The Karla Eklof Story
by Erma Armstrong

James Salmu was reported missing after a pizza party at his Springfield, Oregon residence on March 21, 1993. He had taken in an indigent woman, Karlyn Eklof, and her three children, sharing expenses, since she had become homeless several months before. The party was to celebrate her new relationship with Jeffrey “Jethro” Tiner, whom she had met on a trip to her hometown, San Diego, a few weeks before. Salmu was invited, as were 20 or 30 other friends., One of these was Al Hope, who had sold Tiner a small handgun a few days before. The pizzas were made by John Distabile, who stayed around to help clean up. When Distabile and Tiner tried to bribe Salmu to leave his own house for the night, hostilities flared. At Eklof’s request, Distabile took her children to his house for the night.

On Monday Salmu did not show up at his work. A friend reported him as missing. In response to police questioning, Eklof said that he had gone to a local tavern.

Eklof goes to San Diego.
Since Tiner was obliged to return to San Diego or face a parole violation, Eklof hoped to wait it out until he was gone before reporting what had happened. However, the police came with Salmu’s landlord and Eklof was evicted. She felt she had no choice but to go with Tiner to San Diego-- she and her kids were homeless, and he had her car. Tiner stopped in Fresno and regaled his brother Dave about the shooting of Salmu and other details of the crime. He also bragged about his “tough” new girlfriend, who had assisted by using a plastic knife to stab Salmu 30 to 50 times. After arriving in San Diego, Eklof slipped away regularly to phone the police back in Springfield. She informed them of her whereabouts, and asked for help after being severely beaten and then robbed by Tiner of $714 received from her grandparents.

By the time Springfield detectives Steve Walker and Rick Lewis arrived two weeks later, she had been released from the hospital, bruised, battered, and with a shattered leg. The detectives did nothing to help, even though she had pleaded with Springfield Police Captain Jerry D. Smith in a phone call, “Just get me into a safe place, and I’ll tell you what happened.” Eklof was afraid for her children. She was also ashamed because she had introduced Tiner as the “man of her dreams” after their meeting a couple of months before.

Escape to Salt Lake City.
Finally, leaving her older son in her mother’s care, she escaped from Tiner by making her way back to Eugene with her two youngest children, ages five and three. She went to Distabile, thinking he would also want Tiner arrested. Instead he put her and her children on a bus to Denver, saying that he and Patrick Walsh, who had accompanied her on her trip to San Diego and introduced her to Tiner, “didn’t want any attention drawn to this case.”

Having no other friends or resources she went as far as Salt Lake City, but could go no further because of pain in her back and neck. She took refuge in the care of Catholic charities, and still in contact with Springfield police, sought assurance that her children would not be lost if she came forward with the truth.

Detectives Walker and Lewis visited Eklof in Salt Lake City in January 1994. They promised protection, even a trip to Hawaii, if she would come to Eugene to testify against Tiner. Tiner was already in prison in California for other crimes. They also requested a written statement of what happened to Salmu.

On April 27, 1994 Eklof and her two children were met by the detectives at the Portland, Oregon airport. Eklof handed her notebooks to Walker and Lewis upon arrival. Later, they “disappeared.”
Eklof was taken to Springfield, and under the direction of Captain Smith, she was interrogated steadily for nine days, 8-10 hours each day. She was provided with food, babysitting, and a closely watched motel room. During the good times she was assured she was not a suspect and needed no attorney. During the bad times, Smith,tried dreams and hypnosis to get a confession which matched the story told to Tiner’s brother. One time, Smith alarmed her with his body activity. He shouted that she was not to “embarrass this department” and he had her “apologize” to Lewis and Walker, who were somewhat baffled.

Eklof eventually confessed, on video, to stabbing James Salmu using a plastic knife.

Eklof indicted for Salmu’s murder.

After Eklof was indicted for aggravated murder based on the “confession,” Lane County District Attorney Fred Hugi laughed at her, “You’re the small fish.” Hugi knew he could not touch the “big” fish, Tiner, until he had finished serving a prison term in California. Tiner had crashed a stolen , paralyzing his then girlfriend for life, and fled the crash scene on foot. Tiner’s imprisonment was just another episode in a history of violent conduct. During a stretch in California’s Folsom Prison he bragged of killing an alleged child molester with a screwdriver.

Twenty months after Salmu’s disappearance, and after Eklof’s indictment, mushroom pickers found his body near the McKenzie River, east of Springfield. Enclosed in a sleeping bag with three severed fingers, Tiner though Salmu was a child molester and this was his method of revenge.

