CANYON CITY – A hearing began this week in Grant County Circuit Court to determine whether Dillan Dakota Easley should be tried in adult court for the shooting deaths of his foster father and another man last October at a hunting cabin near Granite.
As retired Malheur County Circuit Judge J. Burdette Pratt opened the remand hearing, about a dozen relatives of the victim were in the courtroom. Corrections officers brought the teen, wearing juvenile detention sweats, into the courtroom to sit by his attorneys.
Now 15, Easley was 14 on Oct. 4 when police were called to a report of a shooting at the remote cabin.
According to police at the time, the teen was with a hunting party including his foster father, Michael Piete, 43, and Piete’s uncle, Kenneth C. Gilliland, 64, both of Baker City. The two men were found shot dead at the scene.
Another hunter fled the shooting and drove to Granite to seek help. Witnesses said the teen ran into the night from the cabin carrying two guns, but returned to seek help after accidentally shooting himself in the leg. Another man at the cabin subdued him until police could arrive.
Easley was treated for his injuries at hospitals in Baker City and Boise,and then transferred to the Northern Oregon Regional Corrections juvenile facility in The Dalles, facing murder accusations.
State law allows trying youth under 15 for certain crimes, including murder, but the judge must first weigh several factors, including:
• Whether the youth was of sufficient sophistication and maturity to appreciate the nature and quality of the conduct involved.
• The seriousness of the crime, and protection of the community.
• The prior history and mental and emotional health of the youth.
The judge must decide whether it’s in the best interests of both the youth and society to have the case tried in a juvenile or adult court.
Assistant Attorney General Dan Wendel, representing the state with District Attorney Ryan Joslin, outlined some facts in the case in his opening statement Monday, noting that the teen had “a host” of mental issues from about age 6. He said the boy had been expelled from high school shortly before the hunting trip, and responded to that expulsion by climbing a tree and fashioning a bow and arrows outside the school.
During the hunt trip, the boy and Gilliland had gone outside at night to urinate when others in the cabin heard the shots that killed Gilliland. Piete called out to Easley from the cabin to find out what was going on, and three more shots were fired at the cabin, one killing him.
Wendel said the boy claimed he fired into the darkness out of fear and mistakenly hit Gilliland, but the evidence would show the shots were directed back into the light of the cabin.
Wendel said the state is relying on a doctor’s determination that even with undisputed mental issues, the youth could appreciate the nature of his conduct. The state also will argue that the jurisdiction of the adult court is better for the youth, who would have treatment under either option, and for society.
Defense attorney Katherine Berger argued that the teen did not meet the “sophistication and maturity” standard, and said he had been extensively evaluated.
She said records will show “my client operates at a much younger level than his chronological age.”
She said he also is affected by PTSD and bipolar conditions that make it difficult for him to handle situations when he is emotionally distraught.
Berger said he will improve with the maturation process in a structured situation, and said it would be appropriate keep him in the juvenile system.
Either way, the case will not tried at least until next year.
The jurisdiction would pose different consequences, however.
Joslin said earlier that a youth convicted in adult court would still be held in a juvenile facility to age 25 and then moved to an adult facility to serve any additional time on the term. Under the juvenile system, that youth would face detention in a juvenile facility until age 25, when he would be released.
Easley is being held in a holding facility at the justice center for the hearing, which is scheduled Monday through Thursday over three weeks.
At the close of the hearing each week, he will be returned to NORCOR to comply with a 96-hour limit set for the juvenile holds at the county site.