contemplated terrorism in the usual sense of that word: Jeffrey Leon Battle, 32, a former makeup salesman who talked to an informant about bomb-making and said he wanted to kill hundreds of Jews at a synagogue or school.

Critics said the case against the seven constituted a "thought crime." Because they opposed the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, their efforts to go abroad made them vulnerable to a flimsy, Civil War-era sedition statute outlawing "conspiracy" to become "enemy combatants."

"Mohammed Atta wouldn't have asked these guys to take out his trash," one official told The New York Times.

In 2003 the group took a series of plea deals. Attorney General Ashcroft touted the agreement as proof of the value of the U.S.A. Patriot Act-the draconian law passed in the wake of Sept. 11 that tramples on the U.S. Constitution, according to civil-libertarians.

In reality, virtually the entire case against the Portland Seven was compiled with pre-Patriot Act, traditional law-enforcement tools, as lawyers for the defendants pointed out.

One Portland federal prosecutor told WW the reason Ashcroft cut the plea deals with the Portland Seven was simple: to avoid "difficult" legal issues that would come up in any appeal that did challenge the constitutionality of the Patriot Act.

Rubbish!

BY CHRIS LYDGATE

It was a stunt. A prank. A bit of mischief. But our operation to swipe the trash of Portland's top brass turned out to be one of the biggest stories of the year.

The project grew out of a case involving Officer Gina Hoesly, a Portland policewoman who had been spotted around town in doubtful company. Suspecting that Hoesly was consorting with druggies, police investigators rifled through her trash can-without the formality of getting a search warrant. Their sordid haul included a used tampon, which was tested for drugs and semen, and became the basis for drug charges against her.

That news left us scratching our heads. Doesn't the Fourth Amendment protect citizens from unreasonable search and seizure?

The Multnomah County district attorney's office didn't think so. Nor did Police Chief Mark Kroeker. "Most judges have the opinion that [once] trash is put out...it's trash, and abandoned in terms of privacy," he told WW.

Hmm. To see how they really felt, and to highlight the ongoing erosion of privacy in America, we swiped the garbage of three local officials: District Attorney Mike Schrunk, Chief Kroeker and Mayor Vera Katz, who gave the chief his marching orders. Each had endorsed the notion that you abandon your privacy when you set your trash out on the curb. So we figured they wouldn't mind too much if we snuck a peek at theirs.

Boy, were we wrong.

Kroeker threw WW reporter Nick Budnick out of his office. Katz went nuclear, denouncing WW's prank as "absolutely unscrupulous." Schrunk was the only one who responded with any sense of humor. "Do I have to pay for this week's garbage collection?" he joked.

Our junkaeological dig unearthed no hint of scandal. The chief, the DA and the mayor turned out to be, according to their trash, squeaky-clean, poop-scooping folks whose private lives were beyond reproach. But their angry reaction generated a whiff of hypocrisy that made the story a one-day wonder on websites across the globe.


* Relatives of Ray Wallace, the contractor who discovered the first prints of Bigfoot back in 1958, reveal upon his death that the whole Bigfoot thing was a hoax. Apparently, Wallace used 16-inch wooden feet to make the prints, and the shambling humanoid captured in the grainy black-and-white Patterson film was actually Wallace's mom in a gorilla suit. Professional sasquatchers shrug off Wallace's deathbed confession and insist that the Old One is still out there.

* Starved of cash, misspelled monopoly Qwest Communications withholds $4.8 million worth of franchise fees from City of Portland-even though it still collects those fees from ratepayers. WW launches "Deride the Light" campaign, encouraging readers to slice the fee (a average of 37 cents from each phone bill) from their payments until Qwest pays up. The telecom Goliath capitulates a month later, though the court battle will drag on another two years.

* What's 14 feet wide, 120 feet deep, and four miles long? Yes, it's the westside big pipe, which breaks ground in November. The project is basically a massive tube that pumps poo from one side of the Willamette to the other. If you like that, you'll love the even bigger eastside big pipe, 22 feet wide and six miles long. Whole shebang will cost taxpayers $1.4 billion by 2011, but at least the Willamette won't run with turds when it rains.

* Oregon represents as Katie Harman, a 21-year-old blue-eyed blonde from Gresham, brings the Miss America 2002 title to the Beaver State for the first time ever. Crowned barely two weeks after 9/11, Harman wears a bright smile stapled to her face at all times.

* A California woman sues Waste Management Inc. after her schizophrenic brother was crushed to death inside a trash compactor. To escape the bitter cold of a January night, Richard Phelps, 47, had crawled into a dumpster, which was then emptied into a garbage truck-with Phelps inside-and compacted. Jury absolves WMI but also calls for locks on dumpsters.

* Long a neighborhood fixture, the Burlingame Grocery goes up in flames. Barely has the smoke cleared, however, when WW reports that the chief suspect is Tom Calkins, the grocery's owner. Calkins is later convicted of arson.

* Responding to a malfunctioning burglar alarm, Lake Oswego cops stumble across a pound of weed in the crawlspace of the home of Blazer guard Damon Stoudamire. He gets off on a technicality but is busted a few months later when a state trooper takes an interest in the aroma of his speeding Hummer. Not one to give up easily, Stoudamire is busted again in Tucson trying to sneak some grass past airport security. Eventually checks into rehab and returns to the court with renewed vigor.


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