Scott-Wesley Denham finally got his day in court Tuesday, only he wasn’t there to see it.
That morning, prior to jury selection in his felony child abuse case, Denham, 35, was arrested for contempt of court for refusing to obey courtroom rules.
The scene turned ugly as soon as Deschutes County Circuit Judge Wells Ashby entered the room and all stood but Denham and a handful of his supporters, who soon began arguing with the judge.
But determined to not let the defendant further delay his trial, which began with his arrest in 2017, Ashby ordered it be held without Denham, who was acting as his own attorney.
That afternoon, after a day of tearful witness testimony and a biker gang in the courtroom, the jury found Denham guilty of two felonies. It took jurors eight minutes.
“He was warned of the perils of the empty desk and he chose to avoid those warnings,” Ashby said. “The court was required, both on a statutory level and an ethical level to find him in contempt, and to have him arrested to ensure security and decorum in the courtroom.”
Since his arrest in September 2017, Denham has been represented by three separate court-appointed defense teams, as well as several court-appointed legal advisers.
His latest was defense attorney T.J. Spear, whom the court asked to be on hand Tuesday should Denham change his mind and request assistance.
Outside the courtroom, Spear introduced himself to Denham, who promptly told him he was fired, according to Spear.
Since waiving his right to counsel, Denham filed numerous motions with the court alleging an official conspiracy to deprive him of his parental and personal rights.
“I have learned that this alleged ‘Court’ that has scheduled a case against me is not really a court as per the Constitution of the United States, but rather a tribunal operated as a private corporation,” Denham wrote in a motion.
The trial headed south soon after it started Tuesday. When called on by name, Denham, wearing street clothes, held up his birth certificate and said, “This is Scott-Wesley Denham,” indicating the document.
After several minutes of arguing, Denham and one of his supporters, David Zion Brugger, were taken into custody and transported to the Deschutes County jail.
Brugger, 59, was a highly visible presence outside the federal courthouse in Portland during the 2016 trial of Ammon Bundy, who led the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
“He is clearly indicating through his conduct that he does not want trial to proceed,” Ashby said.
Though Denham had the right to represent himself in court, the state had the right to bring its case, and his victim had the right to testify against him, Ashby said.
The case began in 2017, when Denham’s wife had sole custody of the victim, who was 7 at the time. That year, the couple decided to move out of their home in Redmond with their children and camp throughout Oregon, according to trial testimony. The family was staying at Tumalo Creek State Park in late September when the abuse occurred.
Authorities were called when the girl went to stay with her biological father. She told him it hurt to sit down.
“She told me Scott had made her take her pants down and hit her with a stick,” the girl’s father testified Tuesday, “because she wasn’t listening.”
Tuesday’s proceedings included testimony from sheriff’s deputies who investigated the case and an examiner with the KIDS Center child-abuse investigation organization.
Denham admitted to officers that he hit the child with a stick he got from a tree because “she needed to listen to her mom,” according to deputy Bradley Hamlin of the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office.
The injury left by the stick was visible weeks later, according to physician’s assistant Jill Hartley of the KIDS Center. “It was my opinion that her injuries were consistent with her account of being hit with a stick,” Hartley said.
In the audience gallery of Courtroom C were about a dozen bikers with “Bikers Against Child Abuse,” according to the insignia on their leathers.
The biker group travels the country to support victims in child abuse cases and, according to a brochure, “stands at the ready to shield these children from further abuse.”
The bikers were contacted in this case by relatives of the victim.
The girl, now 9, rode to lunch at McDonald’s on the back of one of their motorcycles.
She took the witness stand right after the lunch break.
“I used to live in the forest with Scott,” she told the prosecutor. “I didn’t like it.”
Prosecutor Jason Kropf stood a few feet away from her with his hands behind his back and spoke in a soft voice. With no opposing counsel to object or cross-examine the witness, he was not interrupted, though the judge paused the hearing several times so the girl could compose herself.
Several of the bikers cried as well.
The trial ended in the afternoon, after only the prosecution rested.
“This kind of disciplining has never been OK in the state of Oregon,” Kropf said in his closing statement. “He said he was trying to send a message. I’m not sure what kind of message that sends a 7-year-old.”
The jury returned guilty verdicts on two felonies — first-degree criminal mistreatment and third-degree assault. Outside in the visitor parking area, the bikers cheered at the news.
On Friday, Denham came to The Bulletin office joined by Brugger and frequent public lands protester Ken Medenbach. They said they wanted to discuss Denham’s case, but spent much of the interview arguing the court’s jurisdiction to hear the case and validity of the U.S. criminal justice system.
When asked about the charges against him, Denham said he only struck his stepdaughter because she disregarded her mother’s orders to get out of the river.
“It was for her own safety and security,” he said.
Denham’s sentencing is scheduled for Friday. As a U.S. citizen, he has the right to be present at the hearing.
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, firstname.lastname@example.org