Originally held liable for murder, man sentenced for misdemeanor
A Corvallis man originally charged with murder solicitation was convicted of a misdemeanor this week in Benton County Circuit Court, ending a case that his defense attorney said was grossly overcharged.
James Lee Crunk, 45, pleaded no contest Monday to solicitation to commit reckless burning, and was sentenced to a year of probation and jail time already served, said prosecutor Christian Stringer.
"My client, for the record, maintains that he did not commit this crime," said Corvallis lawyer Jennifer Nash.
The plea offer was made by the prosecution mid-trial, after Nash cross-examined the state's witnesses.
Stringer said he perceived the jury didn't react well to testimony from the main witness in the case.
Crunk was arrested Oct. 2 and accused of offering another man $1,000 to kill his girlfriend by burning a mobile home with her in it.
Based on information obtained during the investigation, he was initially charged with two counts of solicitation of aggravated murder, a crime that has a maximum penalty of 20 years in jail.
A subsequent grand jury indictment replaced that with charges of solicitation of arson, which could have landed Crunk in prison for two to three years, Stringer said, and violating a restraining order.
Nash said statements made at trial by the alleged victim, the man supposedly asked to burn the trailer and the investigating officer did not match up.
The accusation also was made as Crunk's relationship with the woman deteriorated, she added.
Crunk thought the plea deal "was a difficult decision for him to make, based on the fact that he didn't commit the crime," Nash said.
Stringer responded that, "It was never an issue of whether it was said. It was an issue of his intent."
He added the case was charged as it was in part due to Crunk's criminal history, which includes several felonies.
"We honestly could have had a better case if we left this guy out there, and tried to get him to make the same statement again to someone else. But because there'd already been an allegation of a restraining order violation, we couldn't take the chance," Stringer said.
Crunk still is on low-level supervision for a violent felony, and the parole board could send him back to prison on the new misdemeanor, Stringer added.
Kyle Odegard covers public safety, Philomath and rural Benton County. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 758-9523.