Family of murdered public defender renews fight to solve crime

Family of murdered public defender renews fight to solve crime »Play Video
Marian Bergeson, the mother of slain federal public defender Nancy Bergeson, dedicates a trail in Forest Park to her daughter and to announce a $6,000 reward in the case.

PORTLAND, Ore. - She defended criminals at the federal level until her murder a year and a half ago. In an exclusive sit-down interview with Nancy Bergeson's family Friday, Anna Canzano learned new information about the case.

Bergeson's mother and sister told Canzano she was found in her Southwest Portland home in November 2009 face down in her dining room, with her golden retriever, Bodie, lying over her body. There was no sign of struggle, no indication of a crime scene, break-in or burglary. At first, it wasn’t obvious Bergeson had been murdered.
"She was the type of person who lit up a room. She loved life, she loved people. She was electrifying," said Bergeson's sister, Julie McCormick.

At 57, the petite woman was active and healthy. She rowed on a dragon boat team, ran five miles in the mornings and ate well. It's why her sudden death was so confusing for her family.
Her mother, Marian Bergeson, a former state senator and assemblywoman in California recalled, "When they called initially and said this had been natural causes, we thought how could this be? Then it was the next day they called and said it was a homicide."

An autopsy determined Bergeson had been strangled in her southwest Portland home where she lived alone. 

Portland Police Bureau investigators immediately began looking into the criminals she had defended and others she crossed paths with - or had perhaps crossed. Part of Bergeson's job was picking apart cases prepared by federal prosecutors and police.

"She's so strong she would have resisted unless it was somebody she felt comfortable around, and you know, that means it had to be somebody she knew," Bergeson said.

Bergeson says detectives have gone so far as to travel to Newport Beach, Calif. and talk with her former classmates. She attended her high school reunion there three months before her murder.

Bergeson's mother and sister came to Portland this week to dedicate a trail in Forest Park to her and to announce a $6,000 reward in the case.         

"Eventually this will be solved. Someone will say something, people will talk, and sometimes when there's a fund, it's a bit of bait involved that will motivate them," said McCormick.
The $6,000 reward fund is a combination of $1,000 from Crime Stoppers and more than $5,000 donated or pledged by people Nancy knew. Her sister, Julie, says those who don't want to donate cash now can pledge amounts to be given later, if someone comes forward with information leading to an arrest. Pledge forms can be acquired by contacting her at

The Crime Stoppers reward fund stood at as much as $10,000 until six months ago when, due to IRS regulations, the Portland Police Bureau said it had to reduce the amount back to $1,000.

In the spirit of Nancy Bergeson, her family says they want to know not only who was responsible for this crime, but why.

"Who, why, how ... all those things are just so elusive and have been now for over a year and a half," said Bergeson, seeking justice for the woman who fought so diligently for it on behalf of others.

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