Tara Stanlick


On November 17, 2004, Tara Stanlick was convicted on two counts of Manslaughter in the First Degree as well as for DUII, reckless driving and recklessly endangering another person. On November 19, Judge Douglas Beckman, running all terms concurrently, sentenced her to six years and three months in prison, the Measure 11 mandatory minimum for Manslaughter II.

Here we present a letter sent to Oregon legislators by Ms. Stanlick's husband, Joseph H. Jenkins. This is followed by a letter written by Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney Kristen Snowden who responded to an information request from Crime Victims United President Steve Doell.

Letter from Joseph H. Jenkins to Oregon Legislators

I am writing you today to ask for your help in making some needed changes to measure 11. My wife, Tara Stanlick, was in a horrible car accident that was caused when individuals in another car distracted her attention in a road rage incident. The distraction those individuals did forced Tara to swerve to avoid hitting a car a directly in front of her. Tragically, in swerving around the car, she unavoidably hit two pedestrians running across a busy street. My wife as NEVER been in any kind of trouble in her entire life, not even a speeding ticket. Tara is a wonderfully caring mother who, on that day, made some of the worst decisions of her life. The DA wanted her to plead guilty to Manslaughter 1 charges and spend over 15 years in prison for the deaths of those pedestrians because they said she was reckless, but my wife knew that is not why this accident happened and, with the advice of her lawyer, chose to go to trial. In the trial the DA fabricated a version of that day which had virtually no truth to it. The prosecutor painted Tara as a terrible criminal-minded person. Our family and legal counsel fought hard to prove Tara's innocence, but were all totally shocked when the jury found her guilty of Manslaughter 2. In the judge's sentencing, he told us that Tara didn't deserve the sentence he must give her and is not a menace to society and sending her to prison was not the best punishment for this case, but his hands were virtually tied. There was nothing he could do, but to give my wife the minimum sentence he could. My faith in the jury system was sorely tested as I learned that the truth has no bearing on the outcome of a trial. What matters is the ability of lawyers to manipulation the truth anyway they can to sway the thoughts and feelings of jurors. This is not justice.

Why bother having judges if they do not have the authority to do what they deem appropriate? Who is better able to wade through the facts to determine the facts bearing on the case? Why do prosecutors have so much power in these cases? Why was Measure 11 spun as a "three-strikes-and-your-out" measure when, in reality, Tara and other first-time offenders must suffer the same punishment as hardened criminals? Judges are experienced and highly educated experts who understand the facts and have the knowledge and expertise to see through the manipulative spin presented by prosecutors. The judges should have the authority to determine sentences as they see fit especially when it involves minors and first-time offenders. Judges should not be shackled by a barbaric law voted in by a deceived public who were manipulated by a few vengeful cold-hearted unthinking individuals. Prosecutors should not have the power they do. I always thought Measure 11 was implemented for re-offending criminals only, not for the people who make one mistake and then have measure 11 ruin their lives and all of their families lives forever. I am begging you for my sake and the sake of my two young children, Joseph and Joshua, to help us give judges the authority to rule, once again, on cases based on their knowledge, experience and wisdom. Don't keep their hands tied by a misleading law. Measure 11 should not categorize all offenders such that first-time offenders suffer the same sentencing as repeat offenders. Every case is different and that is why we should give back to the judges the authority to sentence first time offenders. Here is my family the measure 11 has destroyed. (Pictures of Mr. Jenkins' wife and children follow.)

Letter from Deputy District Attorney Kristen Snowden to Crime Victims United President Steve Doell (April 18, 2005)

Re: State v. Tara Emma Stanlick 04-01-30121/DA 2011237

Dear Mr. Doell:

Pursuant to your request for information regarding the above referenced case I am providing a synopsis of the relevant facts and circumstances leading up to and presented at trial. This was a vehicular manslaughter case that went to trial November 1-17, 2004. Although the jury was not allowed to hear much biographical information about the victims, you should know that the deceased victims were Meiying Cai, a 34-year-old mother and PSU student, and Jin Chao Lei, her 8-year-old son. The Lei family moved to Portland from China approximately one year prior to this accident after the father obtained employment through a sponsorship program as a dim sum chef at a local restaurant. Jin was their only child although they hoped to expand their family here in the USA since they were not permitted to have additional children in China.

Ms. Stanlick was indicted by the Grand Jury in January 2004 for two counts of Manslaughter in the First Degree, Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants (DUII), Reckless Driving and Reckless Endangerment of her two-year-old son. After trial, the jury convicted Ms. Stanlick of two counts of Manslaughter in the Second Degree (the lesser-included offenses), DUII, Reckless Driving and Reckless Endangerment. The defendant was then sentenced to 75 months prison after the judge chose to run all of her sentences concurrently. Prior to trial, the state offered the defendant 120 months prison per BM 11 and invited a counter-offer through numerous judicial settlement conferences with Judge Julie Frantz. The defendant declined to make any counter proposal and informed the judge that she would not accept even one year in jail.

