Not Innocent: The Trial (Part 5) – The Conclusion

And here’s the conclusion of the trial, though not (entirely) the conclusion of the story.

The Statesman morning newspaper, Salem, Tuesday, July 12, 1955
Chemist Declares Murder Rifle Not In River 80 Days

A Portland chemist testified Monday that in his opinion the rifle which the state claims killed Ervin Kaser couldn’t have been in the Pudding River for some 80 days as attorneys opened their fight in defense of Casper Oveross, on trial here for the murder. A rusty rifle of the same type as the 30-30 Winchester carbine pulled from the river last May 8 was admitted as evidence for the defense after the chemist, E. Nealley Wood, testified that he had conducted tests on it to see how fast it would corrode.  Defense questioning of Wood and of Sheriff Denver Young who followed him to the witness chair set off some of the hottest debates of the trial thus far.  Judge Duncan at one point threatened to clear the courtroom of spectators after they had vocally sounded opinions against the merits of prosecution objections and the judge’s rulings on them.  Wood, qualified as a chemical and metallurgical expert, was a surprise witness Monday afternoon when the defense began its presentation.

Dr. Homer H. Harris

Capital Journal photograph — Dr. Homer H. Harris of the state crime laboratory, on the stand as he testified briefly. He said Ralph Prouty, ballistic expert of the crime laboratory would not be able to make further testimony in the case. Prouty was injured when he apparently went to sleep while driving from Portland to Salem last week.

The state rested its case Monday morning after Dr. Homer Harris, director of the state crime laboratory, appeared to report that Ralph Prouty, state ballistics expert, was still in no condition to testify as the result of a Friday motor mishap.  Harris said he doubted Prouty would be able to testify before trial’s end, ruling out the possibility of the state having entered as evidence the results of tests conducted last Thursday in the chambers of Circuit Judge George R. Duncan.  End of the state’s direct presentation came at 9:39 a.m. Monday after 12 days of testimony from 54 witnesses.  At that time Defense attorneys Bruce Williams and Otto R. Skopil Jr. made a motion for a directed verdict of acquittal and for dismissal of the first degree murder indictment against the 43-year-old Silverton carpenter stating the prosecution had failed to prove the allegations of its opening statement.  The motion was denied by Judge Duncan who granted the defense until 1:30 p.m. to begin its own presentation.

Members of the Oveross family were first to take the stand as the defense sought to emphasize that Oveross had apparently left this area about the middle of April and had gone to Alaska by way of Tacoma. This line of testimony, Williams asserted, was intended to link with the testimony of Wood to show that it could not have been Oveross who tossed the murder gun into the Pudding River near Pratum.  During the first day, the defense aimed all its questioning at this contention and it raised numerous objections from Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond and District Attorney Kenneth O. Brown.  The defense will continue its case at 9:15 a.m. today.


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Defense Witnesses Tell of 2 Men ‘Shadowing’ Ervin Kaser in Car

Reference to an old car occupied by two men who had reportedly “shadowed” Ervin Kaser before his murder was brought out again Monday in testimony of witnesses for the defense of Casper Oveross. Oveross, whose ex-wife Ethel Oveross has admitted going with Kaser for some three years, is on trial in Marion County Circuit Court here for the slaying.

Mrs. Oveross was one of those testifying to the presence of the old car as defense counsel Bruce Williams and Otto R. Skopil opened their defense presentation Monday afternoon. Kaser was considerably excited about being followed, Mrs. Oveross said. She told of seeing the old car in the cutoff road north of Silverton where she had parked her car to meet Kaser.  She said she had seen it again last January and last October. On the October occasion she said she was driving in her car, followed by Kaser when she had noticed the third car following. She said she pulled off the highway near the Evergreen School and watched Kaser drive into his driveway and to the rear of his house. The old car went on by and then returned, she said, and when Kaser drove back along the road looking fro her she could see that two men were in it.  Mrs. Oveross also told of seeing her former husband follow when she was out with kaser on one occasion.

