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September 16, 2004

Inmate to testify in murder trial will be 'John Doe'

From: Oregonian, OR - Sept 16, 2004

The man is expected to testify against Christopher Neil Ladner, who a prosecutor says has harmed another witness

Thursday, September 16, 2004

VANCOUVER -- In an unusual move, the name of a prison inmate testifying today in a murder trial will be withheld to help ensure he is not labeled a snitch and harmed or killed when he returns to prison.

Clark County Superior Court Judge Diane M. Woolard on Wednesday granted Deputy Prosecutor Michael C. Kinnie's request to have the inmate use the name "John Doe" and prevent news photographs being taken of him.

The man is expected to testify against Christopher Neil Ladner, who is on trial for the second time, charged with first-degree murder in the death of Alexander W. Smith, 19, more than four years ago.

Ladner, who is deaf, followed the proceeding through two American Sign Language interpreters.

Outside the courtroom, Kinnie said "John Doe" had refused to testify during Ladner's first trial earlier this year because of concerns for his safety. However, after that trial ended in a hung jury on the first-degree murder charge, the man approached prosecutors and agreed to testify in Ladner's second trial in exchange for what Kinnie said were "extraordinary" measures to protect him.

Prosecutors and officials of the Department of Corrections are taking exceptional measures to hide the man's identity and to cover for him when he is testifying in Clark County, he told the court

"We have spent literally weeks putting this in place," Kinnie said.

A senior prosecutor for the county, Kinnie said he has never sought to withhold a witness's name.

The man's sentence runs at least another seven years, Kinnie said.

Putting the man's name into newspaper accounts of the trial would jeopardize his reputation in prison, where inmates would label him "a rat," Kinnie told the court.

Ladner earlier "put out contracts" on the lives of two other witnesses, one of whom was stabbed when he went back to prison, Kinnie said. In the other case, he appealed to "John Doe" to arrange the death of his former lover, Kimber Douglas, who had gone to police with information about Smith's death, Kinnie said.

"The defendant has intentionally tried to manipulate this case by threatening, frightening or killing the witnesses," Kinnie argued.

Douglas is serving an 81/2-year prison sentence for her role in Smith's murder. She testified Wednesday against Ladner, saying he stabbed Smith in the neck and shot him in the head after Ladner made her ask Smith for money Ladner bethought Smith had stolen from Douglas.

Exposing the witness's name to other inmates housed at Twin Rivers Correctional Unit at Monroe, where prisoners have access to the newspaper, eliminates his ability to spin stories about his whereabouts and protect himself, Kinnie said.

He could withdraw as a witness if he felt threatened, Kinnie said.

Michele L. Earl-Hubbard, a media attorney, argued that the man's name should be released to the public. After all, she said, "the one person who may want to do him harm," already knows the witness's name, Earl-Hubbard told the court.

The state should release the inmate's name and perhaps move him to another prison facility after his testimony, she said.

The court will review the issue after the trial.

© 2004 The Oregonian. All rights reserved.