Jury finds Gresham dentist guilty of murdering patient
Prosecution says unlicensed dentist shot Viktor Merezhnikov to hide his practice
Unlicensed Gresham dentist Viktor Gebauer was convicted on Tuesday, June 21, of killing his patient Viktor Merezhnikov in 2010. The verdict came at the end of a two-week trial in the Multnomah County Circuit Court.
Gebauer, who also used the name Viktor Lepesh, was found guilty of murder with a firearm and two counts of unlawful use of a weapon, a firearm. Though he won't be officially sentenced until July 22, Deputy District Attorney Chris Ramras said Gebauer is facing a life sentence with the possibility of parole after 25 years.
Gebauer is a Russian immigrant and often treated other immigrants in the dentist office he ran out of his home. Merezhnikov was one of those patients, immigrating to the United States in 2004 from Tajikistan, part of the former Soviet Union.
According to Ramras, Merezhnikov took a picture on his phone of the room with the dentist chair that Gebauer was using to see his patients. Merezhnikov's cell phone was later found by police buried in Gebauer's backyard.
'My argument to the jury was that this guy was an underground dentist for 13 to 15 years and didn't want anyone to know about his operation,' Ramras said. 'He didn't like this picture being taken of his dental operation.'
According to Ramras, Merezhnikov had visited Gebauer's office on Feb. 10, and was returning Feb. 18, the night he was killed, to receive treatment for a crown Gebauer had removed at the previous appointment. At the trial, Gebauer denied meeting with Merezhnikov on Feb. 10; however, his appointment book showed that he had scheduled the appointment on that day.
In the trial, Gebauer claimed that Merezhnikov had threatened him with a knife and that he shot him in self-defense; however, Ramras said that the evidence did not support that claim.
Merezhnikov was found slumped in the dentist chair with his legs crossed under him, which Ramras said was inconsistent with the claim that he had attacked Gebauer with a knife.
In addition, the knife was found in Merezhnikov's left hand, but he was not left handed and also had nerve damage to the left side of his body from an on-the-job construction accident in 2005.
Merezhnikov's brother, Vladimir, testified that on the night of the incident, Merezhnikov called him twice while he was at Gebauer's house to tell him that Gebauer was threatening him with a gun and that he needed help.
Vladimir testified that he did not realize that his brother had not called the police. When he arrived at Gebauer's home with Merezhnikov's wife and daughter and Gebauer opened the door, Vladimir said he saw his brother looking dead in the dentist chair. He then called the police.
According to Ramras, the motive in the shooting centered on Gebauer's illegal dentist practice.
Gebauer had told police that he was no longer practicing dentistry, but Ramras said that he still had appointments scheduled in his appointment book, one of which was at 7 p.m. on the night Merezhnikov was killed. Ramras said that Gebauer's appointment did not come in that night, and Gebauer called them to 'chastise them for not coming.'
Around 7:10 p.m., Ramras said, Merezhnikov called Gebauer and asked if he could come for an appointment before heading over to the dentist's house.
The defense argued that because Gebauer only shot Merezhnikov once, he did not intend to kill him. Ramras, however, argued that Gebauer's actions did not align with this argument.
'(Gebauer) testified that after shooting him … he checked his pulse (twice), but never called police or emergency aid or anything like that,' Ramras said.
In the end, Ramras said that he was satisfied with the verdict. 'I am very happy with outcome, it went well,' he said.