The Saudi Government Posted an Astronomical Bail for an Accused Killer in Portland. He Fled Anyway—Just as an Official Predicted.

The student who killed teenage Fallon Smart is on the run. A sheriff's deputy warned that would happen.

Fallon Smart on her 15th birthday. (Courtesy of Fawn Lengvenis)

Last week, Abdulrahman Noorah, a young Saudi national facing first-degree manslaughter charges for a 2016 hit-and-run that killed a teenage girl in Southeast Portland, slipped off his ankle bracelet and fled.

Noorah, 21, was awaiting trial on charges that he struck and killed Fallon Smart, 15, last August while allegedly speeding on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard.

"It broke our hearts again," says Shane Smart, Fallon's uncle. "There's no question whether he did the crime—for him to have escaped really pisses us off."
Noorah's escape was remarkable, and made headlines across Oregon.

But to one expert, it was no surprise at all.

A confidential document obtained by WW shows that the Multnomah County sheriff's deputy responsible for evaluating Noorah after his arrest considered him a strong flight risk.

"[The sheriff's office] recommends that the defendant, Abdulrahman Noorah, remain in custody pending the outcome of his criminal case," wrote Deputy Kari Kolberg of the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office Close Street Supervision unit in a seven-page assessment dated Aug. 31, 2016. "This decision is based on the protection of the community, the nature of the charges, a lack of ties/stability in the community and potential flight risk."

Yet local authorities had no power to keep Noorah from running—because of Oregon bail laws and the involvement of a foreign government.

Courtesy of Multnomah County Sheriffs Department

On Aug. 19, police arrested Noorah at Hawthorne and Southeast 43rd Avenue, where his vehicle allegedly struck Smart. (He is accused of driving away after hitting her, and then returning to the scene.)

Noorah, who has been in Oregon since 2014, is a student at Portland Community College. After his arrest, he asked for a court-appointed attorney, claiming poverty.

But the Saudi Arabian consulate soon hired two experienced criminal defense lawyers, Ginger Mooney and David McDonald, to represent him. (Both lawyers declined to comment.)

Initial bail was set at $280,000—well beyond the reach of a student living on what documents say was a $1,850-a-month stipend.

Then, when a grand jury indicted Noorah, elevating the charge against him to first-degree manslaughter, Judge Cheryl Albrecht raised his bail to $1 million. Part of the rationale was Kolberg's report declaring Noorah a flight risk.

"We were adamantly opposed to his release," says Christopher Larsen, an attorney representing Fallon Smart's mother.

In Oregon, the only crimes for which a judge may deny bail are murder and treason. (Manslaughter is a lesser charge than murder.) But a judge may still set a high bail amount, and Albrecht set it at $1 million to make it unlikely Noorah would be released.

Little did Albrecht know the Saudi government would soon get involved.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia regularly posts bail for its citizens arrested in the U.S. In Utah, for instance, the Saudi consulate posted $100,000 bail for a Saudi national accused of rape in 2015 (he also fled but was later caught and convicted). The Saudis posted a $2 million bail in 2013 in Missouri for a Saudi student who was accused of murdering a bar owner (the charges were dropped).

In California, in 2013, a Saudi princess was accused of human trafficking; the government covered her $5 million bail (charges in that case were also dropped).

On Sept. 11, 2016, which would have been Fallon Smart's 16th birthday, the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles posted a $100,000 bond for Noorah. (In Oregon, defendants may be released when they post 10 percent of the bail amount.

Should they flee, whoever posted bail may forfeit the deposit and be on the hook for the full amount.)

Edward Jones, the chief criminal judge in Multnomah County Circuit Court, says he can't recall a similar occurrence.

"It's beyond rare," says Jones, who's been on the bench for 18 years and practiced criminal law before that. "I don't recall a foreign government posting bail here before, and it's extremely unusual for anybody to post $100,000 bail."

Officials at the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles did not respond to WW's calls seeking comment.

It is unclear whether the kingdom's posting bail for Noorah was standard practice.

His parents do not appear to be influential: His mother is a kindergarten teacher, according to Deputy Kolberg's report, and his father owns a trailer business. A Saudi consular official Kolberg interviewed at the time said the nation's officials "do not believe Noorah is a flight risk and will be in contact with him 'all the time.'"

As a condition of his release, Noorah turned his Saudi passport over to federal authorities and agreed to remain at home and wear an electronic monitoring bracelet.

But those restrictions didn't address another of Deputy Kolberg's warnings about releasing Noorah.

"All three of the defendant's passengers on the afternoon of this incident reside in the home [where Noorah was living]," Kolberg wrote. "Release conditions prohibit any contact with state's witnesses. These witnesses are the defendant's primary support system here locally."

Noorah's case proceeded slowly. In pretrial motions, Noorah's defense team challenged the video and physical evidence presented by the prosecution and sought to get Noorah's statements to police thrown out on the basis that he doesn't speak English well or understand how the U.S. legal system works.

"The record demonstrates that Mr. Noorah did not understand the constitutional rights he was waiving when he responded to interrogation by police," wrote Mooney, one of his defense attorneys, in a May 31 motion.

Shawn Overstreet, the deputy district attorney handling the case, says he thinks Noorah became nervous after a series of plea negotiations failed.

Noorah's trial was scheduled for later this month, and Overstreet says he thinks Noorah simply panicked at the prospect of a long prison sentence.

The mandatory minimum sentence for first-degree manslaughter is 10 years. Noorah faced possibly even more time for charges that he failed to stop immediately, drove recklessly, and recklessly endangered others.

"That's frankly why I think he took off," Overstreet says. "It's getting to be time to go to prison. Either he was going to take a plea or we were going to trial June 26."
Shane Smart says after all the breaks Noorah received, it's unfair the victim's family now has to wonder if he'll ever be caught.

"I can't believe that he ran," Smart says. "He took a life. There's got to be some sort of justice for Fallon."

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