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Man sentenced for manslaughter, again

It is the second murder case in which John C. Hardaway has pleaded to a lesser charge of manslaughter, instead of risking a murder conviction and a possible death sentence


Relatives of a Gresham woman who was beaten to death by her boyfriend say he is getting away with murder.

John C. Hardaway, 46, of Gresham was sentenced on Thursday, Jan. 10, to 100 months in prison — or eight years and four months — after pleading guilty to the second-degree manslaughter and first-degree assault of Barbara Nadine Smalley, 58, as part of a plea agreement with the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office.

Judge Eric J. Bergstrom upheld the agreement, sentencing him to the agreed upon time with credit for time served.John C. Hardaway

Hardaway has been in jail since his arrest on May 20, 2011, when Gresham police responded to a 9-1-1 call from a neighbor reporting a disturbance in the 17700 block of East Burnside Street.

The neighbor told police she heard a woman being beaten for 30 minutes before calling police. She also heard the victim being choked and screaming no. Just before police arrived, the neighbor heard one final “bang” sound.

At the apartment Hardaway shared with the victim, he waited three minutes to answer the door for police. Directly behind him, Smalley lay unconscious on the living room floor, along with pieces of a broken wooden coffee table, including the table legs, near her.

Paramedics rushed Smalley to a hospital, where she had emergency surgery for a traumatic brain injury. She died eight days later of blunt-force head trauma. Medical examiners determined it was a homicide.

Police believe Hardaway threw the woman onto the coffee table, breaking it, and then beat her with the table legs.

It wasn't the first time Hardaway stood accused of killing someone.

When arrested, Hardaway was on parole for the 1996 death of a Portland man, whom Hardaway shot in the face. In that case, Hardaway also made a plea deal. Instead of risking being found guilty of murder, he pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter and served about 14 years in prison. He'd been out for about a year when he killed Smalley.

As in the 1996 case, if convicted of Smalley's aggravated murder, Hardaway could have faced the death penalty.

Problems with the case

But there were problems with the case, her family said after the sentencing hearing.

Hardaway claimed that his girlfriend had a seizure and injured her head falling onto the coffee table, said David Stewart, Smalley's nephew, who works as a physician's assistant in an emergency room in Merced, Calif.

Despite the death being ruled a homicide, and Smalley having a black eye, broken bones around her eye socket and marks resembling cigarette burns on her body, doctors who treated Smalley would not testify that she'd been abused, her family said.

Another complicating factor: Hardaway was extremely intoxicated at the time of the crime.

When police tested his blood-alcohol level, it came in at 0.23 percent, which is nearly three times the state's legal limit of 0.08 percent, said Smalley's sister Patricia Collins. It's estimated to have been at 0.30 percent during the beating, she added.

Hardaway's attorney, Russell Barnett, argued that with Hardaway in an alcohol-induced blackout state, there's no way to prove he intended to kill Smalley. Barnett did not respond to a request for comment on the case.

“It's a free pass,” said Jack Collins, her brother-in-law.

As long as someone has a high enough alcohol tolerance to function at such high intoxication levels, he or she can commit murder and get away with it on a lesser charge of manslaughter, he said.

One more factor made prosecuting the case difficult: Smalley was on life support for about a week after the beating. Because the brain physically changes when on life support, the defense can argue that the state of her body at her time of death was not the same as when she was admitted. Put another way, the case against Hardaway would have been stronger had she died at the scene instead of at the hospital.

Given all that, there was a possibility a jury wouldn't convict Hardaway of aggravated murder, but might convict him of manslaughter. Because Hardaway agreed to plead guilty to that very offense in the second degree, the outcome would be the same, the family reasoned. That's why they agreed to the plea deal even though they didn't want to.

“It's just wrong, wrong that this happened,” Stewart, Smalley's nephew, said, adding that Hardaway needs to be put to death or kept in a cage until he dies. “This is something that he's done twice.”

Honoring the victim

Hardaway made no statement during his sentencing hearing. But Smalley's family had a lot to say.by: OUTLOOK PHOTO BY MARA STINE - Relatives of Barbara Nadine Smalley remember her distinctive laugh and smiling face, pictured here just a few months before her boyfriend John Hardaway killed her.

Smalley was a generous, forgiving, open-minded soul who'd fallen in love with Hardaway. She knew about his criminal record but still opened her home and heart to him, said her oldest son Michael Shields.

She told some of the May-December relationship: Smalley was 14 years Hardaway's senior. Her sister Judy Infusino said Smalley told her that she'd finally met the love of her life. “But you took that love, that caring, and threw it out the window like it was nothing,” Infusino tearfully told Hardaway in court.

Smalley's son Aaron Thompson said his mother was his best friend and mentor. While he once felt animosity toward Hardaway, “Now all I feel is pity and hope that you learned your lesson,” he said.

Shields told Hardaway he “lost out on being a recipient of unconditional love.” His mother loved Hardaway in spite of his past and was willing to build a future with him, he said. But Shields didn't like how Hardaway tried to intimidate and scare him. Eventually, Shields came to the conclusion that Hardaway was evil.

Even with that knowledge, it did not stop Hardaway from driving a wedge between Shields and his mother. Looking back, it was textbook abuser behavior to isolate Smalley from friends and family. But at the time, her family didn't realize that's what was happening because they had no idea she was being abused.

“She kept her abuse from us,” Shields said.

After his mother died, anger consumed him.

But in honor of his mother, he's decided to not let Hardaway dictate how he lives the rest of his life. “I won't let you live rent-free in my head," he told him.

Smalley's sister Patricia Collins said Hardaway preyed on a vulnerable woman with emphysema and asthma. “He is untrainable, untreatable and unreformed," she said. “He was leeching a roof and food from her. It's too bad the state of Oregon doesn't have the ability to cage him for the rest of his life.”

Smalley was an amazing gardener who loved to crochet. Infusino uses a motorized scooter to get around and uses a rug that her sister made as a lap robe. It's too beautiful to walk on, and her scooter would tear it anyway. Instead, Infusino wraps it around her, “so I can always keep her close to me," she said.

Smalley's brother Stephen Smalley visited his sister about a week before she died. Although she never said that she and Hardaway were a couple, he suspected as much.

He is comforted knowing that his last words to his baby sister were “I love you.”

Ever since one of their sisters died in 2003, it's how the surviving four siblings always ended each phone call or visit.

“She didn't deserve to die like this,” he told Hardaway before urging him to use his time in prison to change his ways. “Please don't bring this kind of sorrow to yet another family. It's your choice.”



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