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Philip Scott Cannon

Other Oregon Exonerations
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On November 23, 1998, Jason Kinser and his girlfriend, Suzan Osborne, both 26, and 24-year-old Celesta Graves were found fatally shot at the mobile home where they lived in Polk County, Oregon.

Bimla Boyd, whose home overlooked the mobile home and on whose property it was located, called police. Boyd said that the trailer—which Kinser, Osborne, and Graves rented—was ablaze.

Boyd told police that she noticed smoke coming from the trailer and stopped to investigate because the tenants were forbidden from using the wood stove. When she opened the door to the trailer, Kinser was on the kitchen floor, gasping for air. The fire was caused when burning logs spilled from the wood stove. When police arrived, they found Kinser dead in the kitchen. Osborne and Graves were found dead under the trailer. Each had been shot once in the head.

Boyd told police that earlier that day, she was driving up the lane to her home—the lane that was also used to reach the trailer—when she had to stop because a tree branch in the road was blocking her path. A vehicle pulled up behind her. Its occupants, Jeremy Olsen and Larry Weaver, removed the branch and told her they were on their way to the trailer to deliver water. Boyd said that as she passed the trailer, she noticed a maroon van parked there.

Police questioned Weaver and Olsen, who said that when they arrived at the trailer they encountered 32-year-old Philip Scott Cannon, who they said was acting strangely. They said that Cannon, the owner of the maroon van, told them not to go into the trailer because Kinser was upset. Both Weaver and Olsen said they left without entering.

Police questioned Cannon, who said that Kinser, a friend of his, called him to get an estimate on a plumbing problem in the trailer. Cannon said that he was packing up his tools when he encountered Olsen and Weaver, and that he left. He said he warned Olsen and Weaver not to go inside because Kinser was arguing heatedly with a Hispanic man. Cannon denied that he had anything to do with the murders.

Police believed that Cannon was a methamphetamine user and that Kinser manufactured and distributed methamphetamine. A jail inmate and known drug trafficker, Steven Brobston, told police that he had entrusted Cannon with a lockbox containing $16,000. That money was to be used to support Brobston’s girlfriend—the now-dead Celesta Graves. Police searched Cannon’s residence and found the lockbox, which was empty. They also seized numerous weapons—including silencers—and ammunition.

Cannon was arrested that day. On December 3, 1998, a grand jury indicted Cannon on three counts of aggravated murder and illegal possession of a firearm.

He went to trial in Polk County Circuit Court in January 2000. Olsen, Weaver, and Boyd recounted how they saw or encountered Cannon or his van near the trailer on the day of the murders.

Michael Conrady, an expert from Oregon State University’s Radiation Center, testified that he conducted a metallurgic analysis of the bullets recovered from the bodies as well as bullets seized from Cannon’s home. The process, comparative bullet lead analysis, involved determining the precise composition of metals that made up the bullets. Based on his analysis, Conrady testified that the bullets from the bodies and those from Cannon’s home were indistinguishable. Therefore, he said, the bullets that killed the victims came from the same box of ammunition found in Cannon’s home. None of the weapons found in Cannon's home were linked to the murders.

On February 28, 2000, a jury found Cannon guilty of murder, and he was sentenced to three life sentences without parole.

In August 2009, a Polk County Circuit Court judge vacated Cannon’s conviction after the bullet analysis technique used to compare the bullets was discredited as worthless junk science. Evidence later surfaced that police sent the bullets to Conrady because the Oregon State police crime laboratory declined to conduct comparative bullet lead analysis, which it did not consider scientifically reliable.

In December 2009, the Oregon Department of Justice reported that Polk County had destroyed the original trial exhibits. Polk County prosecutors, however, contended that the evidence and exhibits had been sent to the Department of Justice, which handled the case when Cannon appealed his conviction. The case had been assigned to Assistant Attorney General Susan Gerber, who asserted she never got the records or evidence.

The prosecution said that without the evidence, there could be no retrial. On December 18, 2009, Cannon was released and the charges were dismissed.

Two months after Cannon was released, in February 2010, Gerber was suspended after she was charged with assaulting her wife. In March 2010, Gerber pled guilty to attempted fourth-degree assault and resigned from the Attorney General’s office.

In the fall of 2011, a clerk opened a file cabinet sitting in a hallway 10 feet from Gerber’s office and discovered the original trial exhibits and evidence, which included bullets, shell casings, and crime scene photos.

An investigation commissioned to determine what had happened to the evidence revealed that after Cannon’s conviction was set aside, an investigator assigned to find the evidence failed to look in the file cabinet. Gerber subsequently denied ever seeing the evidence.

In 2012, Polk County District Attorney Stan Butterfield said that in light of the discovery of the evidence, he would assess whether to charge Cannon again. More than five years later, no charges had ever been filed.

Meanwhile, Cannon filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking damages. The lawsuit was dismissed in 2014.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date:  Before June 2012
State:Oregon
County:Polk
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:1998
Convicted:2000
Exonerated:2009
Sentence:Life without parole
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:32
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No