Eklof’s trial
Eklof’s trial was in September 1995. Her co-defense counsel Jeffery T. Murdock referred positively to Eklof’s character in his opening statement. Murdock thereby enabled the prosecution to bring in “bad act” evidence to counter his claims. Witnesses were found to describe incidents of her feisty temper. These included “bouncing” a customer from a bar as a cashier, threatening acquaintances who had taken her food stamps and her car, and accidentally elbowing a girl’s eye in Fresno.The incidents were intended to influence the jury to believe that Eklof was evil enough to stab the friend who had offered her and her children shelter.

Although it opened the door for the prosecution to paint Eklof negatively to the jury, Murdock’s positive reference to Eklof’s character was considered “harmless error” in later appeals. He would later be disbarred by the Oregon State Bar for embezzlement, and alcohol and drug abuse.

After Salmu’s body was discovered, Eklof was relieved. Though she had confessed to his stabbing, the autopsy revealed no evidence of stab wounds. Salmu had been shot three times. But upon taking the stand, the medical examiner did not rule out stabbing as the cause-of-death.

During his closing arguments, Hugi called Eklof a “biker bitch.” Defense counsel John Kolego vehemently objected but Judge ____ Merten ruled “It’s in the evidence.”

Merten told Kolego not to keep “popping up” about testimony concerning her alleged “confession.” (Although preserved as an appealable issue, the alleged“confession” wasn’t raised by Eklof’s lawyers in subsequent appeals.)

The prosecution’s final two witnesses, Al Hope and John Distabile were their “stars.”

Al Hope testified that Eklof arranged to procure a gun from him before her trip to San Diego, where she met Tiner. Although the gun used to murder Salmu was never recovered, the prosecution asserted it was the one used to shoot Salmu.

John Distabile testified that Eklof described stabbing Salmu after the shooting to relieve his misery. The jury bought the prosecution’s case and convicted Eklof of aggravated murder, aggravated felony murder, and abuse of a corpse. She was sentenced on December 12,1995 to two life sentences plus 202 months.

Tiner was tried and convicted of Salmu’s capital murder in 2000. Sentenced to death, as of the spring of 2007 he is on Oregon’s death row. On the surface it appeared the murder of James Salmu was solved. Case Closed!

Eklof Finds Friends
Two women befriended Eklof and took an intense interest in her case. Nancy Gottfried was a student in a criminal justice class taught by Jerry Smith, Springfield police captain at Lane Community College in Eugene. Gottfried became suspicious of Smith and suspected hypocrisy while studying Eklof's case. Gottfried followed the trial, and obtained Eklof’s journals and records. Erma Armstrong became familiar with the case through a friend teaching a writing class at the woman’s prison. When
 Gottfried left the area, Armstrong took up Eklof’s case.

She also turned over to Armstrong two full boxes of information about Eklof’s case.Prosecution’s frame-up of Eklof exposed by concealed evidenceDuring Tiner’s prosecution for Salmu’s murder, Armstrong read a Motion to Dismiss n his defense file outlining the extent of the treachery that had gone into Eklof’s coerced alleged “confession.”

Armstrong furnished this to Beverly Long Penz, Eklof’s post-conviction relief(PCR) counsel. Penz utterly ignored Armstrong. Armstrong then paid Steve Gorham, a Salem lawyer, $1,000 to look into Eklof’s chances for post-conviction relief. She also called Tiner’s attorneys to inquire about Tiner’s Motion to Dismiss. Armstrong was soon contacted by Tiner’s attorneys, who wanted to get in touch with Eklof’s PC attorney. Instead Armstrong put them in touch with Gorham. After talking with them, Gorham was suddenly excited-about Eklof’s chances. After contact withPenz, he asked Armstrong to send copies of the videotapes of Eklof’s interrogation to Penz.

PCR was denied. Eklof's cause was once again betrayed by incompetent legal counsel. Penz was suspended in 2000 for egregious misconduct and reprimanded in 2002 for ethical violations. She resigned from the Oregon State Bar on January 25, 2005, and is “Resigned” from practicing law in the state of Oregon. On May 1, 2007 Justice:Denied verified the Oregon State Bar’s disciplinary history of Beverly Long Penz #843202,]

Armstrong picked up from his office the boxes of documents she had provided him with.Later she discovered a packet of legal papers in one of the boxes .

In the packet of legal papers that Armstrong discovered was a 42-page “Notes for Counsel.” It described the Brady violations by Lane County DA Hugi that enabled him orchestrate the framing of Eklof for Salmu’s murder. Among the evidence concealed from Eklof’s trial lawyers was Salmu’s cause of death was bullet wounds, and there was no evidence he had been stabbed.

These were the documents that Tiner’s lawyers had forwarded to Gorham, hoping he would get them to Penz.

