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Serial Killer Pleads Guilty to Cellmate Murder; County Pays Victim’s Family $120,000

On November 16, 2006, 24-year-old Thomas Gordon pleaded guilty to the 2001 murder of his mother’s boyfriend and the 2005 beating death of his cellmate.

As we’ve previously reported (PLN, Dec. 2006, pp.8-9), in 2001, Gordon killed a friend in Washington. While awaiting trial, he committed more than 30 rule violations, many being unprovoked assaults on staff and other prisoners. In February, 2002, Gordon was sentenced to the maximum sentence of 33 years, largely because of his violent outbursts while awaiting trial.

Three months into his sentence, Gordon again committed an unprovoked attack on another prisoner, and later claimed to have forgotten why he attacked the man. During the next 42 months, Gordon committed another 59 violent rule infractions. Gordon spent all but two months of his first three years of confinement in segregation. Washington prison records describe Gordon as “a very dangerous, violent inmate.”

In 2005, Gordon wrote Portland, Oregon, homicide detectives and admitted to the 2001 murder of Vernon Moranville, whose death had not previously been considered a homicide. On May 25, 2005, Gordon was transferred to the Multnomah County Detention Center (MCDC) in Portland, to face prosecution for Moranville’s murder.

On May 30, 2005, The Oregonian newspaper published a story about Gordon, quoting his Washington sentencing judge as saying “he was convinced Gordon was prone to random, violent outbursts.” In response to the story, Gordon was immediately placed in solitary confinement and a “Safety Alert” was issued to MCDC staff, warning them to use “extreme caution” around Gordon.

On June 15, 2005, MCDC officials moved Gordon into a two-man cell with 43-year-old Dennis Saban, who had turned himself in on drug offenses, in an attempt to turn his life around.

The guard left the unit for an extended time during the morning of June 16, 2005. During that time, Gordon beat Saban severely. When the guard returned to the unit, Gordon was kicking his cell door. When the guard looked inside the cell, he saw Saban lying motionless on the floor. The cell was covered in Saban’s blood. He was rushed to the hospital, where he died on June 29, 2005.

Jail officials blamed others for Saban’s murder, but the case led to an extensive investigation of jail operations and conditions by the local prosecutor. The four-month investigation resulted in a blistering 63-page report, finding numerous, chronic jail security and staffing problems which contributed to Saban’s murder.

Saban’s family sued the county, complaining that jail staff knew Gordon was dangerous, but failed to adequately supervise him. The county quickly agreed to pay the family $120,000 to settle the suit.

Gordon was charged with Aggravated Murder, which carries the possibility of the death penalty, for Saban’s murder. On November 16, 2006, Gordon pleaded guilty to both the Moranville and Saban murders. He was sentenced to life imprisonment with a 25-year minimum for Moranville’s murder. That sentence is running concurrently with his Washington sentence. For Saban’s murder, Gordon was sentenced to life imprisonment with a 30-year minimum, which will not begin to run until he is released on the Washington and Moranville murders. Despite three separate murders, Gordon will be eligible for release when he is 79 years old, assuming he doesn’t add to his body count in the meantime.

Source: The Oregonian.

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