Aggravated murder trial begins in Gresham double slaying
On a hot summer day in August 2008, a utility worker knocked on the door of a Gresham townhouse and noticed an awful odor and a lot of flies.
Gresham police broke in and found the bodies of a married couple in their 20s sprawled across the floor. The couple, known drug dealers, had been dead, each from a bullet wound to the brain, for up to 13 days.
Over the following months, investigators would link another drug dealer, James Charles Tooley, 37, to the deaths of Melinda Beth Kotkins and Anthony Patrick Cooper. Thursday in Multnomah County Circuit Court, prosecutors opened their case against Tooley by outlining the evidence:
Tooley was the last known person to see Kotkins and Cooper on July 24, 2008.
Tooley's fingerprint was found on a gun case in the house in the 800 block of Northeast Third Street.
Surveillance video taken by Gresham police investigating drug activity at the couple's home showed Tooley showing up in late July. He originally told police he didn't go inside, but the next day, he said he went inside and panicked when he saw Cooper's body.
"Each time, he changed his story," said prosecutor Don Rees.
Tooley's cousin is expected to testify that Tooley bragged about beating "a double-murder rap."
Jurors will hear recorded jail phone calls in which Tooley reportedly persuades his wife to deliver $2,400 in cash to a nurse at Legacy Good Samaritan Medical Center in Northwest Portland. The nurse's son is another inmate, whom Tooley allegedly had enlisted to kill his cousin once he bailed himself out with the $2,400.
"They're not trying to stick a needle in your arm!" prosecutors said Tooley can be heard telling his wife.
If convicted of aggravated murder, Tooley faces the death penalty. But jurors could decide to give him a true-life sentence or life in prison with the possibility of being freed after 30 years.
Wearing a khaki suit, Tooley sat calmly as his attorneys mounted their defense. Attorney John Gutbezahl told jurors the case against their client isn't as solid as prosecutors contend.
Investigators have found no DNA evidence linking Tooley to the deaths. They have no weapon. And they don't have a confession, even after hours of police interviews.
What's more, Gutbezahl told jurors they would have to judge the veracity of some witnesses, including those who have criminal histories and made deals with the prosecution.
"There is nothing scientific, nothing forensic about this case," he said. "... We're left with circumstance, supposition and snitches."
Gutbezahl said jurors also would have to decide how damning the statements Tooley supposedly made to his cousin are. For example, although Tooley reportedly said, "I did it," it's not clear what he's referring to.
Gutbezahl pointed to another man he said had a motive to kill the couple. He also said jurors shouldn't rule out the possibility that it was a murder-suicide.
Tooley's attorneys have notified the court that they may present an alibi defense -- that Tooley was on the Oregon coast or in central Oregon when the killings occurred. Gutbezahl described his client as a working family man who injured himself, became addicted to OxyContin and found himself immersed in the drug world.
The trial, held in Judge John Wittmayer's courtroom, is expected to last four weeks or less.