'Oregon 5' loophole: Rapist, killer could be out of prison 16 years early

'Oregon 5' loophole: Rapist, killer could be out of prison 16 years early

PORTLAND, Ore. – What happened 24 years ago is clear.

Fifteen-year-old Conrad Engweiler raped 16-year-old Erin Reynolds and left her body on a pile of leaves outside his house.

What’s happening now isn’t.

Due to some loopholes in Oregon law, Engweiler could be out of prison by this summer - 16 years earlier than Reynolds’ family was promised.

“It's like she died all over again,” said her father, Earl Reynolds. “That's how we process it, ’cause we have to go through her death every time.”

Engweiler is one of the so-called Oregon 5, five men convicted of aggravated murder as teenagers in the 1990s, before Measure 11 established mandatory minimum sentences for major crimes.

Engweiler was sentenced to life with parole. Measure 11 had, however, set the minimum for juveniles given the possibility of parole at 30 years – 10 years less than what the parole board had told the Reynolds.

“When we got the ‘OK, 40 years…' we (were able to) take a deep breath,” said Erin Reynolds’ stepmother, Pam. “But you only took a deep breath for a little while before something else was brought up."

And it’s been brought up a lot.

Engweiler appealed his case repeatedly in an attempt to get earlier parole, taking it all the way to the Oregon Supreme Court.

Reynolds’ family has been at every hearing.

"Sometimes it's every 9 months,” said Erin's sister, Beth. “It's been a constant since 2000. Pretty much continuously something going on all the time.

There's no way to process, ever, any of it. Because each time it just comes about and we just start reliving everything over and over again.”

Until recently, the hearings were going in the family’s favor.

That changed in 2011, when the Oregon Supreme Court ruled the parole board was too tough on Engweiler, and said he – and the rest of the Oregon 5 – should get an earlier shot at parole.

In 2012, he had a hearing before the parole board and apologized.

“I was a messed-up kid,” he said at the time. “That's not justification for what I did. It was a twisted, evil crime."

The board ruled Engweiler could get out of prison 12 years early, in 2018.    

Engweiler fought on. He went back to the Supreme Court fighting to shave off his sentence for good behavior – and again the Supreme Court agreed.  He’ll go before the parole board again, and they’ll review his case in light of new good-behavior guidelines.

The family believes Engweiler still has the problems that led to Erin Reynolds’ killing.

“Basically he hasn't changed,” Earl Reyonlds said. “He's become an older version of who he was."

Whether the parole board agrees will go a long way toward determining whether Engweiler gets his early release. One of the top criteria is whether the board believes he’s still a danger to the community.

The Reynolds will be there, again, in what might be their last chance to keep their daughter’s killer behind bars.

"We were promised our pound of flesh and it's been lightened and lightened and lightened,” Earl Reynolds said. “And that's all we have in return for our daughter's life. And like I said, we want every ounce of it."