I am also in receipt of a letter in opposition to Ballot Measure 11 signed by Joseph Jenkins, the husband of the defendant. Mr. Jenkins' letter fails to include several pertinent facts that ultimately resulted in the defendant's convictions. The following is a synopsis of the evidence presented at trial:

On January 5, 2004, mom is walking her little boy home from Crestwood Elementary at 3:15pm. When they come to SE Foster Road they wait to cross at SE 55th. Their house was located one block east of this intersection. The drivers of two vehicles headed westbound on Foster both stop and wave at the victims to allow the mom and child to cross at the intersection. Mom waves back in appreciation and they begin to cross. Defendant is also driving westbound down Foster and is trying to pass another vehicle. Several witnesses testify that they see the defendant speeding and then tailgating this other vehicle many blocks before the accident. One witness testified that she saw this other car turn left off of Foster about three blocks before the collision. According to the defendant's statement to police, the driver of the other vehicle was flipping her off (she opines that this may have been because she "was too close," or tailgating) and changing lanes to prevent her from passing. Defendant tells officers that she "punched it" to get around this other car and didn't notice that traffic was stopped ahead for the pedestrians. Upon noticing the stopped traffic, the defendant swerved to the right and drove around the stopped traffic on the right-hand shoulder. Defendant hit mom and boy at 45 mph throwing them 120 and 150 feet respectively. Defendant then lost control of her SUV and hit two parked cars.

Police investigated the defendant for being under the influence of alcohol and marijuana. The defendant failed field sobriety tests and then the police conducted a drug recognition evaluation which revealed physical symptoms of marijuana impairment such as an elevated pulse, green tongue and body tremors. The defendant submitted to a breath test and blew a .08% two hours after the crash. She told police that she drank only one glass of champagne that day and smoked marijuana two days prior. Blood draws confirm a BAC of .05% at 7 pm and .04% at 8pm + marijuana metabolites. Despite the defendant's insistence that she only had one glass of champagne that day at her mother's house, police later find out from the defendant's mother that they had been drinking together and playing video poker at the Scoreboard Tavern just prior to the accident. Police seize video from inside the Scoreboard Tavern where the defendant can be seen drinking two apple martinis. The defendant testifies at trial to drinking the martinis as well as a wine glass full of champagne filled to the rim. State experts testify that based on all the data available, including the exact time that the defendant was observed drinking at the Scoreboard Tavern, that defendant was at least a .08% at the time of driving and likely a .10% or greater. This is consistent with someone of Ms. Stanlick's size having 4-6 drinks actually in her system at the time of the crash which would require the consumption of more than 4-6 drinks overall. A state toxicology expert testified that her marijuana metabolite levels were consistent with someone who smoked marijuana that day and that they are not consistent with heavy use two days prior.

The defendant was charged with Manslaughter in the First Degree which requires proof that the defendant recklessly caused the death of another under circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to the value of human life. The reason Ms. Stanlick was charged with Manslaughter in the First Degree was due in large part on her unusual behavior after the crash. The defendant's behavior was noteworthy to numerous police officers and EMT personnel on scene in that she appeared completely unemotional after the crash and even lit up a cigarette at the scene. Police officers, EMTs and other civilian witnesses testified that she repeatedly denied knowing that she hit anyone (although the bodies were on the roadway) and says to police, "Won't my insurance cover this?" This was after she ran up to the little boy as he was breathing shallowly and asked him if he was okay and shook his arm. Despite initially denying that she knew that anyone had been hit, the defendant later told police in a taped interview that she thought the mother and son had been thrown from another car and so she thought to herself, "Thank God I didn't hit anyone." The defendant testified at trial that she did nothing wrong and that she was just trying to get around the psycho driver in the other car. The State offered into evidence a recorded jail phone call where the defendant is telling her husband that she told the police that she only had only glass of champagne. Ms. Stanlick's husband informs her that the police already know the truth and she needs to tell them that she is just confused about a lot of things.

In his letter, Mr. Jenkins claims that the sentencing judge, Judge Douglas Beckman, made the statement that Ms. Stanlick "did not deserve the sentence he must give her," that she is "not a menace to society" and "sending her to prison was not the best punishment for this case but his hands were virtually tied." This is absolutely false. At no time did the judge express any hesitation in sentencing Ms. Stanlick pursuant to Ballot Measure 11 nor did he indicated that she was deserving of a more lenient sentence. The only comments or findings made by the judge were related to the fact that this criminal episode was a continuous and uninterrupted course of conduct which he felt justified the imposition of concurrent, rather than consecutive sentences.

Very truly yours,

MICHAEL D. SCHRUNK District Attorney Multnomah County, Oregon

By: Kirsten Snowden Deputy District Attorney

The Oregonian published articles on this case on the following dates:

January 31, 2004: "Judge lowers bail for driver in deaths"
November 3, 2004: "Trial begins in pedestrian deaths"
November 10, 2004: "Defendant denies being intoxicated"
November 10, 2004: "Defendant in two deaths puts blame on traffic incident"
November 11, 2004: "Woman's behavior in crash questioned"
November 18, 2004: "Woman guilty in pedestrians' deaths"
November 20, 2004: "Motorist gets six years for killing mother and child"

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