After a six-week lull, proceedings in the capital murder case against Edwin Lara will resume Tuesday and could include discussion about whether the case’s gag order has been violated.
A lengthy hearing to decide if a confession Lara made about the death of 23-year-old Kaylee Sawyer can be used at trial started July 10 and stretched through July 20. However, due to witness availability, the proceedings were suspended for weeks.
Tuesday is scheduled to be the first of three days of hearings, which will include testimony and closing arguments. Deschutes County Circuit Judge A. Michael Adler will then issue a ruling, possibly after closing arguments, but more likely at a later date.
Lara, 32, is accused of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and murdering Sawyer in the early hours of July 24, 2016, while on duty as a Central Oregon Community College security guard.
He is charged with four counts of aggravated murder, the only crime punishable by execution in the state of Oregon. Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel is seeking the death penalty, and Lara is due to stand trial in October 2018.
The final three days of the hearing were originally scheduled to start Sept. 11 but were bumped up a week due to scheduling conflicts, court documents indicate.
A possible addition to the hearing could be arguments regarding a motion filed by the defense July 28. While the contents of the motion are sealed — as nearly all filings in the case have been — the title sheds some light: “Motion for Sanctions for Violation of the Court’s Order Prohibiting Extrajudicial Statements.”
An extrajudicial statement is a statement made outside of court. The case has had a gag order stipulating that none of the attorneys or investigators involved in the case speak about it outside of court. From the title, it would appear the defense team — Benjamin Kim, of Oregon City; Steve Lindsey, of Portland; and Thaddeus Betz, of Bend — is alleging the gag order has been violated.
The gag order on the case was originally imposed July 26, 2016, by Deschutes County Circuit Presiding Judge Alta Brady. The original language prohibited statements out of court. It was amended Aug. 11, 2016, by Adler, to limit statements that could affect a potential jury’s ability to be fair. Seven days later, Adler again amended it, claiming Hummel had violated the order days before while speaking with the media. The third order again barred any discussion of the case outside of the courtroom.
Since then, no statements about the case have been made outside of the courtroom, aside from Hummel announcing his decision to pursue the death penalty. Court proceedings discussing potential evidence included roundabout arguments specifically tailored to keep any details of the case out of the media.
For a year, all that was known about the case was Lara had been charged with murdering Sawyer and Hummel’s office had accused him of kidnapping and attempting to sexually assault her.
It was not known how Lara allegedly came in contact with Sawyer, or what may have taken place — until the one-year anniversary of her death.
On July 24, attorney Tim Williams filed a civil lawsuit against COCC and Lara on behalf of the Sawyer family. The lawsuit describes an encounter between Sawyer and Lara in graphic detail.
Four days later, the defense filed the motion seeking sanctions due to a violation of the gag order. Williams said he has not been contacted by the court or anyone else involved regarding a possible violation of the gag order. He said he reviewed the order before filing the civil lawsuit and found it did not pertain to him.
However, in trying to comply with the spirit of the order, he limited information about the case to court filings rather than verbal statements.
He said if it were possible, he would have held off filing the civil suit until the criminal trial had wrapped up, but the statute of limitations to bring the suit closes July 24, 2018.
While the civil lawsuit is open, Williams said proceedings likely won’t pick up until criminal matters are concluded.
— Reporter: 541-383-0376, firstname.lastname@example.org