Aaron Munoz never had a chance in life. He was born addicted to alcohol and heroin because his mother, Deanna Murphy, a longtime heroin user, abused drugs and alcohol during her pregnancy.
"He was three weeks old when she went to jail the first time," stated Kelly Ann Mills, Aaron's aunt and his legal guardian since infancy. "After she got out she may have had him for two weeks. And then she never had custody of him again."
In 1989, when Aaron was six years old, Mills moved the family from California to Oregon. "After that she never saw him again," said Mills, referring to Murphy.
Growing up in Portland, Oregon, Aaron made his way into the juvenile justice system. At 13 years old he was arrested for shoplifting and breaking into a state-owned vehicle. He was assigned parole and probation officer (PO) Michael Boyles.
Supplying Aaron with alcohol and marijuana, Boyles sexually molested him, repeatedly, for five years, according to court records.
In 2001, 18-year-old Aaron was sent to prison for third-degree assault. Angry and defiant, he quickly found himself locked in the Intensive Management Unit (IMU) at the Oregon State Penitentiary, one of the state's two "supermax" units where prisoners are isolated 23-and-a-half hours a day.
In February 2004, Boyles was arrested on numerous counts of sodomy, sexual abuse and official misconduct for his abuse of Aaron and four other boys he had supervised in the 1990s.
Just before 9 p.m. on January 28, 2005, Aaron, then 21, hung himself in his IMU cell, just one week before he was to be released. Mills believes that Aaron killed himself because of the shame he felt due to the sexual abuse, and fear that he'd be labeled a snitch for testifying against Boyles. "One of the things he said to me is, 'I don't want to be known as a snitch and I don't want to be known as a homosexual,'" said Mills. "In his circle, in his group, you didn't rat somebody out."
After Aaron committed suicide, prosecutors dismissed twenty charges against Boyles related to his abuse of Aaron. Boyles was later convicted of abusing the four other boys and, in October 2005, was sentenced to 80 years in prison. He is now confined at the Snake River Correctional Institution (SRCI) in Ontario, Oregon.
A federal lawsuit was brought alleging that the Oregon Youth Authority, which employed Boyles, had failed to protect Aaron from the predatory PO. Following Aaron's suicide a second suit was filed in state court on behalf of Aaron's estate, claiming that prison officials had failed to provide adequate supervision and mental health treatment for his depression and post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from the abuse by Boyles. See: Jorgenson v. State of Oregon, Marion Co. Circuit Court, Case No. 07C11205.
In July 2007 the State agreed to settle both suits by paying Aaron's estate $210,000, which includes $70,000 for attorneys fees. "I think it's low, considering everything that Aaron had to go through--the abuse and not getting the mental help in prison that he should have got," stated Mills. "But I also know that without him being alive and able to testify that was probably the best they were going to get."
"With me, it's never really been about the money," Mills added. "It's been more about somebody saying, 'Hey, we screwed up. Maybe this kid would have had a good life if Mike Boyles would never have been in the picture.'" But she didn't even get that apology, as the State denied all liability as part of the settlement.
The final tragic twist to Aaron's story is a potential battle over the settlement money. Portland attorney Brooks Cooper represents two of Aaron's teenage siblings who live in California. He is preparing an action to preclude Murphy from receiving the settlement because she abandoned Aaron; he wants the money to go to Aaron's siblings instead. Mills agrees that Murphy, who is now incarcerated in California, should not receive the settlement funds. "If it went to my sister, she would most definitely put it in her arm because she is a heroin user," said Mills. "I don?t think she will ever change."
In addition to Aaron's settlement in the federal lawsuit, the State of Oregon has settled claims in the same case related to other victims of sexual abuse by Boyles, including $1,500 to a plaintiff only identified as "H.R." in October 2006, and $100,000 to Donovan Moon, including attorney fees, in December 2007. See: Duncan v. State of Oregon, USDC D. OR, Case No. 3:05-cv-01747-KI.
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Related legal case
Jorgenson v. State of Oregon
|Cite||Marion Co. Circuit Court, Case No. 07C11205|
|Level||State Trial Court|