The family of an alleged child rape victim is angry with a new plea deal proposed by Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel.
Hummel said Thursday he cannot discuss pending settlement negotiations and so he is unable to confirm or deny the account of relatives of the child allegedly raped and abused for months by Derek Gale Starbuck.
Starbuck, 37, of La Pine, is one of the longest-serving inmates in the Deschutes County jail. He was arrested almost a year ago, April 13, on suspicion of raping and sexually abusing a victim younger than 12.
He stands accused of 26 counts: four of first-degree rape; 10 of first-degree sex abuse; 10 of first-degree sodomy; and two of unlawful sexual penetration.
Ten of those charges are Measure 11 crimes, and 16 fall under Jessica’s Law, a law that in Oregon sets minimum sentences at 25 years for people convicted of first-degree sex crimes against victims younger than 12.
Lauren Starbuck told The Bulletin she wants her ex-husband to receive the maximum penalty, and for the entire community to know what he did.
The plea deal currently in place includes both Jessica’s Law and Measure 11 provisions, Lauren Starbuck said. The DA’s office has proposed replacing that plea with one that includes no Jessica’s Law provisions and only partial Measure 11 provisions, as well as the opportunity to earn early release from prison, she said.
This deal is unacceptable to her family, Lauren Starbuck said.
“I’ve told them all along, ‘Please don’t remove the Jessica’s Law provisions. Please don’t do this,’” she said. “I have been a wreck because of it.”
Derek Starbuck’s case began last April when a school counselor led a “safe touch” course in the alleged victim’s elementary school classroom.
The child approached the counselor following the lesson and said Derek Starbuck had been touching her “not safe areas” for the past year, according to court documents.
The child said he would do this when her mother was gone or out of the room.
When detectives arrived to question him, Derek Starbuck was working on an irrigation pond on his property. He was taken to the sheriff’s office and interrogated several times before taking a lie-detector test. In all, he was in police custody for six hours.
While in custody, he admitted to the four charges included in the initial plea offer, according to court documents.
His original, court-appointed attorney, Karla Nash, argued those admissions to police were the product of a “high-pressure, police-controlled environment,” with “limited ability to terminate the encounter,” the court documents state.
Derek Starbuck later retained attorney Valerie Wright, who did not return a message seeking comment.
In email correspondence shared with The Bulletin, Hummel doesn’t deny Lauren Starbuck’s account of plea negotiations. “I’ll look into the details of this and tell you my thoughts after doing so,” Hummel wrote in an email dated March 9.
Lauren Starbuck said he never did. She said she learned Monday in a call with the prosecutor handling this case, Brandi Shroyer, that the DA was moving forward with a new proposed plea.
Lauren Starbuck said she felt “defeated” and is now speaking to the media because she’s out of options.
“It this means the plea deal is off and he goes to trial, so be it,” she said. “It makes me sick what they’re trying to do.”
Hummel said that though his office consults with victims on plea negotiations, ultimately, the decision on what to offer is his.
And he wrote in the March 9 email he’s not influenced when victims or their supporters talk to the press.
“If you have a story you want to tell the media, you should contact them as soon as you want to,” he wrote in the March 9 email. “I encourage people to share their stories regardless of whether the story is pro or con about me.”
Should Derek Starbuck decline the offer and fight the charges, his trial is expected to be long and complex, according to a motion filed by Nash, who no longer represents him. All interrogation videos and transcriptions would have to be reviewed, and legal arguments concerning Jessica’s Law would be considered. And with “threats of violence” referenced by the victim’s mother, Nash wrote, “awareness of dynamics in the courtroom will be important.”
Lauren Starbuck now lives with her children out of state. She said the last time she spoke with her ex-husband was the morning of the day the alleged abuse came to light, right before she left to take the kids to school.
She said she’s thought hard about changing her and her children’s last name.
“It’s something I’ll have to discuss with them when they’re older,” she said.
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, email@example.com