RAINIER, Ore. — It has been two years since Rainier Police Chief Ralph Painter was fatally shot responding to a call in West Rainier, and yet there's no trial date in sight for his accused killer.
"It's very frustrating," Painter's widow, Amy Painter, said last week. She figured by now there would at least be a trial scheduled, but the courts still are deciding whether Daniel Armaugh Butts is mentally competent to stand trial. The next hearing is set for February, but the matter has been postponed twice in the past three months.
"(Each new delay) is just a letdown," Painter said. "Every time they give us a date, you prepare yourself for it. And then usually they call just a couple of days beforehand and say it's been delayed."
Jeremy Howell, Painter's stepson and the eldest of Painter's six children, is a St. Helens, Ore., police officer. As a cop, Howell understands delays are common in court cases. As a son, though, it still gets to him. He figures it will be another year or so before there's a trial.
"And other family members, it's driving them crazy because they want it to be over," he said. "They don't want to go through it anymore. They want to send him to prison, and that's it. And I'd love that, too."
Painter, 55, died Jan. 5, 2011, while responding to a disturbance call at a stereo shop. Butts, now 23, of Kalama was taken into custody after a shootout with responding officers.
Butts has been in state custody ever since, but it took more than a year to get him to enter a not guilty plea because he became disruptive during a hearing and his lawyers questioned whether he's mentally fit to assist them. Following a mental competency hearing in late 2011, Circuit Court Judge Ted Grove ruled Butts was sane and merely faking mental illness to avoid trial.
But in April, Grove ordered Butts back to the state mental hospital in Salem for another evaluation after he stabbed himself in the head with a pencil and refused all medical treatment. He also refused to take anti-psychotic drugs prescribed by a doctor hired by his lawyers. The hearing for the second competency review is set for February.
The second mental competency review "was kind of out of left field," Howell said.
Professionally, he thinks Butts will be declared competent again. But personally, he worries.
"It sits in the back of my mind, that yeah, someone may come out and say he has some kind of mental disorder and that's what it all stemmed from," Howell said. "It bothers me."
Howell and Painter also worry about the delays in the trial. But Columbia County District Attorney Stephen Atchison has told them it's better to delay now and ensure all the rules are followed than have a conviction overturned on appeal and have to retry Butts several years later.
"'It's frustrating, but I try to look at it as it will all go through and get done," Howell said. "It will just take a while."
"I'm still hopeful we see a trial," Painter said. "I plan to seeing this through whatever that means and whichever way that goes. ... I just keep thinking that there's some reason we're going through all this. I don't know what it is, but hopefully it's for the good."
Even without court delays, the family still struggles with the loss. The holidays and anniversary are tough, but any day can throw them for a loop.
"We all have good days and bad days," Howell said. "And it's been two years, but it also still seems like it happened yesterday."
"About the time I think time is helping, it just hits again like a wave," Painter said.
They've been buoyed by the supportive community, though, and said they can't begin to thank everyone for their cards and thoughts.
"It's good that everyone keeps remembering him," Painter said. "Just remembering Ralph and what he stood for and keeping his legacy alive."