Would let prosecutors seek stricter sentences for crimes that leave life-long injuries
SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) – House Republican Deputy Leader Daniel Bonham (R-The Dalles), Senate Republican Assistant Leader Lynn Findley (R-Vale) and voices for the victims of quality-of-life crimes gathered virtually Tuesday to introduce House Bill 2339, also known as Ezra’s Law, in a public hearing before the House Committee on Judiciary.
Together, they offered their unwavering support for the legislation on the grounds that current sentencing procedures are not suitably severe for offenders who rob victims and their families of a future.
“Ezra’s Law” would enable prosecutors to pursue stricter sentencing for criminals who assault and incapacitate victims in ways which decrease their long-term quality of life.
Tina Jorgensen, the grandmother of Ezra Jerome Thomas, the namesake of HB 2339, testified.
“I was going to be able to cherish graduations, proms and even look forward to him getting married and building a family of his own someday,” shared Tina. “He had a whole life ahead of him. I had a life of grandma moments to share with him. Sadly, my hopes and dreams for Ezra’s future were taken away on November 19, 2017. Before that date, I lived a normal life. Every ounce of joy was taken from me that day.”
“We are grateful for the courage and strength Ezra’s family has shown through their fight to get to this point. Ezra's Law is a much-needed reform to bring justice for individuals, families and communities devastated by violence,” shared Senator Findley. “It will remove an outdated, one-size-fits all standard, and provides our judges discretion and latitude on aggravating factors to ensure charges do in fact fit the crime. The Legislature needs to do the right thing and improve this system for the future.”
Ezra is a 5-year-old boy in Jefferson County who on was attacked on Nov. 19, 2017 by Josue Jair Mendoza-Melo when he was just 2 years old. Today, Ezra requires care 24/7 and can do next to nothing on his own. Ezra has tracheal and feeding tubes, and a programmable shunt to keep fluid from building up in his brain. He’s legally blind and has one to three seizures per hour.
“The frustration of difficult conversations with victims created the birth of Ezra’s law,” shared Jefferson County District Attorney Steven Leriche. “Ezra’s Law will serve to protect those who cannot protect themselves, and as a deterrent against assaulting the innocence of youth.”
Josue Jair Mendoza-Melo was sentenced to 12 years for his crime.
As Representative Bonham declared, “Nobody in this building can change the past. No one can understand the grief that comes from a judicial system that is unable to provide closure. We’re here today so that future victims get the justice that they deserve. Ezra, Little Roy and countless other victims are having their voices heard today.”
Marion County Deputy District Attorney Katie Suver testified in support of the bill on behalf of the Oregon District Attorneys Association.
DDA Suver prosecuted Robert Pinsky in 2013 for intentionally causing serious physical injury to Roy Fast, his then-girlfriend’s 6-month old baby. Pinsky fractured Roy’s skull and caused a devastating brain injury that left Roy, now 8 years old, with significant, lifelong disabilities.
Suver testified that Roy should have died from his injuries, but miraculously, he did not. HB 2339 would provide judges with the discretion to appropriately punish conduct that results in permanent, devastating injuries to this state’s most vulnerable people.
“While I am disappointed the Legislature couldn’t take swift action in moving Ezra‘s Law during the 2020 short session, we’re grateful for countless hours given from stakeholders that got us to today," Bonham said. "The work session this past summer provided a valuable opportunity for differing perspectives to come together, find common ground., and create a policy that we can all be proud of. The bill is better today, and I am confident that it’s ready for passage.”
Supporters of Ezra’s Law say it highlights a tragic loophole in the law where sentencing in cases involving severe quality of life loss are not proportional to the sentencing options for judges.
House Bill 2339 establishes a procedure for charging aggravated version of certain assault and attempted murder offenses when defendant causes permanent physical injury to victim during commission of crime. If the defendant is convicted of aggravated offense, the court may sentence the defendant to up to 25 years in prison.
Bonham concluded, “It’s easy to get caught up in the sadness of the past, but to see the joy on the faces of victims finally given a 'day in court' and an opportunity for real justice fills me with optimism. In this day and age, as we consider criminal justice, we must never lose sight of the victim.”
Bonham represents the citizens of House District 59, which encompasses the Central Oregon and Columbia River Gorge communities of Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Culver, Fossil, Madras, Maupin, Metolius, Mitchell, Mosier, Sisters and The Dalles, as well as unincorporated areas of Wasco, Jefferson, Deschutes and Wheeler counties.