Efforts of two school teachers at the Evergreen School, just a few hundred yards from the Ervin Kaser home where he was shot, to testify that they had seen an old car parked near the scene on the day before the slaying were beaten down by prosecution objections.  The teachers were Mrs. Emma Wolfard, Silverton, sister of the defendant, and Mrs. Gertrude E. Twohy, now of Clackamas.

Testifying to the date Oveross was last seen in the Silverton area last April were his niece, Mrs. Jean Moon, her husband Robert Moon, Ruth M. Schubert, another sister of Oveross, Ed W. Schubert, her busband, Karen J. Oveross, the defendant’s 14-year-old daughter, Colleen Oveross, 19, another daughter, Henry Anunson, Oveross’ brother-in-law, and Mrs. Wolfard.  All had indicated the defendant had left about April 17 to find work and they did not see him again until he was returned from Alaska in custody.

Karen and Ila May Moore, 17, daughter of Wayne Moore who lives next door to the Oveross home south of Silverton, testified they had been to Salem rollerskating on Feb. 17, the night Kaser was shot in the driveway of his home.  They both told of returning home about 10:40 p.m. past the Kaser home and said they couldn’t recall seeing any cars along the way.

Defense witnesses up to its metallurgical expert were called in rapid fire order by the two attorneys. Beginning with Mrs. Moon the average stay of witnesses was something slightly over three minutes as the prosecution limited cross examination.  The trail of witnesses slowed when Mrs. Wolfard took the stand, opening a bitter fight between the defense and prosecution over admissibility of evidence concerning the old car.  Testimony on this count was interrupted by Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond who cited cases stating defense attempts to prove someone else committed the crime invalid.  Defense Attorney Skopil countered with several other cases which he said showed testimony which might show someone else guilty should be admissible. Raymond’s objection was sustained and subsequent questions by Attorney Williams on the same point brought a request from District Attorney Kenneth O. Brown that he be admonished for the tactics.  That began a series of maneuvers which saw the jury in and out of the jury box with almost comic regularity or trips to the judge’s chambers by counsel for the defense and prosecution during the rest of the afternoon so the two sides could argue the merits of their positions.

Portland Chemist E. Nealley Wood examines rust on the barrel of a Winchester rifle which he testified Monday was the result of an 11-day test in water taken from the Pudding River.  Wood's testimony was part of the defnese effort to show that a rifle taken from the river May 8 could not be linked to Casper Oveross who they claim left the area April 17.

Portland Chemist E. Nealley Wood examines rust on the barrel of a Winchester rifle which he testified Monday was the result of an 11-day test in water taken from the Pudding River. Wood’s testimony was part of the defnese effort to show that a rifle taken from the river May 8 could not be linked to Casper Oveross who they claim left the area April 17.

A roof-top rust test on a model 94 Winchester 30-30 carbine provided the most interest of the day. Portland Chemist E. Nealley Wood testified he purchased such a gun, the same type the state says is the murder weapon and which it says Oveross owned, for the test.  Wood told of drawing five gallons of water from the Pudding river near the point where the murder gun was found and of placing the gun in some of the water and some soil July 1 for the test. He said the test was conducted on the roof of the Charlton Laboratories in Portland where he works.  The rusty rifle, which Woods testified was taken from the water at 1 p.m. Monday, was presented as evidence by the defense.  He said he had fired three or four rounds through the gun to try and duplicate the condition of the murder rifle. Prosecution offered no objections to admitting the test rifle as evidence, but immediately rose to protest defense questions concerning which rifle had been in the river longer. Raymond’s objection was sustained.

On cross examination Raymond asked these questions: How much are you being paid to testify? Wood answered that his standard fee was $50 a day.  What was the consistency of water of the river when you took the water for the test? Amber but not muddy.  Wood answered “no” to Raymond’s questions of whether he knew what weather and water conditions were in the river between Feb. 17 and May 8, whether he had positive knowledge of the gun’s position in water, whether the two guns were manufactured from the same steel, how much mud was on the murder gun when found and what the gun’s condition was when put in river.  His closing question of “You don’t know much about it then?” brought an objection from Williams and the question was stricken from the record.

