Plea deal offers a glimpse of street family dynamics
- Jim Redden
- Portland Tribune - News
Youth describes fear of leader, details of May slaying
New details about the 13-member street 'family' charged with assaulting and killing Jessica Kate Williams are being revealed as some members enter court pleas in the case.
Testifying Wednesday, member Joshua Ryan Brown-Lenon, 18, said that the family's alleged 'father' Ñ James Daniel Nelson, 27 Ñ summoned the group to its camp May 22 to punish Williams for lying.
According to Brown-Lenon, at some point during the assault, Nelson ordered him and family member Steven Scott Pearce to buy lighter fluid from a convenience store across the street from the camp, which was under the Southwest Front Avenue overpass at Arthur Street.
Brown-Lenon said he thought that the lighter fluid would be used to burn evidence of the assault, including bloodstained clothes. Instead, he said, it was used to set Williams' body on fire.
Brown-Lenon testified before Multnomah County Circuit Judge Linda Bergman as part of a plea-bargain agreement with Multnomah County prosecutors.
In exchange for his agreement to testify in the case, Brown-Lenon will be sentenced to two years in prison for his role in the crime.
When Bergman asked why he followed Nelson's orders, Brown-Lenon answered that he was afraid he would be 'stabbed to death' if he disobeyed.
Although court records refer to Nelson as the family leader, sources tell the Tribune that Cassie Jean Hale, 20, also controlled the group. Hale, considered the group's 'mother,' sent the other members out to beg for money on Portland streets every day.
Hale's court-appointed attorney, Stuart Sugarman, denied that Hale controlled the group.
A county grand jury is continuing to hear evidence in the case. Several sources said that the district attorney's office is seeking an aggravated murder charge against both Nelson and Hale. The two are charged with kidnapping, robbing and assaulting Williams, a developmentally disabled 22-year-old.
Brown-Lenon testified that after Williams was beaten, three family members led her across the Willamette River to the railroad tracks under the east end of the Steel Bridge. Her body was found there May 23.
The three family members Ñ Danielle Marie Cox, 18; James Aaron Stewart, 18; and Carl Richard Alsup, 17 Ñ are charged with murder in Williams' death.
Pleading guilty to charges of second-degree kidnap, third-degree robbery and third-degree assault are: Brown-Lenon; Pearce; Heidi Lee Keller, 20; Crystal Dawn Ivey, 17; and Crystal Lee Elliot, 16.
Also charged with kidnapping, assault and robbery are: Nelson; Hale; Sarah La'Dona Caster, 17; Cory Robert Dennison, 19; and Crystal Ann Grace, 20.