On December 13, 2001, 14-year-old Melissa Bittler was found raped and strangled in a neighbor's backyard. Her death was later tied, through DNA evidence, to an unsolved 1997 sexual assault.
In May, 2002, Ladon Stephens was arrested for sexually assaulting his girlfriend's cousin. He was subsequently linked, via DNA evidence, to the Bittler murder and the rapes of three teenage girls in 1997. At the time of each of those crimes, Stephens was on parole and was receiving sex offender treatment for the 1989 attempted kidnappings of two Portland girls.
Stephens was ultimately convicted of 30 offenses related to the Bittler murder and four other rapes. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole and an additional 360 years, as a dangerous offender.
On December 12, 2003, Melissa's family filed a wrongful death action in state court, seeking general damages of $8,000 for funeral and burial expenses, and $500,000 for pain and suffering. The suit alleged that parole officers were inadequately trained to supervise Stephens, failed to adequately supervise him, and failed to act when Stephens did not keep scheduled appointments.
Some of the claims were based upon the County's internal review of its supervision of Stephens. The number of mistakes the county made is just staggering," said Brian Williams, a Portland attorney representing one of Stephen's other victims. They're glaring." Joanne Fuller, director of the county's Department of Community Justice allegedly admitted to the Bittlers that her agency blew it.
Bittler attorney Steven Scharfstein said the Bittlers were not motivated by money. They just want to get the attention of the department that they must make same changes and punish people who screwed up," he said.
Before approving the $150,000 settlement, Commissioners heard testimony from Fuller about changes the county had made in response to the Stephens case. We're extremely committed to taking the appropriate steps to have the best system in place to monitor sex offenders," Fuller said. We don't want this to happen again.
In addition to the Bittler settlement, the Commissioners approved paying $150,000 to settle a suit brought by a woman who was raped and left for dead by Stephens. A suit by a third victim, seeking $520,000 was still pending.
Source: The Oregonian.
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Unpublished settlement, no additional information available.