Dayton Leroy Rogers
One That Got Away
At Rogers' trial, which began in February 1988 in the courtroom of Clackamas County Circuit Court Judge Patrick D. Gilroy, Deputy District Attorney Andrejs I. Eglitis told the jury that Rogers murdered Jennifer Smith by design, following a pattern he'd established with prostitutes. Eglitis called Rogers a "vicious predator" who killed for a "sexual thrill.''
"You'll find that the reason he went to downtown Portland was...to satisfy what you will find to be his bizarre sexual appetite," said Deputy D.A. Eglitis.
"You'll find that his sexual appetite included bondage, masturbation, and intent to inflict intense physical pain."
Rogers' attorney, Arthur Knauss, told jurors that they would not like his client, but insisted they were there to decide whether what Mr. Rogers did was tantamount to a criminal act and not to judge his sexual mores. Knauss admitted that Rogers killed Jennifer Smith, but contended that he did so in self-defense.
There it was, the preposterous claim of self-defense. Eglitis had known that it was coming, and he had prepared himself to accept that such a defense would be presented. He couldnt believe it, but he accepted it. He knew he would convince the jury otherwise. The evidence would show them the truth.
Knauss maintained that Smith spotted more than $200 in Rogers' wallet when they stopped at a convenience store to buy orange juice and she decided to rob the defendant at knifepoint. Later, when Rogers got out of the truck to urinate, Smith pulled a knife from the glove compartment and brought it close to Rogers' throat and demanded his wallet, declared Knauss. A struggle followed and turned into a wrestling match for the knife, in which Jennifer Smith was stabbed several times and killed purely by accident.
Early in the trial, the jury heard testimony from several witnesses who said they heard the victim scream in intense pain for approximately two minutes before her body was discovered. Prosecutor Eglitis also said that there were deep cuts to Jennifer's breasts, which indicated that she'd been tortured; and he presented testimony from the medical examiner who displayed graphic photos of Jennifer's wounds.
At one point in the trial, jurors heard testimony from the woman Rogers had stabbed in 1972, when he was 18 and she was 15. She explained how she had met Rogers when he picked her up while she hitchhiked in Eugene, and how he took her into a remote area to have sex on that day and on a subsequent date.
"We'd hold hands and swing around and talk and smile," said the prior victim, who came close to tears at several points. "Then we sat down, and we were talking and he tickled my legs and told me to close my eyes...Then I felt the plunge."
She explained that Rogers had stabbed her in the belly, just left of her navel. She stopped momentarily and showed jurors a six-inch vertical scar.
"I thought a rattlesnake had bit meif it wasn't that, I thought a horse had kicked me," said the woman. "I looked down and saw the knife in my abdomen and the blood coming out." The woman testified that Rogers told her he just couldn't trust her any more and was afraid that she might turn him in for having sex with her while she was underage. Fearing that he would finish her off, she lied to him and told him she loved him.
"I said, 'Dayton, I love you.' He began to tell me he would marry me and do anything," she said, if she promised to tell the police she stabbed herself accidentally. She agreed to his plan.
But doctors at Eugene's Sacred Heart Hospital told her they didn't believe the wound was self-inflicted. "I was afraid he would come there and kill me," she said. Then, she added, she changed her mind and told police the truth.
Another witness told the jury about an incident that occurred between her and Rogers on February 20, 1976. According to the witness, who was 19 at the time of the incident, Rogers picked her up as she walked toward Salem to visit her boyfriend, who was incarcerated at the Oregon State Correctional Institution.
The woman was in the back seat of Rogers' car when he suddenly pulled over and took a knife from the glove compartment. She said he "hogtied" her and then cut off her clothing with the knife.
"I was scared he was, you know, he was going to kill me," said the woman. "He said he had to kill me because he was afraid I'd go to the police." She testified that Rogers eventually let her out of the car near her grandmother's home in Oregon City.
Janet K. Anderson, a Clackamas County corrections officer who supervised Rogers while he was on parole for the 1976 coercion conviction in which he tied up two other high school girls at knifepoint, testified that she interviewed the defendant in September 1982.
"I asked him if he were to do this all over again, if he would do anything differently," Anderson testified. "He indicated...there would not be a witness next time."
When cross-examined by Defense Attorney Knauss, Anderson told the jurors that she took Rogers' statements seriously, but hadn't included them in her report.
"Mr. Rogers' intentions appear sincere to maintain counsel and to remain crime-free," Anderson wrote in a letter to the State Board of Parole, part of which was read to the jury. "Mr. Rogers does not appear to be a threat to the community." The parole officer added that the language used in the letter and her report was typical of language used when terminating parole supervision. She said her personal notes on Rogers, however, "indicated that the suspect appears well-adjusted, but because of the crime and the surrounding circumstances, one never knows."
At another point in the trial, Rogers testified in his own defense before the seven-man, five-woman jury. He told them he paid Jennifer Smith $40 for a sexual encounter that involved bondage. He explained that when he got out of the truck to urinate, after having bound Jennifer's hands and feet with shoelaces, the prostitute slipped out of her bindings and took a knife from the glove box. When he got back inside the truck, "that's when she attacked me."
Rogers said that Jennifer, while still nude, held the knife to his throat and ordered him not to move and to give her his wallet. "Do it or die," he said Jennifer told him. He refused and fought back. Fearing for his life, he said he knocked her arm away and wrestled her for the knife, which he eventually obtained.
"I got a hold of it and used the knife on her...I was just going back and forth in virtually any direction I could," testified Rogers, explaining how Jennifer received so many cuts. She eventually jumped from the truck, and he chased her across the parking lot. He eventually grabbed her, he said, and she fell to the pavement.
"Both of our feet entangled," he said. "She went down backward, and I fell down on top of her. On the way down, that's when I stabbed her in the upper area here," he testified, indicating the right side of his chest, near the shoulder.
"No one wants Dayton Leroy Rogers released," Knauss had said only minutes before the jury left the courtroom to decide his client's fate. "I don't want him released. You don't want him released. I question whether Mr. Rogers even wants himself released. What is needed is permanent isolation of this man. In his fantasyland, he's become the sexual monster you've heard about from these girls. He's developed and nurtured these feelings into a ritual. It's a pattern you can't ignore. He's a sick man.
"But do we kill him? Do we have a death sentence for people who are as sick and depraved as this?" continued Knauss. "Look at the evidence. After the killing of Miss Smith, he goes back to work and thinks about going out to a coffee shop. The state has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that he's a sick man." But, argued Knauss, he doesn't deserve a death sentence.
Four hours later, the twelve jurors returned and announced that they had unanimously voted that the murder of Jenny Smith was deliberate. They also unanimously voted that Jennys murder was an unreasonable response to any provocation from the victim. However, after one juror adamantly opposed the death penalty, all twelve agreed that Rogers would not pose a continuing threat to society because he would be imprisoned for life. Judge Gilroy immediately sentenced Dayton to life in prison.
Detective John Turner and his colleagues were devastated by the sentence. The jurors apparently thought that a life sentence meant that Dayton would never be released, but they had been wrong. Under a life sentence he would be eligible for parole someday, even if it was twenty or thirty years down the road. They had inadvertently given Dayton Leroy Rogers yet another chance to escape his just punishment, another chance to slip through the cracks of the system.