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Court imposes life sentences for ‘Hazel Dell Rapist’

By , Columbian Breaking News Reporter
Published:
4 Photos
David Jay Sterling, 74, is wheeled into the courtroom for sentencing in a decades-old serial rape case after spending years in federal prison at Clark County Superior Court on Thursday morning, Aug. 8, 2019. The court imposed five suspended life sentences in the case.
David Jay Sterling, 74, is wheeled into the courtroom for sentencing in a decades-old serial rape case after spending years in federal prison at Clark County Superior Court on Thursday morning, Aug. 8, 2019. The court imposed five suspended life sentences in the case. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

A convicted Hazel Dell rapist who terrorized the Clark County community in the summer of 1982 was re-sentenced Thursday and ordered to serve out five life sentences.

Clark County Superior Court Judge Suzan Clark imposed the suspended life sentences for David Jay Sterling. The 74-year-old sat slouched, restrained in a wheelchair and did not speak during the brief hearing.

The sentences were originally handed down in October 1982 after Sterling pleaded guilty to four counts of first-degree rape and one count of first-degree assault stemming from a series of rapes and assaults in Hazel Dell, court records show. His victims included two boys, six girls and a woman. All but one were walking along roads at night, returning home from neighborhood stores, according to Columbian archives.

But after Sterling was convicted, he was sent to a sexual psychopath treatment program at Western State Hospital, and his prison time was suspended, according to Senior Deputy Prosecutor James Smith.

Sterling escaped from the hospital in 1985. A few months after his escape, he made the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List and was arrested a year later when a Louisiana state trooper stopped him for a traffic violation.

He eventually admitted to robbing six banks, with an accomplice, in at least three different states while on the lam and using stolen airplanes to escape from some of the heists, Columbian archives state. According to a February 1986 story by the Associated Press, Sterling was a licensed pilot and former Marine.

For the last three decades, he had been in federal custody for the robberies.

The purpose of Thursday’s hearing was to revoke the alternative punishment in the rape case and impose the five life sentences, which will be served consecutively, Smith said.

‘Process in place’

While Sterling was a fugitive, a warrant was issued for his arrest, and the county prosecutor filed a motion to impose Sterling’s suspended life sentences if he was ever caught, Smith previously told The Columbian.

The Clark County arrest warrant was entered into a national database when it was filed and followed Sterling as he served his federal sentence. When that time was completed, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons contacted the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, which in turn, notified the prosecutor’s office, Smith said.

Smith filed an order May 6 in Superior Court requesting that Sterling be brought back to Clark County from the federal prison in Butner, N.C., upon completion of his sentence there. He was released from federal custody in May.

“We have a process in place to make sure defendants don’t slip through the cracks,” he said.

No attorneys who were around when Sterling was convicted still work at the prosecutor’s office, so today’s prosecutors had to research and gain an understanding of the case.

“We were adamant about bringing him back to serve the life sentences. In a case like this, where a serial rapist essentially terrorized people, we didn’t want there to be any chance that wouldn’t happen,” Smith said.

The prosecutor told the judge his office attempted to contact Sterling’s victims but were unsuccessful due to the passage of time.

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