Some of the spectators who had been making their defense sympathies known vocally throughout the afternoon questioning became abusive to the court during the examination of the final witness of the day Sheriff Denver Young. At that point Judge Duncan threatened to have the court cleared and later voiced his impatience by ordering the bailiff to keep the spectators in the courtroom and in their seats until all members of the jury had cleared the room.  After Sheriff Young had testified that he had not determined the exact date of Oveross’ arrival in Alaska, Attorney Williams requested the right to recall Young today. In the meantime, Williams said an effort would be made to subpoena records of the Canadian customs authorities and border officials at the Alask line who had checked Oveross through on his way to Fairbanks.

This picture of Casper Oveross talking with his attorneys Bruce Williams, left, and Otto Skopil, Jr., was taken just before the three went into Judge George Duncan's chambers to argue on the defnse motion of a directed verdict of acquital. The motion was denied by the judge and the trial of Oveross for first degree murder of Ervin Kaser continues with the defense beginning its case.

This picture of Casper Oveross talking with his attorneys Bruce Williams, left, and Otto Skopil, Jr., was taken just before the three went into Judge George Duncan’s chambers to argue on the defnse motion of a directed verdict of acquital. The motion was denied by the judge and the trial of Oveross for first degree murder of Ervin Kaser continues with the defense beginning its case.

Williams motion for a directed verdict of acquittal at the morning session was denied by Judge Duncan after both defense and prosecution had cited numerous cases for and against. Duncan stated that the rule in Oregon is that a motion for directed verdict is not proper at this time without the defense resting.  Then Williams went on to assert that the state had failed to prove the indictment and the allegations in the opening statement by Special Prosecutor Raymond.  He stated that four witnesses for the state placed Oveross at four different places at the same time.  Reports of threats were too remote to have bearing in this case, Williams said.  Allegations that Oveross was at his old home looking for his ex-wife the night of slaying, that he had laid in wait for Kaser once before, that the death car had laid in wait for Kaser and Oveross’ arrival at the Gilham home just after crime also were not substantiated, Williams claimed.

Attorney Skopil took up the argument to attack the inferences brought in by the state, asserting they were not consistent with each other. He said the state had failed to link the defendant with the car at the scene, failed to connect up the murder gun, and failed to place Oveross at the scene at the time of the slaying. After Judge Duncan denied the motion, Williams indicated it would take the defense only about one day to present its case. When the defense began its presentation Monday afternoon, Williams filed a motion to strike all testimony by Ralph Prouty from the record on the grounds he was not available for adequate cross examination.  Judge Duncan took the motion under advisement after hearing Attorney Raymond state that the defense had had opportunity to cross examine Prouty on every phase to which he had testified so far.  Raymond said the state had reserved the right to recall Prouty to testify solely to the results of the Thursday comparison tests with the murder gun.

The Statesman morning newspaper, Salem, Wednesday, July 13, 1955
Jurors Bed Down at County Courthouse

Twelve jury members and two alternates hearing the first degree murder charge against Casper Oveross were bedded down in Marion County Courthouse for the first time Tuesday night. The jury is housed on the mezzanine floor which contains dormitory space for men and women. Efforts to get facilities ready were not without pitfalls. The women’s dormitory will hold only nine bedgs; one alternate, a woman, will therefore sleep just inside the entrance to the dormitory.  This move meant Oliver Rickman, building superintendent, had to change a lock on the entrance door so that the door would not open form the outside. Only one bailiff, Mrs. Ervin Ward, will stay with the jury at night.  She will sleep in the hallway which separates the two dormitories.

The usual tomb-like quiet of the mezzanine floor was replaced Tuesday afternoon by hurried and harried activity as building employes made up beds, provided soap, face and bath towels for jurors, and installed a telephone on the mezzanine floor.  Families of the jury were also busy bringing suitcases of clothing and other necessary items to them.

The jury was taken to dinner at the Marion Hotel “so they could get a little more fresh air and exercise,” according to Mrs. Rose Howard, head bailiff.  The evening was to be spent either in dormitory rooms or in the court room.  Both dormitories are on the west side of the building and were “warm” from afternoon sun. The jury quarters are equipped with rest rooms, including shower stalls, but otherwise contain only beds and a small chest.  No reading material will be provided.

