Christine Family Tragedy - an update

by Edgar J. Steele

November 15, 2002

Tonight (Friday, November 15), Dateline NBC will air its segment on the Christine family's travails (9-10 pm ET and Pacific Time, check your TV Schedule for local time).

As most on this list know, Brian and Ruth Christine are now serving prison terms in connection with the alleged kidnapping of their own children back from the State of Oregon.  Ruth got 7 1/2 years following trial this past April; Brian got 12 1/2.  And, under Oregon's "get tough on crime" law, those are solid terms.  I was their trial attorney.

(See When Dreams Become Nightmares , Day 1: State vs. Christine - A Family Divided , Day 4: State vs. Christine - A Family Divided , Guilty of Caring and Mommy, Why Can't You Be With Us? from my archives at  to come up to speed on The State of Oregon vs. Brian and Ruth Christine.)

Dateline is billing this as being a joint production with Court TV, which broadcast excerpts from the trial over several days this past July.  Given the incredibly biased editing and commentary imparted by most Court TV anchors, I expect this to be something less than kind to everybody except the State.  Even so, I encourage you to tune in and view excerpts from the only jailhouse interview we allowed Brian and Ruth to give prior to the trial.  I was interviewed recently for the segment, as well, as was the Deputy DA that tried the case.

There are a couple of things that I know he has been saying which need correcting.  First, he has been saying that we never offered to stipulate to evidence or testimony so as to forestall his forcing little Bethany to take the stand and testify against her own parents.  That is a blatant falsehood.

Even as late as the last moment, as Deputy District Attorney Wesenberg called for Bethany to take the stand, I leaned over and urged him not to do it, saying that we would stipulate to anything Bethany might say, so as to prevent her the anguish that awaits her in the future.  He would have none of it.  That says more about the mentality of what it takes to be a prosecutor than anything else I can think to say.  

Before Court TV aired their butchered version of the trial, I specifically asked that they include the footage of my leaning over and whispering with Wesenberg.   Predictably, they declined to do so or to say much of anything about that or Bethany's testimony, which I considered to be the single most dramatic portion of the trial.

Bethany placed the gun in Brian's hand, unnecessary since two other witnesses had already done so.  But, she also placed Ruth at the scene, for which there was literally no other evidence.  Without Bethany, Ruth might have walked.  Or Ruth's admission, of course, which we offered to save Bethany the lifelong trauma that now awaits her.

Secondly, Matthew Gerawan, the third defendant recently pled out to six months and 2 years probation for, essentially, the same charges for which Brian and Ruth are now doing excessively hard time.  Wesenberg has been quoted by at least one newspaper (the Idaho Statesmen, out of Boise) as saying that Brian & Ruth's much longer sentences were due to the fact that they "both made the choice to go to trial."  This, too, is an abject falsehood.

Even on the day of trial, Wesenberg was adamant that he would offer neither of them a plea bargain involving less than 7-1/2 years hard time! That is why they went to trial. Ruth did as well as that with her verdict and, if the appeal goes as we think, both will have beaten his offer when all is said and done.

You see, Oregon case law specifically says that if you use another's vehicle in the commission of a crime for which you are prosecuted, you cannot also be convicted of robbery of that vehicle.  Brian and Ruth each got 7 1/2 years for "robbing" the state of the vehicle which Brian drove a couple of miles to get the kids to his car, leaving the state vehicle at that place, keys in the ignition and undamaged.  

We beat the kidnapping charges, but they were both convicted of misdemeanor counts of custodial interference and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, in addition to felony robbery.  We expected the misdemeanor convictions and were endeavoring only to beat the felony charges.

We expect to overturn the felony robbery convictions on appeal.

Finally, I expect much to be made of the fact that Brian and Ruth later pled out to the original, separate charges of child abuse.  Brian and Ruth agreed to "plead out" to a single charge each of criminal mistreatment.  This doesn't mean they "did it."  On the contrary.  They agreed to this for three reasons:

    1. To prevent any of their children being brought back to take the stand and testify against them as the Douglas County prosecutor had little Bethany do in the kidnapping trial we went through in May.  When she gets older, the psychological trauma of realizing that it was her testimony that sent her parents to prison will be substantial.  Even in the face of a system that has repeatedly brutalized them, the Christines have once again demonstrated what we have known all along:  they are good parents.

    2.  Because, by preagreement, all the time the judge assessed will be "served" concurrent with the time they received in Douglas County.  This means that the time sentenced is irrelevant.  That they each have another felony on their record is also of little consequence, in face of what has already been done to them.

    3.  After their experience with the Douglas County jury, the Christines rightfully did not trust either judge or jury to treat them properly this time, either.  Can't say I blame them.

Another interesting postscript to this case is the fact that we have yet to be given copies of the judgments entered against Brian and Ruth, though I have been demanding them from the Court Clerk and DDA Wesenberg for months now.  You see, under Oregon law you can't file a Notice of Appeal without attaching a copy of the judgment.  Neat, huh?  

Three times now, the Oregon Supreme Court has rejected my request for putting this appeal in line for hearing because I was unable to provide a copy of the judgments.  Much longer and I will move directly to the Federal appellate courts, but I have to give the Oregon authorities enough rope first.

Yet another example of what has become a mantra for me:  the politically-incorrect cannot get justice in America today.

Tonight.  Dateline NBC.  9 pm.  Brian and Ruth were just like any of us a couple of years ago.  Next year, it very easily could be you featured in this time slot.

Think about it.

New America.  An idea whose time has come.


"I didn't say it would be easy.  I just said it would be the truth."
            - Morpheus

Copyright © Edgar J. Steele, 2002

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