Case against Linn judge’s daughter dismissed

ALBANY — The murder case against Lorraine Sarich has fallen apart partly because the prosecution can’t use a key witness — Sarich’s developmentally disabled young adult son.

“We have no case without the kid. We can’t go forward,” said Jeff Manning, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Justice.

A motion to dismiss Sarich’s charges was filed by prosecutors Nov. 29.

Sarich, 46, was released from the Linn County Jail on Nov. 30, after serving 777 days in custody.

The homicide victim was William Carl Mills, formerly of Lebanon. His skeletal remains were found near Lyons in 2007. He had been shot in the head, according to court documents.

According to the prosecution, Sarich’s son was present during the murder and its aftermath. He gave investigators directions to the killing site and where the victim’s abandoned vehicle had been located.

He also drew pictures of the crime and how it was committed, and talked about it, according to court documents.

However, Portland defense attorney Christopher Clayhold said much of the police interaction with Sarich’s son was leading and suggestive.

Sarich’s son also has communication difficulties that would make him unable to effectively appear in court

The prosecution faced other problems, including other suspects who weren’t pursued, Clayhold added.

“There was a lot about their case we were going to attack,” Clayhold said.

Sarich is the daughter of Linn County Circuit Court Judge Carol Bispham. Because of that, the prosecutors, defense attorneys and judge were all recruited from outside the area because of potential conflicts of interest.

The Oregon Department of Justice, substituting for the Linn County District Attorney’s Office, had appealed a 2011 ruling that Sarich’s son was incompetent to testify. A previous conviction and other actions by Sarich that prosecutors had hoped to use in court were ruled inadmissable by Judge Dennis Graves.

Prosecutors appealed, but the Oregon Supreme Court upheld the rulings Nov. 29.

Sarich had been charged with three counts of aggravated murder in the death of Mills, who was a caregiver for Sarich’s son.

The Linn County Sheriff’s Office initially investigated the crime, and a deputy testified in a hearing that Sarich was involved in an identity theft and fraud scheme to protect her assets from bankruptcy. Mills’ identity had been used in the scheme, and Sarich was alerted that he had discovered the fraud, the deputy testified.

Undersheriff Bruce Riley expressed disappointment with the pending dismissal of the case.

“There’s a lot of work put in this case, a lot of hours,” he said. “We’re still actively conducting an investigation regarding the homicide.”

Clayhold said that Sarich is making a difficult transition back into everyday life.

“For any inmate who is in custody that long, it takes a while to acclimate again. They are used to four cement walls around the clock,” Clayhold said.

“She soon is going to be reunited with her children, and she looks forward to that,” he said. “She is doing very well, considering.”

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