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Schlosser siblings defer hope of justice

Kids still seek conviction in mother's death despite mistrial in civil case

The children of Sharon Schlosser have waited more than 10 years for justice after she was killed and her body was dumped into the Columbia River.

Now they will have to wait some more.

'It's been our primary focus in life,' said Michael Gorham, one of four siblings who are convinced that Charles Schlosser killed their mother.

Sharon Schlosser's bludgeoned body was found in the river in October 1992. Her husband, Charles, has long been a suspect in the slaying, but no criminal charges have been filed, much to the chagrin of brothers Richard, Robert and Michael Gorham and their sister, Angela Burger.

Sharon's children Ñ from a previous marriage Ñ all say that their ultimate goal is a criminal conviction for the slaying.

The matter finally reached the courts last week in a federal insurance case that was watched closely by Multnomah County prosecutors. After more than a week of proceedings and five days of testimony, an all-woman, eight-member jury was unable to come to the required unanimous decision as to whether Charles Schlosser was involved in his wife's death.

Juror Kansa Kaufman said she was convinced Schlosser was involved in his wife's slaying despite his testimony to the contrary. But three other jurors thought there was not enough evidence to reach that conclusion. Kaufman said that although the jury was skeptical about Schlosser's testimony, key witnesses for the plaintiffs also had credibility problems, especially Sammy Hooson, who testified that Schlosser tried to hire him to kill his wife.

U.S. Magistrate Janice Stewart declared a mistrial Thursday and will reschedule the case next month.

Margaret Fiorino, an attorney representing the Gorhams, said she was 'flabbergasted' by the outcome.

Robert Martin, who represented Charles Schlosser, offered little in the way of comment. 'It would be nice if we had an answer,' he said. 'Write that down.'

Jim McIntyre, Multnomah County's lead prosecutor on the Schlosser case, said the deadlocked verdict in the civil case 'has no effect whatsoever' on the criminal case. He said he and his colleagues will examine all evidence from the civil trial with fresh eyes, particularly the testimony of Charles Schlosser.

The case has been before two grand juries. Most recently, in December 1998, McIntyre argued the Schlosser case before a grand jury during a three-week session in which 68 witnesses were subpoenaed. The grand jury did not file charges against Schlosser, but McIntyre said he's never given up on the case.

Deputy Sheriff John Little, who inherited the case from several now-retired cops in 1998, said he still believes Schlosser is the primary suspect.

Plaintiffs say money was the issue

At issue in the civil case was a $150,000 life insurance policy (now worth more than $200,000 because of interest earned while the case has been pending) that named Charles Schlosser as the primary beneficiary. The insurance company would not pay him because of his suspected role in the slaying and turned the matter and the disputed money over to the courts.

'It's not about getting the money,' said Lynne Morgan, an attorney representing the Gorhams, while making her closing statement before the jury. 'It's about preventing the man who murdered their mother from getting the money.'

Morgan and Fiorino argued that Schlosser either killed his wife or got somebody to kill her for him. They presented a witness who said that Schlosser attempted to persuade him to kill his wife for him for several thousand dollars and a new Corvette.

After this man turned down the deal, the plaintiffs argued, Schlosser lured his wife to the Columbia River Yacht Club by saying he had found a buyer for his expensive motorboat, then either killed her or had one of his sons kill her.

Plaintiffs argued that Schlosser's motive was money. Schlosser's used-car business on Southeast 82nd Avenue and his plant nursery on the Clackamas River were both money losers, tax records showed, and he couldn't keep up with his credit and tax payments, much less pay for the new home that Sharon wanted. At the time of her death, Sharon lived with Charles in a small trailer with an illegal sewage system.

Schlosser took the stand July 22 and denied killing his wife. But he offered few details about his actions during the time of his wife's killing. 'As far as I remember, I've always told everybody the truth,' he said.

He said he could not recall the names of the prospective buyer of his boat or other details from 10 years ago, citing a bad memory made worse by heart problems and medications.

Fiorino charged that Schlosser's bad memory was 'conveniently selective.'

But Schlosser's attorneys, Martin and James Callahan, dismissed the plaintiff's case as a 'concoction' and a 'long, fancy story.'

They noted that no blood, DNA samples or fingerprints ever tied Schlosser to the killing. A murder weapon was never found.

Martin characterized a key witness Ñ Hooson, who claimed Schlosser tried to hire him to kill Sharon Ñ as a drug addict and a thief.

Hooson's testimony was important because he said Schlosser wanted him to meet Sharon at the waterfront and hit her on the head with a hammer Ñ a scenario almost identical to what investigators believe happened. But jurors may have questioned Hooson's credibility when he said on the stand that he has stolen more than 100 vehicles and used methamphetamine for years.

Martin argued that Hooson's testimony was not trustworthy; Fiorino countered that Hooson was precisely the sort of person one hires to commit murder: 'He's involved with criminal activity and can get the job done,' she said.

Siblings hope to see criminal trial

After the case ended in a deadlock, juror Kaufman approached the Gorhams on the courthouse steps and explained that one of the main reasons the jury couldn't reach a unanimous verdict was because Hooson came off as untrustworthy.

The Gorhams struggled to keep their frustrations in check as they digested the news. 'We're extremely disappointed,' Michael Gorham said. 'But this doesn't stop us in our ultimate goal of getting a criminal conviction.'

The Gorham siblings have scattered throughout the West in the decade since their mother was killed.

Michael, 38, lives in Tigard and works for Wells Fargo Bank in Portland. Richard, 39, lives in Laguna Beach, Calif., and works for Johnson & Johnson. Robert, 36, lives in Bend and works for Century Insurance Co. Angela Burger, 34, lives in Whitefish, Mont., where she runs a restaurant with her husband.

In spite of their physical separation, they remain close and talk on the phone weekly, Michael Gorham said. The biggest subject of conversation always has been the slaying of their mother and the hope for a criminal trial, he said.