The resolution of the criminal case against Shawn Quentin Greenwood in the January 2020 shooting death of Angela Parrish in Baker City might have failed to satisfy anyone, regardless of their interest, personal or otherwise, in the matter.

There will be no trial.

A jury of Greenwood’s peers will not have a chance to review evidence and hear witnesses testify and then determine whether the prosecution had proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Greenwood was guilty of first-degree murder.

Greenwood will not put on a defense.

The question of his legal culpability in Parrish’s death is not without an answer, to be sure.

On Sept. 3 Greenwood pleaded no contest to three charges — criminally negligent homicide, first-degree burglary and attempting to elude law enforcement. Though this isn’t equivalent to a guilty plea, it does have the same legal effect. Judge Matt Shirtcliff sentenced Greenwood to a total of 90 months in prison on the three charges, although Greenwood, who has been in the Baker County Jail since January 2020, probably will be released in about 5½ years due to credit for the time he has served.

As disappointing as this outcome might be to those who believe Greenwood is guilty of murder and deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison, Baker County District Attorney Greg Baxter was in an unenviable position. A significant part of his case against Greenwood was either banned from trial, or potentially limited in its use. Baxter could hardly be expected to go to trial with such a weakened case and thus risk having Greenwood be acquitted. Especially when he negotiated a plea deal in which Greenwood, by pleading no contest, didn’t explicitly admit his guilt but also accepted a conviction and the resulting penalties.

Greenwood, meanwhile, faced his own choice: go to trial against a weakened prosecution but also the possibility of being convicted of first-degree murder and a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years, or take the plea deal and a much shorter prison term.

This unusual situation arose because of the alleged actions of Baker City Police Detective Shannon Regan, the lead investigator in Parrish’s death. Baxter concedes, both in court and in written motions, that a forensic investigation conducted by the Oregon Department of Justice found evidence that Regan’s police department computer alone was used to access and to play recordings of five privileged phone calls between Greenwood and his attorney, Jim Schaeffer of La Grande.

Schaeffer filed a motion seeking to dismiss all charges against Greenwood. Shirtcliff denied that part of the motion, but the judge did rule as inadmissible a significant amount of evidence that Regan collected and was involved with. Baxter argued that he should be allowed to call as witnesses other officers who could testify about the evidence they saw or helped to collect. But there was no guarantee that Shirtcliff would have allowed those witnesses to testify to that effect at trial. And even if they were allowed, Baxter would have been forced to present his case to a jury, about a fatal shooting, without being able to show jurors bullets and other potentially vital evidence.

Baker City Police Chief Ty Duby put Regan on paid administrative leave. She is the subject of a criminal investigation related to the privileged phone calls.

This situation highlights the American criminal justice system’s commitment to protecting the constitutional rights of defendants.

It also offers a dramatic reminder of how vital it is that everyone involved in that system — including police officers who investigate crimes — be scrupulous in preserving those rights.

— Jayson Jacoby, Baker City Herald

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