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Columbia County murder case awaits Supreme Court decision

Daniel A. Butts trial stalled as circuit court waits for rule in forced medication issue

“How long are we the Painter family going to wait for a trial?” Kathy Painter, the mother of fallen Rainier Police Chief Ralph Painter, asked Columbia County Circuit Judge Ted Grove in a letter she submitted to the court July 13.

Painter was shot and killed while on duty Jan. 5, 2011, after his gun was wrested away from him during a standoff with a robbery suspect. The man charged with murdering Painter, Daniel A. Butts of Kalama, Wash., has taken the case from a murder trial to an unprecedented court dilemma.

COURTESY PHOTO - Ralph Painter, the fallen Rainier police chief who was shot and killed in 2011. The trial for Painter's murder has been drawn out for more than four years and now awaits a Supreme Court decision.

After lengthy court proceedings that pitted Grove against Oregon State Hospital officials, the case ended up in the Oregon Supreme Court earlier this year. At issue is whether a trial court can order state hospital doctors to forcibly medicate Butts, who became uncooperative and displayed signs of mental illness since his arrest and initial court hearing. His behavior prompted Grove to deem Butts unable to aid and assist in his own defense, making him unfit to stand trial.

In her letter, the chief’s mother said her husband is deceased and, a year after her son’s death, her daughter died of cancer. She said that what’s left of her grieving family has waited long enough for justice.

“My family [needs] to heal and we can’t put Ralph to rest till the trial is over so our family can try to move on,” her letter states.

The judge has tried to move the case along within legal parameters.

Grove issued a Sell order in 2014, mandating Butts be given antipsychotic medication that could make him fit to stand trial, but it was never carried out. State hospital doctors have indicated to Grove that they don’t believe Butts suffers from mental illness.

In late June, the Oregon Supreme Court heard oral arguments from attorneys representing both sides. No final decision has been handed down yet, according to Kristina Edmunson, communications director with the Oregon Attorney General’s Office, which represents the state hospital in legal matters.

“We expect it could be another month or two,” Edmunson stated via email.