The Justin Thorp Case


This story is based on an April 20, 2000 article and an April 21, 2000 editorial in The Oregonian and a letter from Union County Chief Deputy District Attorney Janie Burcart.

April 20 - The Oregonian reports that the Oregon Court of Appeals has upheld the 75 month Measure 11 sentence for Justin Thorp who was convicted of Rape in the Second Degree in 1998 for actions committed in 1996. Thorp, then 16, had sex with his apparently willing 13-year-old girlfriend on at least two occasions. Because she was under 14 and he was slightly more than three years older, this constitutes Rape in the Second Degree, a Measure 11 crime.

April 21 - The Oregonian writes in an editorial that "perhaps no other case illustrates more vividly the awful inequities and inflexibility of Oregon's voter-approved Measure 11."  The editorial concludes "The Legislature could and should have headed all of this off by fixing the most glaring of Measure 11's problems, and returning some discretion to judges."

In fact, Crime Victims United and other proponents of Measure 11 have proposed just such legislature on several occasions. The April 20 article quotes Multnomah County District Attorney Norm Frink as saying that "prosecutors supported a proposal in the 1995 Legislature to give judges some discretion in second-degree rape cases, but opponents of Measure 11 blocked it because improving the law would make it more difficult to persuade voters to overturn it."

Measure 11 opponents have in fact carried out their planned attempt to repeal it. Measure 94 appears on the November 2000 ballot, and would do just that. In the voter's pamphlet, James Thorp, the father of Justin Thorp, writes:

"My 16 year-old-son will spend the next 6 years in jail [for] having consensual sex with his girlfriend . . . No one believes criminals should get off lightly. But no one believes that young, first-time offenders should serve the same sentences as career criminals."

What Mr. Thorp does not tell you is that his son was well on his way to becoming a career criminal, as explained in this letter from Union County Chief Deputy District Attorney Janie M. Burcart, which she sent to The Oregonian, but which they never printed:


Editor, The Oregonian
1320 SW Broadway
Portland, OR 97201

Dear Sir:

I have read with disappointment your recent news article and editorials on the Thorp case in which the Court of Appeals ordered the trial judge to impose the mandatory sentence for two convictions of rape in the second degree. All omit critical facts about the case and seem directed at making Thorp the poster boy for those opposed to Ballot Measure 11. I prosecuted the case, and was interviewed by your news reporter. However, the article contained nothing I had told him and quoted only lawyers from Multnomah County unfamiliar with the case.

First, the case came to law enforcement attention because the mother of the thirteen year old girl went to Clackamas County Sheriff's Gang Enforcement Office at Town Center to report that her daughter was in a sexual relationship with a gang member. The deputy to whom she reported recognized the name of the offender as a youth who was deeply involved in forming "Hispanic-style" gangs. Thorp had given law enforcement - and the public - a great deal of trouble. The Court of Appeals lead opinion states: "defendant described himself as a 'gangster', his juvenile record is deplorable. . . ." At the time of the report, law enforcement was investigating Thorp for a firearms charge. Thorp is not Romeo, the boy next door, that Ballot Measure 11 opponents make him out to be.

Next, this case was a long time coming to trial because we tried to plea bargain the case. Thorp was offered the opportunity to take responsibility for his actions and receive an adult sentence outside Measure 11. However, he chose again to duck responsibility, and force the case to trial. After Thorp was initially arrested, the court held a hearing to determine to whom he should be released. Neither parent was capable of handling this youth, and the grandparents, now shown on television saying what a wonderful boy he is, were nowhere to be found when Judge Morgan tried to find a suitable resource for him. When Thorp was released, to a parent, he was specifically told by the judge to have absolutely no contact with the thirteen-year-old. He flagrantly disobeyed that court order, resuming his relationship with the girl, with her mother's full consent. The girl's mother had changed her mind about Thorp, decided it was a good relationship for her daughter and moved Thorp into her bedroom. The girl's father objected vehemently, wanted Thorp thrown out of the house and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Her brother, Thorp's contemporary, agreed. Instead, both father and brother were forced out of their home. When the judge found out that Thorp was continuing his contact with the girl, he revoked Thorp's release, temporarily. Thorp and his supporters claim that he thought the girl was 14, not 13, when they first had sex. The state disputes this, but nevertheless, he certainly knew the girl's age thereafter, yet continued his relationship with her.

When Thorp was released the next time, he pulled a kitchen knife on a younger wanna-be gang-member and stole his brand-new Nikes. Although the grand jury indicted Thorp for Robbery in the Second Degree, another Ballot Measure 11 crime, while the Rape case was still pending, I agreed to let him plead to Robbery in the Third Degree, and he was sentenced as a juvenile and sent to McLaren. I did so because I felt that it was important to get Thorp as soon as possible down to the best juvenile rehabilitation center in the state. If Thorp was ever to be rehabilitated, it was the McLaren staff who would achieve this. It is noteworthy that, according to one television station, he is no longer at McLaren but has been sent to an adult facility. This ONLY happens to juveniles who cannot conform their conduct to the law or the rules of the juvenile facility, and McLaren staff does all they can to keep those youth who need and can benefit from their services. Apparently Thorp is not one of them.

There are many more facts in this case that make Thorp a very unsuitable poster-boy for the anti-Measure 11 folks. He is in fact the very type of delinquent that voters were aiming at when they passed Measure 11. He has a history of delinquency and violence, taking whatever he wants - including the new shoes of a young boy and the virginity of a young girl. When he was moved from the juvenile detention facility to the adult jail, officers found pages of Nazi-style writing - virulent hate poems and exhortations to violence against those Thorp considered beneath him - females and non-whites, even using the disgusting 'N' word. The drawings depicted Barbie-like mostly naked female forms, and figures with AK-47s and ammo belts slung over one shoulder. When the professionals from McLaren testified at the sentencing they told Judge Morgan that they would need more than the 35 months he imposed to deal with Thorp's problems - gang-affiliation, theft, violence, racism and sexism. Before you picture Thorp as the innocent lover, put yourself in the shoes of the father of the thirteen year old girl, in the Nikes of the young man he robbed at knife-point, in the uniforms of the deputies he abused or in the place of any of the many people he victimized. I believe that you would find that Judge De Muniz at the Court of Appeals - and the supporters of Ballot Measure 11 - were right.

Janie M. Burcart
La Grande, Oregon

When you know all the facts, you can see that releasing Justin Thorp early would be no favor to law-abiding citizens. It would be no favor to Justin Thorp. There is no telling what his next criminal adventure would be.

Despite this deplorable record, Crime Victims United remained ready to support legislation, analogous to Senate Bill 1049, that would give judges some discretion in age-related sex cases.

In 2002, with the support of Crime Victims United, the Oregon Legislature passed HB 2379, which allows a judge to exempt a juvenile offender from Measure 11 sentencing for Sex Abuse I, Rape II and all other second-degree sex offenses under certain conditions.

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