Wasco County Circuit Court Judge Janet Stauffer was asked Friday to decide whether a man who attacked the parents of a young boy and then abducted him should serve closer to 10 or 20 years in prison.
District Attorney Eric Nisley wanted Brian DePriest, 37, who pleaded guilty Aug. 2 to two counts of first-degree assault and one of second-degree kidnapping, to spend two decades behind bars.
After hearing almost three hours of testimony and arguments, Stauffer came close to Nisley’s recommendation in a ruling that sent DePriest to prison for more than 18 years.
Under Measure 11 mandatory sentencing guidelines, he will receive no “good time” reductions in the time spent behind bars.
His incarceration will be followed by 36 months of post-prison supervision and payment of a $1,500 fine and whatever amount of Kathryn Riter and Josh Jarding’s medical bills that insurance does not cover.
“This [memories of gore and violence] is going to be embedded in his [child’s] mind forever, Mr. DePriest, I know it is,” said Stauffer.
“It was a horrific, horrific crime. And it will have a long influence on the families affected, yours included.”
During the hearing, Nisley pulled the hammer used by the defendant in a vicious assault on Riter, 29, and Jarding, 30, out of an evidence bag.
He said DePriest told Police Detective Jamie Carrico in an interview following his Jan. 23 arrest that he had intended to use the tool to end the lives of the victims.
“This is the hammer that Mr. DePriest walked several miles to use in an attack, to kill,” said the district attorney.
“This is not by its nature a weapon, but used as Mr. DePriest did, it was. This was a very deliberate, personal and planned act.”
Defense attorney Rob Raschio had asked that his client be incarcerated no more than a decade because of his potential to be reformed and lead a productive life.
He said DePriest told Carrico he used the hammer only to incapacitate Riter and Jarding so that he could take their 5-year-old son Skylar out of the home for one last visit.
“When asked by the detective why he didn’t kill them, he said that just wasn’t going to be the right thing to do,” said Raschio.
He said DePriest had started a relationship with Riter when Skylar was an infant and had suffered severe depression after the couple broke up about three and one-half years later. He said because DePriest had mental illness issues, he began obsessing about the welfare of the boy after Riter began dating a man he deeply distrusted. She then used a “false premise” to get a restraining order that prohibited him from contact and DePriest suffered a psychotic break that led to his criminal behavior.
“Mr. DePriest couldn’t move on because of the way he felt about Skylar; it was an unusual commitment to another human being,” said Raschio, pushing for DePriest to get out of prison while he was still young enough to stabilize himself economically.
“He is a person who can be successful after he pays the price he has to pay. We ask the court to recognize that, while this is a terrible situation, he didn’t do the worst thing he could have done.”
Prior to being sentenced, DePriest acknowledged that he had done a “very bad thing.”
“That little boy was a shining light in my life,” he told Stauffer. “We had such good times together and it didn’t matter what we were doing.”
He expressed regret for the outcome of his actions and gratitude for the unwavering support of his family.
“I still have something to give to this life after prison,” said DePriest. “I hope to get out early enough to have a family of my own, that would be a huge success to me.”
Randy Perkins, attorney for Riter, said following Friday’s hearing that his client was disappointed the sentences will not run consecutively, which would have put DePriest behind bars for another 10 months. He said Riter’s family has a great amount of empathy for DePriest’s relatives, who convinced him to surrender peacefully to authorities after he showed up in Dufur with Skylar last winter.
“It’s a very difficult set of circumstances,” said Perkins.
DePriest’s older sister, Carrie Seitz, said their mother had been ill with cancer during most of Brian’s childhood and died when he turned 20. She described her brother as “intelligent and hardworking” and said, despite the emotional pain of losing a parent, he graduated from college. She said Brian was dealt another psychological blow at the age of 30 when their father died.
“I feel like Brian sometimes kind of bottled those things up and it really hurt him but he didn’t want to show that,” said Seitz. She said after DePriest met Riter, he enjoyed being in the role of a father with Skylar and was devastated when denied that relationship. In a past interview, Riter said she broke things off with DePriest because of his continued drug use and he was told that he could not spend time around the boy while using illegal substances.
Nisley refuted the 52-page report written by Dr. Stephen Scherr, a clinical and forensic psychologist from Portland hired by the defense, about DePriest’s mental condition. Scherr said, in addition to DePriest using cannabis and methamphetamine to overcome depression, his mental health was affected by bipolar and delusional disorders.
The psychologist surmised that DePriest had been experiencing a “manic episode” when he stormed into Riter’s residence on West Ninth Street about 6 a.m. on Jan. 23. Jarding had been in the kitchen nearest the door and was the first to be struck by the hammer. He and his fiancée, and their three children, had been staying at the home temporarily.
DePriest then went into the bedroom and began raining blows on Riter’s head and on her arms as she tried to defend herself.
“It just defies logic that somebody could live 37 years and not have a manic episode that nobody’s ever seen or remembered,” said Nisley.
“If people did not observe it, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t occurring,” said Scherr.
Nisley asked how much the psychologist had gotten paid by the defense for his analysis. That sum was about $9,000.
Following DePriest’s attack, Riter ended up with a broken finger and a fractured skull that took 40 staples to repair, as well as more than 20 wounds on her hands and arms. Jarding suffered a broken cheekbone, damaged eye socket and several head wounds.
DePriest grabbed Skylar after hitting Riter and Jarding until they were too injured to move and stole a neighbor’s car to drive the child to Dufur.
The boy and his 12-year-old sister, who had also been at the home that morning, provided the court with written statements that were read into the court record by Judy Urness, crime victim’s advocate.
“Brian you don’t take me away in the car no more,” stated Skylar. “Hammers are for wood, not mommy and daddy’s head.”
He thought his parents had been killed when he left the family home with DePriest.
“Brian, you are a bad boy. Don’t come back to my house no more,” wrote Skylar.
His sister stated that she wanted Brian to go to jail for 100 years so he could not hurt her family again.
Nisley said the resolution of the case followed “exceptional” investigative work by Carrico, other officers from The Dalles Police Department, deputies from the Wasco County Sheriff’s Office and the Oregon State Police.