An inmate who crafted a jailhouse plot to murder a public official and two in-laws was sentenced Wednesday to two decades in prison without any possibility of early release.
Dustin Kimbrough, 34, of The Dalles, broke down after hearing the verdict rendered by visiting judge George Nielson. He issued a tearful apology to the court, his family and the intended victims, who included his father-in-law, brother-in-law and Wasco County District Attorney Eric Nisley. “I didn’t mean for it to come out like this,” he said, “This wasn’t my idea and I tried to stop it [ripping up the first letters to the hired killer]. I’m not a murderer and I don’t want to be here.”
His mother told Nielson, who had also acted as jury, that her son needed to get treatment for drug addiction during his incarceration.
“Being a drug addict is not easy,” she said. “I know that’s not an excuse for what he did, but I know it’s the reason he did it. When he says he’s sorry, I really believe he is.”
Nisley was the only victim present for the Feb. 26 sentencing and requested Kimbrough be put behind bars for two decades instead of the three allowed by law, or the minimum of one.
“What Mr. Kimbrough did is greatly offensive, reprehensible and outrageous — it’s an affront to our entire system and deserves strong measures,” he said. “I do not believe he deserves 30 years in prison but a 10 year sentence would not be appropriate.”
Nisley said Kimbrough’s intent to have him killed had caused fear and ongoing stress for his entire family.
“We don’t know if Mr. Kimbrough also contacted somebody else, he may not have disclosed that — only time will tell,” he said.
As an elected official, he felt Kimbrough’s attempt to have him killed was an attack on an institution that was designed to protect the community and hold people accountable for their choices. He said the defendant had been given numerous breaks to reform his behavior, including a 30-day sentence for felony burglary.
“He stole two bags of pop cans out of a garage and scared the bejesus out of the owner but that did not deserve a prison sentence,” said Nisley. “We, as prosecutors, are charged with an obligation to be fair.”
He said Kimbrough had also received even-handed treatment in the adjudication of an identity theft case that preceded the burglary. He said the defendant was convicted for using his deceased mother-in-law’s credit cards to purchase cable TV services and items from Fingerhut.
When Kimbrough violated the conditions of his release from jail in the burglary case by possessing methamphetamine, Nisley said he was put behind bars. He said that action was taken to avoid further problems while a settlement was negotiated.
Kimbrough pleaded guilty to the burglary on Sept. 11, 2012, just one day before his arrest for attempted murder and tampering with two witnesses.
Wasco County Sheriff’s Detectives Jeff Hall and Steve Williams told Nisley that Kimbrough traded a 30-day sentence for a potential 30-year sentence with those actions.
On Aug. 26, 2012, Kimbrough became the cell mate of Francis Crowley, 28, star witness for the prosecution in this week’s two-day trial. As a result of their conversations about killing Nisley and Kimbrough’s in-laws for perceived wrongdoing, Kimbrough wrote a letter outlining his intentions and offering $80,000 in payment.
According to Crowley’s testimony, the letter was re-drafted several times before he was given a final copy to deliver to a hired killer. It was accompanied by detailed drawings of the father-in-law’s house to show where valuables were kept that could provide that individual with a down payment.
Kimbrough stated in his letter that the remainder of the money would be paid when his wife became the beneficiary of her father’s life insurance policy.
He also asked for the intimidation of two women that he believed might be called as witnesses against him in the burglary case.
Bumjoon Park, senior assistant attorney general for the Oregon Department of Justice, served as prosecutor in the Feb. 25 and 26 proceedings. He, like Neilson, was tapped to handle the local case in order to avoid any potential for a conflict of interest challenge.
Park said Kimbrough not only provided the address for each individual on the “hit list” but outlined reasons why they should die, including abuse of his wife by her family members.
He asked that his father-in-law, who had a history of heart problems, die from a staged heart attack. He wanted his brother-in-law, who had a history of drug abuse, to die from an overdose. He accused Nisley of being crooked and left the methodology for his death up to the killer.
“The amount of thought, hate and malice toward these victims that was seething in his mind and heart before this letter was produced was pretty frightening,” said Park.
He said Kimbrough reiterated his intentions in 53 notes passed back and forth between himself and Crowley after they were separated Sept. 5, 2012, and put in “the hole,” otherwise known as solitary confinement.
The defendant further revealed his resolve, and lack of remorse, in several phone calls to family members following his arrest, according to the prosecutor.
Portland attorney Amy Margolis, representing Kimbrough, argued that Crowley had spoken with authorities about Kimbrough’s angry expressions in hopes of gaining their favor and gaining some advantage. To underscore that point, she said Crowley’s initial meeting with deputies had started off by him presenting a list of 21 other inmates that he was willing to provide information about in exchange for a deal of some kind.
“Mr. Crowley saw an opportunity to access my client’s anger and drug-induced mental health issues for his own benefit,” she said.
According to court records, Crowley was allowed to enter a treatment program for his cooperation in the Kimbrough case but was unsuccessful in that rehabilitation effort. He was subsequently arrested for a burglary in 2013 and is currently serving time for that conviction.
“Who brought up the whole topic of killing people, was it you, or him?” Park asked Crowley.
“It was him,” replied Crowley. “My first reaction was to laugh because I thought he was joking, but he kept mentioning it.”
Margolis said Crowley’s selective memory while testifying, when added to a long history of drug-related offenses and several attempts to escape from jail, as well as failure to show up for some court appearances, impeached his integrity as a witness.
The judge said Crowley’s memory of the interchange with Kimbrough was credible because of the strong reaction it provoked almost two years later. He said the inmate’s description of being shocked enough to seek help from authorities had been believable.
“There are certain levels (of memory) that align and stay there so you remember,” he said.
Margolis stated her intent to appeal the verdict. She said Kimbrough should not have been penalized for writing a letter that was never delivered to a hit man, leaving no possibility for either the crimes of murder or tampering to take place.
Nielson said the evidence of Kimbrough’s intent was clearly demonstrated by all reasonable legal standards. He said the defendant had given the contract to Crowley and then repeatedly asked when his wishes would be carried out.
“I believe the formation of it shows a very real and thoughtful plan in the defendant’s head,” said the judge. “It was conceived, written and re-written to the point he was satisfied with it and gave it to another party to carry out.”