Oveross Case May Go to Jury Today; Testimony Completed

After 13 days of testimony both the prosecution and defense rested Tuesday in the first degree murder trial of Casper Oveross, and it appeared that the jury would begin deliberation late today on whether or not he shot and killed Ervin Kaser last Feb. 17. At 10:22 a.m. Tuesday, after recalling only one of 13 witnesses, Defense Attorney Bruce Williams announced with dramatic suddenness: “Your honor, the defense rests.”

Apparently caught by surprise by the short defense presentation, Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond and District Attorney Kenneth E. Brown asked for a recess until 1:30 p.m. before making their rebuttal.  At that time they called to the witness stand Joseph Schulein, an associate professor in chemical engineering from Oregon State College who testified there was no way to determine how long a gun had been exposed to the water short of exhaustive tests. The testimony was aimed at refuting that of defense witness E. Nealley Wood, a Portland industrial chemist, who told Monday of taking water from the Pudding River to make an 11-day corrosion test on a Winchester 30-30 carbine. Wood had stated in his opinion a gun which the state claims belonged to Oveross and killed Kaser could not have remained in the Pudding River from the time of the crime until it was found May 8.  Schulein was the final witness of 68 called to testify in the 16-day-old trial.

After that testimony the state rested and Defense Attorneys Williams and Otto R. Skopil Jr. motioned again for a directed verdict of not guilty.  The motion was denied by Circuit Judge George R. Duncan who announced that final arguments would be heard beginning at 9:30 a.m. today.  Defense arguments will be presented first, and following prosecution arguments, Judge Duncan will give his general and special instructions to the jury.  It seemed likely that the jury, which was kept in the courthouse overnight would begin its deliberation sometime this afternoon.  Included in its instructions from Judge Duncan will be the five possible verdicts it may return. The jury may find Oveross guilty of murder in the first degree as charged, guilty in first degree with recommendation for life imprisonment, guilty in second degree, guilty of manslaughter, or acquit him.

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Defense Rests Case in Trial Of Oveross in Surprise Move

In a move which apparently took the prosecution and spectators by complete surprise, counsel for Casper Oveross rested their defense Tuesday after only 2 hours and 29 minutes of testimony.  Fate of the 43-year-old Silverton carpenter, charged with shooting his one-time neighbor Ervin Kaser with a high-powered rifle last February, will probably pass to the Marion County Circuit Court jury late today.

Almost as much a surprise as the shortness of the direct presentation by the defense was the decision by Defense Attorneys Bruce Williams and Otto R. Skopil Jr. not to put the defendant on the witness stand in his own behalf. By law, however, this decision cannot be legally held as evidence against him.

Burden of the defense testimony, given by 13 witnesses of which 9 were members of Oveross’ family, was aimed at two positions maintained by the defense. One of these was that testimony by several persons indicated that Kaser had been followed and shadowed on several occasions by two men in an old model car variously described as a coupe and a sedan.  The second is that condition of the murder weapon at the time it was found in the Pudding River near Pratum May 8 was such that it could not have been placed there by the defendant before he left for Alaska about April 17.

Only defense testimony offered Tuesday centered on the reported presence of the old car near the Evergreen School the day before the crime.  Again efforts to have the testimony of Mrs. Emma Wolfard, sister of the defendant, convering the car admitted as evidence were beaten down by prosecution objections. Attorney Williams succeeded, however, in getting into the record just before the defnse rested the testimony of Mrs. Wolfard that Mrs. Edith Kaser had told of stopping at the crime scene before police arrived and of continuing on home. During cross examination, Mrs. Kaser, wife of Harvey Kaser who is a brother of the murdered man, denied making the statement or of having stopped. Williams asked Mrs. Wolfard if Mrs. Kaser hadn’t told her on Feb. 23 that she had seen the lights on the Kaser car, stopped her pickup at the scene, walked over to the car, seen Kaser slumped in the seat, returned to her truck and continued on home. Mrs. Wolfard answered with a firm “yes.” