A Hammond fisherman who allegedly committed sex crimes against a young woman may be ordered to return to jail during court proceedings after prosecutors claimed he bribed and threatened the victim.
Dennis Lee Sturgell Sr., 65, is accused of committing several sex crimes against the woman while she was incapacitated one day in August 2015. James Herbert Cunningham, 46, of Astoria, was also allegedly involved and committed similar crimes.
Sturgell was arrested and indicted in November on sex abuse charges, including first-degree sodomy and first-degree unlawful sexual penetration. Cunningham, who was also charged with rape, was already serving time in prison for a separate case. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Oregon Assistant Attorney General Erin Greenawald is prosecuting the case, along with Clatsop County Deputy District Attorney Dawn Buzzard.
Prosecutors presented evidence Wednesday to Circuit Court Judge Paula Brownhill claiming Sturgell made indirect contact with the victim through a meeting with her father.
Two days after his arrest, Sturgell posted $50,000 bail and was released from jail. As part of the release agreement, he agreed not to make contact with the alleged victim.
The same day Sturgell was released from jail in November, he contacted Paul Angelo Leitch, also known in the Warrenton area as “Sturgeon Paul.” Prosecutors presented phone records showing that Leitch then contacted the victim’s father, who rented a storage unit from “Sturgeon Paul.”
Leitch eventually convinced the father, who had previously confronted Sturgell shortly after the alleged sex crimes, to go to Sturgell’s home and meet with him, prosecutors said.
The meeting was likely about the ongoing court case, prosecutors said.
“He said that he assumed that was the only reason that he would go,” said Jodi Shimanek, a special agent with the state Department of Justice.
In a taped interview with Shimanek played Wednesday during the hearing, the father said Sturgell offered $5,000 to “make the case go away.” Sturgell also allegedly threatened to hire a “dream team of attorneys” that would “dig up dirt” on the victim and anyone else involved in the case.
“He didn’t want to go to jail,” the father said.
Jason E. Thompson, Sturgell’s Salem-based attorney, presented a polygraph test in which Sturgell was asked if he ever offered a bribe. The test showed he was being truthful when he denied making the offer.
Thompson, in a document provided to Brownhill before the hearing, wrote that sitting in jail would be a “hardship” for Sturgell, a crab fisherman. The crab season ends in March.
Thompson also said Wednesday that $5,000 would be just a “drop in the bucket” for Sturgell — who had posted $50,000 bail — to convince someone to drop sex crime charges.
“He went there. They might’ve broached the subject even, but the offer wasn’t made,” Thompson said.
But after the meeting, which lasted less than an hour, the father then relayed the information to his daughter.
“His assumption was that he was asked to convey that, and that’s what he did,” Shimanek said.
The daughter, whom Shimanek described as “upset, scared and concerned,” then contacted the Clatsop County Sheriff’s Office about the alleged bribe and threat.
“Threats don’t have to be explicit. In this case, it was not explicit but constantly implied,” Greenawald said.
In February, two counts of bribing a witness and two counts of tampering with a witness were added to Sturgell’s indictment. Leitch was indicted on those same four charges and released Feb. 23 after posting $25,000 bail.
Brownhill said she will rule on whether to revoke Sturgell’s release agreement within the next couple of weeks. She indicated the ruling will depend on further study of case law, specifically whether a preponderance of evidence or a higher standard is required to revoke his release agreement.
Prosecutors previously filed a motion to hold Sturgell without bail days before his November arrest. It includes statements from three women saying that Sturgell physically assaulted them in the past.
The motion claims that the fisherman showed up to the alleged sexual assault victim’s workplace days after the alleged incident and repeatedly tried to make contact with her. On one occasion, the victim allegedly had to push Sturgell away from her in order to enter her car.
The victim was granted a sexual abuse protection order against Sturgell in February 2016. A hearing on a motion to hold Sturgell in jail without bail is scheduled for later this month.
Leitch is scheduled to be arraigned on the indictment later this month. Cunningham, meanwhile, is scheduled for an early resolution conference later this month.