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Man changes plea to murder in bridge killing

April 13, 2018

This undated photo provided by the Umatilla County Sheriff's office shows Conor Michael Dayton. Dayton has changed his guilty plea from manslaughter to murder rather than divulge details of his crime to authorities. (Umatilla County Sheriff's Office via AP)

PENDLETON, Ore. (AP) — A 24-year-old Milton-Freewater man has changed his guilty plea from manslaughter to murder rather than divulge details of the crime to authorities.

Conor Michael Dayton entered the new guilty plea Thursday in a Umatilla County Circuit Court hearing that was held by remote camera, The East Oregonian reported. Dayton’s defense attorney, L. Kent Fischer, said outside court that prosecutors were “adamant” that Dayton had not debriefed them on the crime — a stipulation that had been part of his original plea deal for the lesser charge of manslaughter.

Dayton decided to withdraw that plea and instead plead guilty to murder after his attorneys decided challenging the prosecution on the matter would be unlikely to succeed.

Judge Christopher Brauer told the court it was the first time he’s seen such a plea change in his 12 years on the bench and in his 30 years practicing law.

As a result, Dayton will serve at least 25 years in prison rather than the previously recommended sentence of 20 years, the newspaper reported.

Authorities said Dayton killed Marcos Gutierrez Rodriguez last May and left the body under a Milton-Freewater bridge and burned the body two days later to cover up the crime.

The Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office initially investigated the case and declared there was no foul play.

But in August the sheriff’s office decided Rodriguez’s death was a homicide and arrested Dayton.

The sheriff’s office has yet to explain what led to those changes. An affidavit on the change of plea dated March 21 is sealed, according to online court records.

Eight members of Rodriguez’s family came to the proceeding, and his sister, Susanna Aguero, told the court words fail to describe their pain.

Dayton may be going to prison for a long time, she said, but “we are waiting for an absolution that will never come.”

Dayton apologized to the family in a brief statement but didn’t offer an explanation for the crime.

“I can’t properly describe why I did what I did,” he said. ”... That’s all I can say — I’m sorry, guys.”

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Information from: East Oregonian, http://www.eastoregonian.com

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