By CHRIS COLLINS
Judge Greg Baxter on Tuesday sentenced Daniel Myers to life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 27 years, for the January 2011 shooting death of Travis Weems.
A Baker County jury found Myers guilty Thursday of murder, unlawful use of a weapon, possession of a firearm by a felon and unlawful delivery and possession of methamphetamine. Jurors also convicted him of commercial drug offenses in connection with the delivery and possession crimes, based on drug packaging materials and drug records found at Myers home on Cracker Creek Road near Sumpter.
The 56-year-old Myers shot Weems, 39, of Hermiston and formerly of Baker City, while Weems was sitting in a car parked in the driveway of Myers' property near Sumpter.
Myers did not attend the trial, citing dissatisfaction with his court-appointed attorney, Mark Rader of Ontario. He also refused to attend the sentencing, but appeared by video link from the Baker County Jail.
Prior to sentencing Myers, Baxter told the defendant that Undersheriff Warren Thompson had informed the judge that Myers did not want to come to the Courthouse and had said he would cause a disturbance that would result in him being returned to the jail if he were forced to attend the hearing. Myers agreed with that statement. He also said he told Thompson that he didn't want to be near Rader and that he might try to hurt Rader if he had to sit next to him in the courtroom.
Myers tried to have Rader removed from his case before the trial started and wrote several letters to the judge reiterating his wishes during the trial. Those requests were denied and resulted in his refusal to participate in the trial.
Myers also appeared via video when Baxter read the jury's verdicts Thursday. In both video appearances Myers showed no emotion and answered the judge respectfully when he was asked to respond to questions.
"I have nothing to say, your honor. Thank you," he responded when Baxter asked if he wanted to address the court prior to sentencing Tuesday.
Baxter sentenced Myers to life in prison, with a mandatory 25-year minimum as set by state law. Myers will serve another two-year term, consecutive to the 25-year term, for the drug convictions, for a total 27-year mandatory minimum sentence before he is eligible for parole.
Under state sentencing guidelines, and taking into account Myers' criminal history, which includes two prior drug convictions, each drug crime carries a two-year term, to be served concurrently (at the same time as other sentencing).
Myers was sentenced to five years in prison to be served concurrently for unlawful use of a weapon. Baxter imposed a 90-day county jail sentence for possession of a firearm by a felon, also to be served concurrently.
After the sentencing, Rader informed the judge that he would begin today the process of appealing Myers' convictions and sentence based on motions he made throughout the trial and prior to sentencing. Rader continually asked the judge to delay the trial or to declare a mistrial because of Myers' refusal to attend. Baxer denied the motions throughout the trial and again Tuesday.
In response to a question from Baxter, Myers agreed to allow Rader to begin the appeal process.
After the sentencing, District Attorney Matt Shirtcliff said he was pleased.
"I'm glad he got what he deserved," he said of Myers.
The district attorney praised the the jury and the work of the Baker County Major Crime Team and Wade Swiger, investigator for the District Attorney's Office.
Shirtcliff said he had been in communication with the Appellate Division of the state Department of Justice during the trial and he believes Myers' conviction and sentence will be upheld.
"We did everything we could to give him all the options and choices," Shirtcliff said. "We did the best we could to try to prove our case."
Before Baxter announced the sentence, Shirtcliff read statements from Nicole Weems, who was married to the victim for nearly 19 years although they were separated at the time of the shooting.
She expressed her appreciation to the jury, the judge and the district attorney for their efforts. She described the victim as "a loving soul who was always kind to everyone."
She said he had never raised his voice or a hand to her or their two children. Their daughter, Charlie, is 16, and their son, Case, is 13. The children live with their mother at Burley, Idaho.
Travis Weems' sister, Brandi Garhart of Hermiston, wrote of how the past year has devastated her entire family.
"We lost someone so special," she said of her brother, who was two years older.
She said when she received a call instructing her to go immediately to her parents' home, her first thought was to call her brother to find out what was wrong. He, of course, did not answer her calls, she wrote.
Her parents have struggled with their son's death and still have not come to terms with it, according to Garhart.
She added that she has no ill feelings toward Myers, but wrote, "I wish you could have really known the person you took from us."
"He was always the first to forgive and always the peacemaker."
Shirtcliff also spoke on behalf of Jamie Walchli, Weems' fiancee, who was sitting in the vehicle beside Weems when he was shot. Walchli attended Tuesday's sentencing and had been in court for part of the trial.
"Miss Walchli also was traumatized," Shirtcliff said. "The person she loved was killed right in front of her."
And Shirtcliff spoke about how Myers used his 19-year-old girlfriend, Melissa Winston, who was addicted to methamphetamine, to run drugs for him.
Shirtcliff told the judge that Myers had become increasingly violent because of his own addiction to methamphetamine, pointing out that he kept the assault rifle he used to kill Weems on his property.
"Mr. Meyers got out of control," Shirtcliff said. "He got mad and he attacked.
"That led to a wake of pain and a ripple effect of pain to family members who didn't deserve it," he said. "It's been horrible for them and I don't want anyone to forget them."