Six years ago, my friend and one-time housemate Tiffany Jenks was murdered. It was, to put it mildly, an enormous shock. It was also one of Portland’s most sensational killings, partly because the motive was never fully determined.
As a result, it produced vast amounts of discussion on conspiracy websites and talk-radio shows, much of it featuring her ex-boyfriend, John S. Captain, III, who also has Facebook pages, a YouTube channel, and a website promoting his theories.
My goal here is to address the resulting misinformation and speculation, without getting too deeply into the details. If you want more, the Investigation Discovery network did an hour-long documentary on her death that even includes interviews with her family, and ranker.com has an article on Tiffany, addressing Mr. Captain’s theories in considerable depth.
My own information comes from attending 27 months of legal proceedings and meeting several times with her family and the prosecutor.
The basic facts are simple. On October 8, 2013, Tiffany was found dead in Blue Lake Regional Park, in an outlying part of the Portland, Oregon, metropolitan region. She had been shot once in the head, directly between the eyes.
Within a couple of weeks, three people were arrested: Michelle Worden-Brosey, Joshua Robinette, and Daniel Bruynell.
From the outset,
there were strong signs that this was a thrill kill, with Bruynell as the
shooter, possibly spurred on by the other two. Tiffany had been struggling with
alcohol since the death of her father three years earlier, and had lost her job
because of it. On the night of her death, she was very drunk, and would have
made an easy victim.
Surveillance tapes from a bar nine miles from where she died showed the four of them getting into Worden-Brosey’s car at 2:09 am. The shot that killed her was fired sometime between 2:30 and 3:00 am, according to people in two nearby houses, who heard it.
It takes about 15-20 minutes to get from the bar to the park, so she might have been driven directly there and summarily executed. Or, if the shot was in the later range of that time window, it might have been the result of an extended altercation. (Mr. Captain insists that the shot was fired at precisely 2:30, though he has never explained why.)
When the deadly trio was caught, they were charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder, obstruction of justice, and a gun violation for filing off the serial numbers from the murder weapon.
The grand jury found insufficient evidence for conspiracy, and the gun charge was dropped because the gun had passed through too many hands to know who filed off the numbers.
That left Bruynell (the shooter) indicted for murder and the other two for obstruction of justice for helping him flee.
All three eventually plead guilty. Worden-Brosey and Robinette got roughly one-year sentences for obstruction (plus another 5 years for Robinette on an unrelated child-abuse charge) and Bruynell accepted an 18-year sentence for the reduced charge of manslaughter.
Many people have
complained about the light sentences for the first two, but the fact is they
slipped through a crack in Oregon law.
Oregon does not recognize “accessory after the fact” as a crime. Instead, it relies on conspiracy or obstruction. With the grand jury refusing to indict for conspiracy, all that was left was obstruction, which carries a maximum penalty of 18 months. For first offenders, such as these two were, the sentencing guidelines call for no jail time at all (i.e., probation only).
Bruynell’s sentence has produced even greater online anger, but again, it’s from people who for the most part aren’t aware of the nuances.
Part of the anger comes from the fact his crime was called manslaughter, not murder, but Oregon has a minimum sentencing law. If you call it murder, the minimum is 25 years. If you want to plea bargain, you have to call it something else.
And, even though Bruynell had confessed to the shooting, there were good reasons for plea bargaining, rather than rolling the dice in court:
• His confession was inadmissible. It came after he repeatedly asked the police if he needed “someone” with him—an inquiry the court saw as a request for a lawyer.
• The murder weapon had been found due to the confession. That could have made it inadmissible, but the court ruled that, given where it had been found (with Bruynell’s girlfriend) the police would have found it without the confession. Still, that ruling was guaranteed to be appealed.
• All three defendants were only identified in the first place because the bar where they met Tiffany had scanned their IDs as they walked in. Oregon liquor law does not allow bars to retain such information. The trial court ruled that because it was the bar that broke the law, not the police, the IDs were admissible. But that too was guaranteed to be appealed.
All of this made the certainty of a plea bargain appealing. A sure thing 18-year-sentence is a lot better than a 25-year sentence reversed on appeal
It should have ended there, but Mr. Captain turned the case into an online cause célèbre. His theories ranged from the mundane (she ran afoul of drug dealers) to the exotic (she was an Illuminati mind-control agent who slipped her programming and was killed to keep her from going rogue). He also had a theory that she was killed by her former employer, Bonneville Power Administration, in order to keep her from reporting supposed financial misdoings to the authorities.
I still think thrill kill is the most likely explanation, but the only accurate answer has always been, “nobody knows.”
The best summary came from the prosecutor, once the case was finally resolved.
“Sometimes,” he said, “you never know. Luckily, you don’t need motive to convict.”