A well-known Hammond fisherman was sentenced Monday to more than 13 years in prison for sex abuse against a young woman in 2015 and later bribing and threatening her.
Dennis Lee Sturgell, 66, was convicted in November of four counts of first-degree sodomy, two counts of first-degree unlawful sexual penetration and one count of second-degree sex abuse after jurors found that the woman did not or was unable to give consent.
Sturgell and the woman drank together at a Warrenton bar before the crimes took place. Described as “blackout drunk,” the woman left the bar and got into Sturgell’s truck.
Sturgell drove her across the Astoria Bridge to his wooded property in Naselle, Washington, and provided her with cocaine. Sturgell engaged in sex acts with the woman at the property and, later in the night, an Astoria hotel room.
In a statement in Circuit Court on Monday, the woman said Sturgell is a predator and psychopath.
“The term ‘monster’ doesn’t seem to do you justice,” she said.
The woman reminded Sturgell that she would return home to her husband and newborn baby, while he will spend years in prison.
“I just want to say that I have found my peace, and I will be OK,” she said. “I will pray for you, but some things only God can forgive.”
Sturgell was also convicted of two counts of bribing a witness and one count of tampering with a witness. Following his 2017 arrest, Sturgell met with the victim’s father, offered $5,000 and threatened to hire attorneys to “dig up dirt” on witnesses.
Daniel Wendel, an attorney with the Oregon Department of Justice, asked Judge Paula Brownhill to consider the fact that those crimes were committed after he was arrested, paid bail and signed a release agreement.
“It is important that the defendant went on to commit a completely, entirely separate class of crime in order to avoid responsibility for what he had done,” Wendel said.
Several of Sturgell’s family members and a friend presented character witness statements during the hearing.
“Given the right circumstance, I know every single person in this courtroom would love him as much as I do,” said JoLee Liepman, Sturgell’s daughter. “Although my dad’s side of the story was not really told, I would like you to know that I believe his side of the story, and I believe he should not be here.”
Sturgell, speaking for the first time in the case, focused much of his statement on his love for his family. He also said his previous attorney, Jason Thompson, strongly advised him not to testify during the trial, adding that many of the things that have been said made him want to “throw up.”
“I look in the mirror and I know what kind of person I am,” Sturgell said. “Just because it comes out of people’s mouths doesn’t mean that’s the truth.”
Sturgell, a crab fisherman, purchased his first of several boats as a teenager and has employed hundreds of fishermen. He became one of the most well-known fishermen on the West Coast, while also accruing several violations.
“He’s always been the most talked-about person when fishing, and both good and bad,” said Daniel Sturgell, his son. “I really feel like, if he wasn’t so talked about, we might not be here today dealing with what we are.”
Several of Sturgell’s convictions carried a minimum of more than eight years in prison for each count. Brownhill had the option, however, to rule that some of the sentences run concurrently.
Wendel had asked Brownhill for a sentence of closer to 30 years, saying that it was necessary for public safety.
Brownhill recognized that the sex crimes caused the victim to have issues such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal thoughts.
“That’s what the jurors found. That’s what we’re dealing with here — many, many counts of sodomy, unlawful penetration and then bribery and tampering after that,” Brownhill said. “We’re dealing with the jurors’ verdict, not with (Sturgell’s) version.”
The sentence, however, was closer to the minimum of more than eight years requested by Frank Stoller, Sturgell’s new, Dundee-based attorney. Stoller noted that Sturgell suffers from heart issues, cancer and severe shaking.
“Whatever sentence I impose could be a death sentence for Mr. Sturgell because of his age,” Brownhill said. “But I am willing to give him some hope that he can survive the sentence and get back to the community.”