Yashanee Vaughn's family upset defense held back info about body

Yashanee Vaughn's family upset defense held back info about body
Parrish Bennette Jr., 17, accused in the March 2011 killing of 14-year-old Yashanee Vaughn, appears at his sentencing hearing Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013 in Portland, Ore. Bennette has been sentenced in a plea bargain to 18 years in prison on a manslaughter count, seven years less than the original murder charge would have carried. (AP Photo/The Oregonian, Bruce Ely, Pool)

PORTLAND, Ore. – Upset at the revelation that defense lawyers did not disclose the location of the murdered girl’s body, the family of Yashanee Vaughn says they are considering legal or legislative action.

During his guilty plea on Thursday, Parish Bennette’s lawyers said they knew where Vaughn’s body was, but did not disclose that information until months later. Bennette pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

"That decision was made in accordance with our sworn duty to zealously defend and represent Mr. Bennette," attorney Thomas MacNair told the court. "We want the family to understand that was not Mr. Bennette's decision and we ask the family to accept our sympathy and regret."

"We can't believe the defense lawyers would just sit back and do and say nothing. They have obviously never dealt with a missing or murdered child. The family is regrouping and considering their options,” said Michelle Bart, a Vaughn family spokeswoman.

Bart said the family will gather at a family wedding this weekend and next week to consider legal action.

Many people have expressed sympathy for the Vaughn family, but in many ways the defense lawyers had their hands tied.

The way the system is set up prosecutors and defense lawyers have to do pretty much what they can to advocate for their positions.

A defense lawyer cannot disclose something his or her client said without the client’s permission.

“It’s a very difficult situation,” said Jim McIntyre, a long-time top prosecutor turned defense lawyer. “If the only way they knew something was through communication with their client and the client didn’t want that information disclosed, they had no choice.

“It’s carved in stone. They are duty bound to say nothing.”

McIntyre points out that the only time that an exception could be made is when the client says I am going to kill or harm someone.

“You never want to sound callous but when you look at situations like this you have to remember that sometimes what people think is right and what is justice are not the same thing,” said McIntyre. “And in a murder case, so much of it is going to be about physical evidence and there is no bigger piece of physical evidence than the body.

“There’s the humanitarian perspective that you want the remains returned to the family and there’s the legal constraints on what you can and cannot say.”

McIntyre says that the defense lawyer has to do what it’s in the best interest of their client. The lawyer has to decide whether it’s worth their while to disclose information whether it was the involvement of a third party, the location of a weapon. Or the location of a body.

“It’s very easy to look at these things from an emotional point of view. The problem is that it’s much more complicated.”