On Wednesday morning, a handful of relatives of the women killed by Dayton Leroy Rogers gathered, yet again, for what they hoped would be the last hearing in the tortured case of Oregon’s most prolific serial murderer, who was convicted of killing at least eight women in the 1980s.
It was not to be.
Rogers, who is now 68 and has long been nicknamed the Molalla Forest Killer, had been scheduled to be sentenced for a fifth time in what has become one of the longest-running cases in state history.
But last-minute legal wrangling in the 33-year-old prosecution prompted Clackamas County Circuit Judge Todd Van Rysselberghe to set aside the sentencing for another day.
The Oregon Supreme Court overturned Rogers’ death sentence last fall, saying an earlier ruling on another death penalty case applied to Rogers and that his crimes no longer met the definition of aggravated murder — the only offense eligible for capital punishment in Oregon.
That sent the case back to circuit court in Oregon City for another sentencing hearing. In the four previous resentencing hearings, juries had chosen the death penalty for Rogers.
Rogers’ lawyers sought to have him sentenced under rules in place at the time of his convictions, which would have made him eligible only for a sentence of life with the possibility of parole after 30 years. In theory, the sentences from the six original convictions could run consecutively, resulting in 180 years.
Clackamas County prosecutors argued that Rogers should be sentenced under current law, which gives the court two options: life without parole or life with the possibility of parole after 30 years.
Rogers was 33 at the time he killed six women. He was arrested at his Woodburn shop in August 1987 after witness testimony and other evidence placed him at the brutal stabbing of a 25-year-old prostitute, Jennifer Lisa Smith, in the parking lot of a Denny’s restaurant in Oak Grove.
While that case was pending, a crossbow hunter stumbled across the nude, partly buried body of a young woman on a private 90,000-acre timber farm southeast of Molalla.
Authorities ultimately uncovered the bodies of seven women in the Molalla forest — Lisa Marie Mock, Maureen Ann Hodges, Christine Lotus Adams, Cynthia De Vore, Nondace “Noni” Cervantes, Riatha Gyles and Tawnia Jarie Johnston, ages ranging from 16 to 35 — all Portland sex workers who had been stabbed to death.
All were eventually linked to Rogers, who was married with a young son and living outside Canby on South Heinz Road. He explained away his late nights and frequent absences as long hours spent at his successful engine repair business.
But he had a secret life, in which he went by the alias of “Steve the Gambler,” plied himself with crude screwdrivers made from mini-bottles of Smirnoff vodka and gas station orange juice and cruised Portland’s Union Avenue — known at the time as “Prostitute Row” — in search of prey.
Between 1988 and 1989, Rogers was convicted of 14 counts of aggravated murder and sentenced to death.
A date for selecting the jury in his fifth resentencing hearing was not scheduled.
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