Marion Co. Dist. Attorney's Office
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News Release
Marion County DA Paige Clarkson
Marion County DA Paige Clarkson
Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson's Response to Supreme Court vacating Bartol death sentence (Photo) - 10/07/21

Today the Oregon Supreme Court issued its opinion affirming the conviction but vacating the sentence of death for David Ray Bartol.[1]  In 2016, David Bartol was convicted of killing an inmate in the Marion County Jail by stabbing him through the eye with a homemade shank and then removing his shoe to use it as a hammer to pound the shank through the victim’s brain.[2]  A jury of twelve people put their lives on hold for two months of arduous testimony, first regarding the heinous act itself and then regarding the defendant and his significant history of violence, before deciding that he should receive the death penalty. 

The Supreme Court’s decision today is not the result of any error in the trial or the innocence of David Bartol.  Rather, it is the consequence of SB 1013 which redefined the crime of Aggravated Murder and created new crimes of Murder in the First and Second Degree by the 2019 legislature. 

While the proponents of SB 1013 assured the public that the legislation would not be retroactively applied to offenders like Bartol, today’s holding all but promises that anyone in Oregon previously lawfully sentenced to death under the prior definition of Aggravated Murder can now seek resentencing without the death penalty as an option.[3]  David Bartol is likely only the first beneficiary in what will be a chain reaction of new sentences for the most horrific of crimes by the most dangerous of offenders.

The practical result is that SB 1013’s change in the definition of Aggravated Murder and the resulting court ruling today has effectively eliminated the Death Penalty in Oregon and thus ignores the vote of the people who chose to make it the law since 1984.   Specifically, every previous theory of Aggravated Murder that the voters chose to make punishable by death was converted to a newly created crime of Murder in the First Degree.[4]  At the same time it redefined Aggravated Murder to a few unlikely and limited theories, such as domestic terrorism.

Regardless of one’s opinion of the voter passed death penalty, the fact remains that every one of these previously sentenced cases represents a victim, victims’ families and loved ones whose faith in the criminal justice system is shaken today.  Each case represents a family who believed they received justice.  Each of these offenders represents unspeakable tragedy to those victims whose lives were upended first by the loss of their loved one, and now despite enduring a lengthy and painful criminal justice process, will be upended again as new sentencings reopen old wounds. 

To those victims, I apologize.  Not for the efforts of my office to hold offenders like David Bartol accountable, but because our system has failed you. 


 


[1] David Bartol was convicted of Aggravated Murder but will now be sentenced for the crime of Murder in the First Degree and will face a possible punishment of Life with a 30 year minimum or a True Life sentence.

[2] At the time of the killing, David Bartol was awaiting trial for a separate Attempted Aggravated Murder and other related crimes. His victim, Gavin Siscel was mentally ill and was serving a contempt sentence for acting out in court. Mr. Siscel was watching t.v. at the time David Bartol attacked him without warning or provocation.

[3] It is likely that no inmate currently sentenced to Death in Oregon, regardless of how violent or vicious their crimes or how vulnerable their victims, legally qualifies under the new statutory definition of Aggravated Murder.

[4] The previous crime of Murder became Murder in the Second Degree.

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