Family plans to fight the early release of girl's killer

Family plans to fight the early release of girl's killer
The last photograph taken of Erin Reynolds at 16 years old.

PORTLAND, Ore. - For Earl Reynolds, each photograph of his daughter, Erin, connects to a memory. Some are sweet but others are more painful.

"I don't like that picture because that young lady dies," Earl said, referring to the last photograph taken of his daughter. "All of the pictures before, she always gets older, she always gets better but (the girl in this photograph) is the one he killed."

At 16 years old Erin was murdered in the early 1990s by Conrad Engweiler, a classmate from Sunset High School.

Engweiler had raped and strangled Erin. Now, he may get out of prison 18 years earlier than expected because of a legal glitch.

He's not the only killer to maybe go free. He and four others are known as the "Oregon Five." They were all under 17 when they killed. But in the early 90s, the state didn't know how to handle them, and it doled out punishments for them that were harsher than for adults.

Now the state's correcting that, but the victims' families are left with the pain over the possibility of killers getting out early.

"He had to look into her eyes for two minutes to do this," Earl said about the crimes Engweiler committed against his daughter. "He was the last one who saw a light in her eyes. He should never get out."

The Reynolds thought Engweiler wouldn't get out until at least 2030. But next week is his first hearing that will set in motion when he could get parole.

"We were told he was going to jail for up to 40 years, and we thought we were going to have some rest and kinda get our lives back together," said Erin's brother, Robert. "But every 18 months or so – almost every three years – he finds another loophole that he thinks he can get out on."

Engweiler was 15 years old when he killed. A judge gave him life in prison with the possibility of parole but with no mandatory minimum. So the parole board decided he and other juvenile murderers would serve 40 years before they’d be considered for parole – that’s 20 years longer than most adults. But the Oregon Supreme Court recently ruled that was too strict.

"All Mr. Engweiler has asked for for the last 20 years is that the law be correctly applied to his case," said Andy Simrin, Engweiler's attorney. "He's never asked for anything more."

Simrin admits that had Engweiler committed this crime in 1995, when the laws changed, he wouldn't have the chance to get out this early. But he says that can't be considered a technicality.

"I generally explain the term 'technicality' as a law that somebody else doesn't like," he said.

Based on the adult standards of the time, Simrin said the board will likely determine Engweiler should have served only 14 to 19 years. He's been in prison for 22.

"Anything less than the 30 or 40 years that we've already been promised is the state going back on us," said Earl. "They're telling us our daughter's life is not worth his life. And it's not worth as much of his life as they said it was when they started."

And even though, on paper, it seems there's nothing to stop this, the Reynolds plan to fight every last step.

"It would be easy for us to say let him go and then we won't have to do this all the time, but I really feel he's not a safe person out in the community," said Erin's stepmother, Pam. "If they let him go, they haven't heard the last of Conrad Engweiler.

Erin had just beaten cancer right before her murder.

The Reynolds came forward because they think the community should know five murderers could be released earlier than expected.

Correction: The original version of this story stated that Engweiler did not have the possibility of parole when in fact he does. We regret the error.