Murder trial processes could take many months, officials say
by: Stover E. Harger III A POINTED MESSAGE — This sign at the south end of Scappoose on Highway 30 delivers a pointed message, apparently directed at murder suspect Daniel A. Butts, who faces 24 charges related to the January 2011 shooting death of Rainier Police Chief Ralph Painter.

As he sat silent in the Columbia County Jail with his head facing the ground, an attorney for murder suspect Daniel A. Butts pleaded not guilty on his behalf Feb. 8.

Butts, 22, of Kalama, Wash., faces 24 charges, including aggravated murder, for the alleged slaying of Rainier Police Chief Ralph Painter and a subsequent shootout outside a car audio shop on Jan. 5, 2011. His lawyer entered a not guilty plea for all charges.

That plea comes nearly a week after Circuit Court Judge Ted Grove said he believed Butts had been 'gaming the system' with his strange and self-destructive behavior for much of 2011 in an effort to delay criminal proceedings.

A court hearing will continue on a still-not-yet-scheduled date. In many cases, aggravated murder trials take months to complete if not longer. The stiffest penalty for that crime in Oregon is the death penalty.

The plea hearing was held at the Columbia County Jail as family of both Painter and Butts watched from an observance area behind glass. The proceedings were broadcast on a closed-circuit feed to an empty room in the county courthouse.

After Grove's ruling that Butts was mentally fit to face his charges, the suspect's father Mikel Butts made inflammatory statements about Painter to the press, saying 'maybe he got what he deserved.' He did not speak with reporters following the Feb. 8 arraignment. Columbia County Sheriff Jeff Dickerson sat between the Painter family and the Butts family at the hearing to separate the two.

Butts was given a chance to speak to his charges at the hearing, but refused to utter a word. For much of 2011, Butts has remained silent and at times uncooperative, jail staff report. When he was arrested he was clean shaven and slender. Now he sports an unkempt beard, long hair and appears much heavier.

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