Judge: New trial for Oregon death row inmate in murder case

December 21, 2017

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — A judge has set a new trial in 2019 for a man previously sentenced to death in the killing of a Springfield resident in 1993.

Jeffrey Dale Tiner’s death sentence was overturned in 2011 when a judge found he wasn’t given a proper defense during the sentencing phase of his trial, The Register Guard reported Thursday.

In March, the Oregon Court of Appeals went further and threw out Tiner’s murder conviction because prosecutors withheld evidence from his attorneys that could have been used to reveal bias in witnesses who testified against him.

A jury in 2000 found Tiner guilty of intentional murder, aggravated murder and abuse of a corpse in the death of James Salmu, 34. Tiner was accused of burying Salmu’s body in a forest 50 miles east of Springfield, where it was found 20 months later by a mushroom picker.

Salmu had taken in Tiner’s then-girlfriend and her three children because they were homeless. But the couple got into a fight with Salmu after a pizza party on March 21, 1993 — the last night Salmu was seen alive.

John Distabile, who was at the party and witnessed the fight, later told police he thought Tiner was angry because he suspected Salmu had slept with his girlfriend, Karlyn Eklof. Court documents and police reports indicate that Distabile told investigators he saw Tiner punch Salmu and threaten him with a handgun.

Distabile told police he left the party while Salmu was still alive but thought that “something terrible was going to happen to him,” according to court documents and 1994 police reports.

Eklof also was convicted of aggravated murder. But the Oregon Supreme Court last year sent her case back to a trial court to determine if she also deserves a retrial because her defense attorneys did not receive some police reports from the case until 2012.

In Tiner’s case, the appeals court ruled that the defense should have been given a letter to prosecutors from one of their counterparts in Nevada, who indicated that two state witnesses in Tiner’s trial were strongly biased against him.

The jury also should have been told that a prosecutor had promised to write a letter to a parole board on behalf of one of the witnesses in exchange for testimony against Tiner.

Attorneys indicated Wednesday in court that they will likely discuss settling the case before Tiner’s new trial. But if an agreement isn’t reached, prosecutors will be able to tell a jury that Tiner already has been found guilty of intentional murder and abuse of a corpse in connection with Salmu’s death.

Those convictions were not overturned, and Tiner remains at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem on a sentence of life imprisonment with the chance of parole after 25 years.


Information from: The Register-Guard, http://www.registerguard.com

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