Hours before protests of police killings began in Portland's streets, Oregon saw another watershed moment in its criminal justice system: The state's top court began reversing convictions handed down by divided juries.
On May 28, the Oregon Supreme Court announced it had vacated the sentences of 19 defendants convicted by non-unanimous juries. The cases are the first batch out of 269 cases that may be reversed in coming months because of an April 20 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. That ruling, Ramos v. Louisiana, overturned a provision of the Oregon Constitution that allowed just 10 or 11 jurors out of 12 to convict for all crimes except murder.
Each of the 19 cases reversed in Oregon now go back to the trial court, where the local district attorney will decide whether to retry the case or drop the charges altogether.
Given the timing of the reversals, during a week when the nation has been roiled by protests of police treatment of black people, one statistic stands out: Only two of the 19 defendants whose sentences have been vacated are black. That runs counter to a previous analysis by WW that found black defendants were overrepresented among those convicted by non-unanimous juries.
Juan Chavez, director of the civil rights project at the Oregon Justice Resource Center, said he wasn't surprised by the low number of black defendants whose cases have been vacated.
"I'm sure there's a procedural reason," Chavez said of the methodology for choosing the 19 cases. "[But] I think that the law is still working as designed, which is supposed to be racist and support a white supremacist agenda."
The convictions ranged widely, from theft to assault to sexual abuse, with several cases involving minors.
The cases are just the start of what is likely to be years of legal review to determine who has been unconstitutionally convicted of crimes, according to the highest court in the country. We looked through the 19 cases. Here are three that were noteworthy.
State of Oregon v. Kevin Ray Eggleston
In September 2016, Kevin Ray Eggleston, a 56-year-old homeless black man, got into a public argument. A bystander attempted to intervene, and as she did, court records say, Eggleston hit her in the face with a metal thermos. The woman lost consciousness and suffered severe nerve and tissue damage.
The next night, Eggleston told an employee of the homeless shelter where he was staying that the woman's boyfriend had thrown the thermos, accidentally hitting her, and that Eggleston had only punched her. He maintained this argument during testimony at his trial.
The jury voted 11-1 to convict Eggleston on the assault charge. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison. He is currently incarcerated at Oregon State Correctional Institution in Salem. His scheduled release date is September 2028.
State of Oregon v. Myron Lee Newell
In November 2013, Crook County prosecutors charged Myron Lee Newell, a 91-year-old white man, with three counts of sexually abusing a child under the age of 14. During two of the alleged incidents, Newell assaulted the child while she was asleep.
The victim disclosed the abuse on multiple occasions to her grandmother and a family friend. She also gave a forensic interview to a victim's specialist.
"After [victim] told this to her grandmother, her grandmother told her about a time, when she herself was a child, when she was sleeping on a couch and someone touched her inappropriately," court records say.
The grandmother then reported the child's allegations to the Crook County Sheriff's Office.
At trial, Newell requested that the judge require a unanimous verdict, but the request was denied. The jury acquitted Newell of two counts and voted 11-1 to convict him on the third.
Newell was sentenced to 75 months, more than six years, in prison. He is currently incarcerated at Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla. His scheduled release date is August 2023, when Newell will be 94 years old.
State of Oregon v. James Lin Browning
Multnomah County prosecutors charged James Lin Browning, a 49-year-old white man, with sexual abuse and sodomy after a teenager reported to Portland police that Browning had sexually abused her at least once a month for several years, when she was between the ages of 7 and 14.
Portland police investigated the crime, and one of their strongest pieces of evidence was a "pretext call" between Browning and the victim. Pretext calls are often used in rape cases. Police listen in as the accuser calls the alleged perpetrator and tries to get him or her to admit to the crime. The call can then be admitted as evidence.
During the pretext call, the victim confronted Browning about the abuse. When she asked Browning why he abused her, he replied: "Probably because I was intoxicated, not in my mind," court records say. "It's sick. I know it's sick," Browning said. He insisted during the call that he was not a pedophile, but that his actions would probably categorize him "as that."
The jury found Browning guilty on seven counts of sexual abuse. The verdicts in all seven were non-unanimous: six by 11-1 and one by 10-2. Browning was sentenced to 150 months, or 12½ years, in prison. He is currently incarcerated at Snake River Correctional Institution in Eastern Oregon. His scheduled release date is May 2029.