Nasons to serve 60 days and The Sentence
By Jim Hollon
The celebrated case of the state versus Diane and Dennis Nason of Sisters concluded last week with the sentencing of the couple on charges of racketeering and forgery.
Except for each serving 60 days in county jail and performing community service, the Nasons will be free under five years probation.
The sentencing hearing began on February 12 in a courtroom that was a strange blend of calm, tension and even joviality. There was an atmosphere of "business as usual," the kind that evolves from a very long trial. Most of the people in the room knew each other.
Diane and Dennis Nason barely acknowledged each other's presence while they mingled separately with friends, family members and attorneys before the proceeding began.
This trial began on September 26, 1994, with the process of selecting a jury. It ended on November 22, 1995.
The couple was found guilty of racketeering and forgery. They were acquitted of two of the manslaughter charges and of charges alleging abuse and neglect.
The jury became deadlocked on the third manslaughter charge, having the effect of an acquittal.
During the sentencing hearing prosecutor Kathleen Payne-Pruitt, in her strong, aggressive way, focused heavily, despite the acquittals, on accusations of abuse seeking to persuade Circuit Court Judge Michael Sullivan to select heavy prison terms for both defendants.
She recommended prison terms on the racketeering charge of five years with a mandatory three years behind bars. Lesser terms for the forgery charges would be served concurrently.
Diane's attorney David Glenn followed Payne-Pruitt and delivered a passionate closing statement in which he asked Judge Sullivan to "Sentence on the basis of what Diane and Dennis were convicted of." He argued that "this is not a case of neglect." "Do not call on inaccuracies and speculation."
He objected to Payne-Pruitt's methods, saying, "The prosecution has at times become persecution."
Glenn said that the crimes for which Dennis and Diane were convicted were "victimless crimes." He said the forged documents were used in a desperate attempt to find homes for the children when the Nason's could no longer care for them. He said the children have benefited and that no one has been harmed. He said the children who have been adopted out still greet the Nasons with hugs.
In Valerie Wright's closing remarks on behalf of Dennis, she said, "Unlike many people who come through this court, these aren't people you are going to see again. What is it they really did to bring them here. The children's disabilities had nothing to do with the commission of these crimes.
"The family just got too large. There is nothing you can do when you have over extended yourself," she said.
The Nasons both spoke without a prepared statement or notes.
Dennis said he had learned that "we had too many children. There was a time bomb ticking away in our home. There were too many children of the same age."
He called the past year of trial a "living hell."
Both of the Nasons thanked their attorney, the jury and Judge Sullivan.
They said they understood the jury's findings and they were prepared to face the consequences of their crimes.
Judge Sullivan began by saying it had been an "extraordinary case" with heavy impacts on the people involved and on the court system and its staff.
"It seems unlikely the Nasons did this just for money. I believe they truly wanted to help, but that the family outgrew their resources and ability to keep up. Their resources went away and the family was broken....
"This has been a hard fought battle. Sometimes it has been brought up that the state, the district attorney and Children's Services have persecuted. I don't think so. Ms. Payne-Pruitt acted in good faith. I don't see some kind of evil intent by the state or individuals," he said.
He continued, "I can hardly believe that the Nasons haven't done good for the children. It is a case of a family that got too big. Impaired children were caring for impaired children. They deserved better."
After describing the sentences and conditions of probation, Judge Sullivan turned to the Nasons and said, "And I don't expect to see either of you back here."
After the judge left the courtroom, the audience of friends, relatives, the press and members of the jury, did not immediately rise. It was over, finally, but for a moment there was a lingering sense of anticipation as though maybe there was more.
Gradually, people stood. Dennis hugged his attorney, Valerie Wright. A tearful son put his arms around Dennis and Diane talked with some of the children that were no longer part of her family. Members of the jury drifted out of the courtroom quietly.
Diane and Dennis Nason received suspended sentences last week in Deschutes County Circuit Court for forgery and racketeering and ordered by Judge Michael Sullivan to serve 60 day jail terms and perform community service work.
Specifically the sentences for the Nasons were:
Racketeering -- five years suspended sentence, 60 days in county jail (which began immediately);
Forgery -- 18 months suspended, 30 days in county jail to be served concurrently with the above jail term;
Undergo psychiatric examination;
Do not adopt or seek adoption, or become guardian and any more children.
In addition, Dennis Nason is to serve 360 hours on a county work crew. Diane was ordered to perform 120 hours community service to be determined by her probation officer. Her 60-day jail term is to begin the day Dennis completes his term.