The forensic test of crime scene evidence was “inconclusive” that Salmu had been stabbed, contrary to the testimony at her trial. Al Hope and John Distabile exchanged their prosecution favorable testimony for extraordinary favors from DA Hugi.Accompanying the “Notes for Counsel”was the supporting documentation for the concealed exculpatory and impeachment evidence. Of particular interest were the details of the prosecution’s procurement ofHope and Distabile’s testimony.

The information indicates Al Hope had been arrested for child pornography involving his daughter. Eklof’s prosecutors were involved in a deal that he would provide the testimony they wanted from him – that she obtained a gun from him before Salmu’s murder – in exchange for his indictment being “postponed” (for almost two years). DA Hugi also secreted Hope’s arrest warrant to another county, to conceal from Eklof’s lawyers and the jurors that Hope was accused of involving his daughter in kiddie porn. Knowledge of that would have so completely destroyed Hope’s credibility as a witness,that it is debatable if the prosecution would have dared have him testify.

Neither was it disclosed to Eklof that Hope was identified as a suspect in Salmu’s murder in a letter to Oregon State Police Detective Dan Wolverton from a criminologist the OSP Crime Laboratory.2 Then a month after Eklof’s sentencing, in a teletype that referenced Hope’s arrest warrant related to his daughter’s sex abuse, Wolverton wrote: “Hope … was recently involved in a homicide in Springfield, for which he was not charged,but acted as a participant.” 3 In another reportWolverton commented in regards to Hope’s sex charges involving his daughter, “The warrant was not entered into computer files.”4Hope was eventually given a sweetheart plea deal by Hugi that protected him from a conviction of sexually abusing his daughter. In regards to Distabile, who was also considered suspect in Salmu’s murder, there was a letter from his attorney requesting what amounted to immunity from prosecution for his possible criminal activity with Tiner.

Consequently,when Armstrong contacted Lane County for their records about Distabile, she was told they had a mug shot of him, but there was no record of his arrest. DA Hugi testified in 2000 during a pre-trial hearing in Tiner’s case that
he made an immunity deal with Distabile for his testimony against Eklof. That deal wasn’t disclosed to Eklof’s trial lawyers.Eklof’s PC appeals attorney, John Manning,sat for a year and a half on the “Notes forCounsel” that Armstrong sent him by certified mail along with a notarized authorization from Eklof for Armstrong to act in her behalf. Finally, Manning called Armstrong to learn where she had obtained the document. She directed him to Gorham, who told him that he knew nothing about it. Manning considered the new information in the “Notes for Counsel”so important that he attempted to remandEklof’s PC petition to incorporate the newly discovered evidence.

His effort was denied,but in his appeal of her PC he cited some of the new evidence. Oregon Attorney GeneralHardy Myers opposed consideration of the claims based on the “new” evidence, assertingEklof was procedurally barred from seeking relief based on those claims because they weren’t incorporated into her PC.

Eklof files federal habeas After state appeals deniedAfter her state appeals were exhausted, in2004 Eklof filed a habeas petition inPortland’s federal court. Her claims were considered meritorious enough that she was appointed representation by Federal Public Defender Anthony Bornstein.

Bornstein filed a second amended habeas petition on July 28, 2006 that stated five claims for relief. Among them, Eklof’s right to due process was violated by the prosecution’s failure to comply with its Brady obligation to disclose the multiple levels of evidence that impeached the credibility of Hope and Distabile’s testimony; her trial lawyer’s failure to object to DA Hugi’s improprieties during his closing argument denied her effective assistance of counsel; and she was denied due process by being convicted of “offenses for which she is “actually innocent.”” The petition also challenges her “consecutive life sentences for the same homicide in a case involving a single victim.” 5

Bornstein explained in his Memorandums ofLaw that Eklof’s had not procedurally defaulted on her key claims concerning the non-disclosed Brady evidence related toHope and Distabile. He argued she could not have raised the claims in her state appeals because she didn’t learn about the evidence concealed by the prosecution until after theOregon Supreme Court affirmed her direct appeal and her PC had been denied.

Consequently,applying the procedural default doctrine to Eklof’s new evidence would reward the prosecution for concealing the impeachment and exculpatory evidence from her. Bornstein also contended that since the prosecution’s multiple Brady violations were deliberate, they “may be regarded as an admission that performance would injure the government’s case; an admission, so to speak, of prejudice which might, particularly in close cases, tip the scales.” 6 Thus DA Hugi’s deliberate concealment of evidence was exposed.

The State’s response to Eklof’s habeas petition is due in the late spring of 2007.Members of the prosecution team that framedEklof cost the city of Springfield $2 million in 1998 for concealing exculpatory evidence in the case of Christopher Boots and EricProctor. The men were released in 1994 after serving eight years in prison for allegedly murdering a convenience store clerk. An old Chinese saying is, “The laws sometimes sleep, but never die.” One hopes that truth and justice, will awaken and prevail for Karlyn Eklof.