Bennett-Epperson-update

Lincoln County Circuit Court Judge Sheryl Bachart presides over a hearing June 3to schedule a trial for Gavin Epperson and Donovan Carey-Bennett, who are charged with the February 2021 killing of Logsden resident Richard Mann. (Screenshot of video hearing)

As two defendants accused in the February 2021 shooting death of a Siletz man got a trial date more than one year out, pending motions by the defense reveal details of the investigation previously unknown to the public.

Gavin Epperson, 28, and Donovan Carey-Bennett, 24, both of Siletz, were arrested March 2, 2021, following a 10-day investigation into the death of Richard Mann, of Logsden, whose body was found in the cemetery on Siletz tribal land just off Government Hill Road early in the morning on Feb. 20, 2021. The medical examiner later determined Mann died of multiple gunshot wounds sustained the night before he was found.

A grand jury indicted both Epperson and Carey-Bennett on March 16, 2021, on charges of second-degree murder, first-degree assault, third-degree assault, tampering with a witness and first-degree theft. Epperson was indicted on additional charges of reckless driving and two counts of reckless endangerment. They pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Both have been held in Lincoln County Jail since their arrest, and they appeared by video from the correctional facility at a June 3 hearing to set a trial date. Epperson is represented by attorneys Jane Claus and Patrick Sweeney, and Elizabeth Baker and Russell Barnett III represent Carey-Bennett. Barnett did not attend the remote hearing and sent another lawyer in his stead.

Prosecuting the case are Deputy District Attorney Amber Kolsrud and Chief Deputy District Attorney Lynn Howard.

After lengthy discussion and consultation of calendars — more than one attorney has multiple murder trials that conflict with potential trial dates — Lincoln County Circuit Judge Sheryl Bachart scheduled jury selection to begin Sept. 6, 2023, with trial to last through the first week of October.

That date could change for one defendant, as Carey-Bennett’s attorney filed a motion to sever his prosecution from Epperson’s. The motion is set for oral arguments Oct. 5 of this year and, if granted, would require scheduling a second month-long proceeding.

Also pending are multiple motions by both defendants’ attorneys regarding potential testimony and evidence. Both defendants made a standard request to prohibit prosecutors and their witnesses from using the terms “crime scene” and “victim,” which the state did not oppose. And a motion to suppress various evidence filed by Epperson’s attorneys reveals previously unknown details of the case, particularly the period between when Mann was killed and arrests were made.

According to the motions, which cite a report provided by the state through discovery that “the defense does not adopt … as complete nor accurate,” the multi-jurisdictional Lincoln County Major Crimes Team identified Epperson’s white Volkswagon Golf as involved in the shooting during the initial investigation.

On Feb. 22, 2021, two Lincoln City police officers spotted the vehicle, and while they were looking at it, Epperson reportedly appeared and walked toward them. He was detained, searched and interrogated, and he made “several statements.”

The next day, law enforcement served a search warrant on Epperson’s residence on Tolowa Court in Siletz. His vehicle was seized, and he was patted down for weapons, handcuffed and placed in the front seat of an unmarked patrol car, though he was not told he was under arrest, the motion reads.

After being transported to the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, Epperson was “reminded” of his Fifth Amendment rights and interrogated, again making “several statements.” He was photographed and fingerprinted, and following questioning was instructed to assist police with the retrieval of evidence, producing two firearms, the motion reads.

The motion says Epperson made statements on three separate occasions during the next two days — after officers responded to a “suspicious person” call on Feb. 24 and encountered Epperson, when Epperson met with investigators to take a polygraph on Feb. 25 and during a traffic stop later that day.

In a public Facebook post Feb. 25, Epperson claimed responsibility for the killing, saying he shot Mann in self-defense following a road rage incident and was cooperating with investigators. He told News-Times staff at his residence the next day, “I did it,” but said he could not discuss the matter, as law enforcement instructed him that his public statements were interfering with the investigation.

Epperson was interrogated by another detective on March 1, and the next day assisted law enforcement with a “re-enactment” of events the night of Mann’s death, according to the motion. Following that re-enactment, he was formally arrested, advised of his rights and signed a “Miranda card,” and along with Carey-Bennett, lodged in the jail on charges including murder.

The motion seeks to suppress statements made during those interactions, as well as prohibit introduction of the two firearms as evidence, because Epperson was not properly advised of his rights, the attorneys argued.

“Under both state and federal constitutions, law enforcement can only conduct a custodial interrogation through counsel if a valid waiver is established,” the motion reads. “In the present case, law enforcement questioned defendant under circumstances recognized as custodial without the benefit of counsel or a valid waiver of his constitutional rights to counsel and to remain silent.”

Although Bachart has yet to rule on the motion to suppress the guns as evidence, she granted a prosecution motion seeking to potentially bring firearms into the courtroom. The first-degree theft charges against both defendants stem from their alleged theft of Mann’s gun, according to the indictments.

Another motion filed by Epperson's attorneys seeks to suppress evidence resulting from several searches — of Epperson’s person, vehicle, residence and phone, as well as a March 10 search of his jail cell — on the grounds that the search warrant applications were “vague, obscure, overbroad, subjective and failed to state with sufficient particularity what law enforcement should be searching and seizing.”

Some of those filings fill gaps in the publicly available timeline that can be pieced together from Epperson’s lengthy social media confessional and charging documents, but major details are still unclear, such as how the incident began and when Mann was actually shot. The former was reportedly returning from work in Toledo.

Multiple 911 callers reported hearing gunshots the night of Feb. 19, 2021, according to affidavits in support of the defendants’ arrest, and nearby residents recounted what sounded like vehicles racing around the same time. The affidavit says Epperson told a detective Feb. 23 he shot Mann several times after a road rage incident. Mann was alone in his vehicle, while Epperson carried three passengers, including Carey-Bennett.

According to the affidavit, a 16-year-old passenger, identified only by his initials, told the detective that during the road-rage incident, Carey-Bennett said, “Let’s **** this guy up … Lead him to the cemetery. He wants to keep that **** on let’s beat him up.”

After both vehicles stopped off of Government Hill Road, the juvenile said Carey-Bennett ran up to Mann’s car, and he saw him “punching Mann while on top of him and then grabbing his head while hitting his face against the ground,” the affidavit reads.

The detective’s affidavit says Epperson told her that once home after the incident, Carey-Bennett was unsure if Mann was dead and that they should “finish the job,” and they returned to the scene and found Mann was deceased.

Epperson’s Facebook post differs somewhat from that narrative. He wrote that he engaged in a “street race” with Mann, and when he tried to take his underage passenger to his vehicle, Mann pursued him through Siletz streets, and Epperson eventually pulled over by the cemetery to confront him.

Mann pulled a firearm and aimed it at one of his passengers, Epperson claimed, so he drew his own gun and fired, and he wrote that one of his passengers was “allegedly” hit with a round from Mann’s gun. A Lincoln County Sherriff’s Office spokesperson told the News-Times in March 2021 that no passenger was shot during the incident.

In killing Mann, Epperson wrote, “I acted in self-defense, but I also acted to protect my underage passengers. I acted alone …”

According to the indictments, Carey-Bennett and Epperson are both charged with tampering with a witness for allegedly inducing or attempting to induce another passenger, Anthony Simmons, to “offer false testimony or withhold testimony unlawfully.” Simmons testified before the grand jury and would likely take the stand at trial.

A hearing on pending pre-trial motions is scheduled for July 1, while additional motions can be filed until March 1, 2023. A trial readiness hearing is scheduled for Aug. 7, 2023.

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