Supreme Court Overturns Death Sentence of Molalla Forest Killer

The Oregon Supreme Court on Friday overturned the death sentence of Oregon’s most prolific serial murderer, Dayton Leroy Rogers, also known as the Molalla Forest Killer, who was convicted of killing at least eight women in the 1980s.

In the unanimous decision, the justices ordered Rogers to be resentenced by a lower court — presumably to life in prison. Legal experts predicted the ruling, which sets the stage for the 68-year-old former Canby-area resident and Wooburn mechanic to be sentenced a fifth time.

Few death row inmates in Oregon have had their sentences overturned as many times as Rogers, who is currently serving time at Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla.

The opinion followed an Oct. 7 ruling by the court, which found that Senate Bill 1103, which the Oregon Legislature passed in 2019, limited what crimes qualify as aggravated murder — the only charge in Oregon that carries the death penalty.

The crime currently applies only to murders of children younger than 14 years old or police officers, terrorist attacks that kill at least two people, prison killings and killings committed by someone who’d previously been convicted of murder — none of which appear to apply to Rogers’ crimes.

Dayton Leroy Rogers walks through the Clackamas County Courthouse for his first sentencing in 1989. Photo courtesy the Canby Historical Society.

While the law change two years ago included a provision that didn’t make it retroactive, the high court’s ruling last month did just that, relying on a section of the state’s constitution that prohibits disproportionate punishments.

Rogers 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.

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