Sheridan caretaker convicted of murder
He ruled Tuesday afternoon that 41-year-old Xavier Wolfgang committed that crime by clubbing 77-year-old Walter Adelman to death in April 2012 on property Adelman owned on East Rock Creek Road in rural Sheridan.
On Thursday, Collins sentenced Wolfgang to life in prison, with a mandatory minimum stay of 366 months — 30 1/2 years -—and lifetime postprison supervision. If released after serving the mandatory minimum time, he would be 71 years old.
Wolfgang, christened Noah Marshall at his birth in Redding, Calif., had been hired through Craigslist to serve as a handyman and caretaker on the property.
He waived his right to a jury trial, leaving his fate with Collins.
In addition to the murder charge, Collins found him guilty of one count each of first-degree assault, second-degree abuse of a corpse and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.
Deputy District Attorney Ladd Wiles was assisted by colleague Kate Peterson in presenting the prosecution’s case. Wolfgang was represented in the six-day trial by court-appointed attorney Carol Fredrick of McMinnville.
The opposing attorneys made their closing arguments Tuesday afternoon, sending the case to Collins.
He took copious notes and spent two hours reviewing them before reaching his verdict. On many occasions, he asked to closely inspect evidentiary items.
After the verdict was read, deputies led Wolfgang out of the courtroom in handcuffs and returned him to the county jail to await sentencing.
Fredrick asked Collins to consider the lesser included charges of either first or second-degree manslaughter, in place of murder, and second or third-degree assault, instead of first-degree assault.
However, Collins determined the prosecution proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Wolfgang committed each of the crimes listed in the indictment.
He pointed out a number of factors working in the prosecution’s favor.
Blood samples belonging to both Adelman and Wolfgang were extracted from the entryway of the manufactured home where the victim was beaten to death. The blood was matched through DNA testing.
Wolfgang told a series of different stories to people coming by to see Adelman, deputies arriving to run a welfare check at the request of the victim’s daughter, Melissa Adelman of Portland, and detectives investigating the crime.
“He said he did not know where Walter Adelman was,” Collins said. “He said three strangers came onto the property, that Mr. Adelman owed people money and he might have been involved with organized crime or loan sharking, but there was no testimony to corroborate any of that. Then there was his confession and testimony on the stand.”
Collins said Wolfgang “told bizarre stories” to detectives Kevin Gardner and Robert Eubanks during a recorded interview and walk-through of the property, and repeated some of them on the witness stand.
“He said three strangers came onto the property,” Collins said. “Is that possible? Yes. But there was not much to support that version. There was no logical explanation for that version.”
Based on opening and closing arguments by the defense and the state, and testimony he heard during the six-day trial, Collins came to these conclusions:
n No one but Wolfgang was involved in the murder.
n He was not prone to suggestibility and his confession was not coerced.
n His admission early on that he clubbed Adelman with a tree limb, dragged his body from the manufactured home to the barn and stripped it of clothing was corroborated by physical evidence. In his confession, he told detectives he parked Adelman’s vehicle in the barn and used the headlights to light up the area as he removed the Tigard man’s clothing.
n He was not suffering from mental disease or defect, and there was no evidence he was suffering from extreme emotional disturbance, though he was prone to delusional thinking.
Dr. Karl Mobbs, a forensic psychiatrist, and Robert Stanulis, a forensic psychologist, both examined Wolfgang. Mobbs testified for the prosecution, Stanulis for the defense.
Mobbs concluded Wolfgang was capable of functioning in a logical fashion, thus possessed the capacity to form intent.
There was no diagnosis to indicate he was criminally insane at the time of the incident, Mobbs said, and no evidence of mental illness. He was not forced into confessing anything as a result of lengthy interrogation by the detectives.
Wolfgang repeatedly testified he could not remember specific events leading up to and following the crime. The defense suggested he might be suffering from a form of amnesia.
“There are reports of amnesia claims related to a murder,” Stanulis said. “What happened is pushed out of someone’s consciousness. The idea of killing someone has been pushed from memory.”
Stanulis said it’s possible a mental disorder led Wolfgang to recall events so poorly and change change his story so many times.
As part of his closing argument, Wiles showed photos of Adelman to Collins. He explained the victim was a father, a grandfather and a friend to many, none of whom can ever enjoy his company again because Wolfgang committed the murder.
“We now know the defendant did it,” Wiles said. “He had motives and intent. He was in control of his conduct. It was deliberate.”
Wiles produced journal entries Wolfgang had made during his time on the property. They included a “bad man removal list” with Adelman’s name on it, and a swastika next to Adelman’s name in another entry.
Fredrick, an experienced criminal defense attorney, conceded the case was challenging for her.
She noted Wolfgang denied any involvement when he took the witness stand. “He has asserted his innocence,” she said.
Fredrick’s closing witness was Wolfgang’s younger brother, Leonard Vogel, who testified via speaker phone from another state.
“He’s really good with people,” Vogel said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever known him to have a fight with anyone, physically or verbally. He had a likable personality. I enjoyed his company.”
However, Vogel said he hadn’t seen his brother since the mid-1990s.