It wasn't his attorney's arguments or witness testimony or the evidence that convinced Leslie Roy Simpkins he would win acquittal in his aggravated murder case Wednesday. It was a feather.
As he was escorted back to Clatsop County Jail after the jury retired to deliberate over his case Wednesday afternoon, a gust of wind carried a bird feather under the door of the jail's entry area and dropped it between his feet.
In Native American spiritual customs, birds are messengers through which spirits contact people. To Simpkins, who is part Cherokee, the feather was an auspicious omen.
"I said 'that's my sign, I'm out of here,'" he said.
Less than two hours later, the omen came true when the jury voted unanimously to acquit Simpkins of the August 1998 murder of Dana Ann Bailey. The verdict was announced at about 6:30 p.m.
Simpkins spent one more night in jail, however, in order for the court to handle a probation violation charge that's been lingering since before his arrest. Just four days prior to the murder, Simpkins had been given a conditional discharge on a drug-possession charge, but had failed to report to a probation officer as ordered.
At a hearing Thursday, Judge Paula Brownhill revoked Simpkins' probation and gave him a six-month sentence, with credit for the time he's served waiting for trial. He was, however, put on one year of post-prison supervision, which will require him to report to a parole officer and abide by other rules.
Simpkins has been in jail since his arrest the night of the murder. Including a six-year stint in prison in Colorado for an attempted jail-break in 1990, he's been behind bars for 10 of the last 12 years.
Because of the parole requirement, Simpkins said he'll probably remain in Clatsop County for the near future. But he hopes to eventually move to Portland, if he can transfer his parole supervision to Multnomah County, where he will pursue work or study at a community college.
Along with his defense team, he thanked two special friends, Chris Grimm and Laura Maca, who supported him throughout the four-year process.
"There was a lot of prayer behind this," he said Thursday of his acquittal. "There were a lot of good people behind me, but it was the man upstairs."
Simpkins was charged with aiding in the murder of Bailey, who was stabbed to death by Anthony Scott Garner, according to the prosecution, in the mistaken belief she was a police informant. Garner was convicted of aggravated murder and arson and sentenced to life in prison without parole last fall.
Simpkins faced trial twice after the jury in his first trial deadlocked last December. District Attorney Josh Marquis immediately sought a new trial, but dropped one of the two aggravated murder charges and said he would no longer seek the death penalty.
Marquis disputed the contention of defense attorney Peter Fahy that the case against Simpkins was "recklessly charged and prosecuted."
"The grand jury indicted Mr. Simpkins, and the state pursued those charges," he said. "Judge Brownhill, in a bail hearing, found the evidence was very strong, and in the first trial the vast majority of the jury felt he was guilty.
"The district attorney does not bring murder charges unless he feels the evidence is there," he said, adding he would have pursued yet another trial had the jury deadlocked again.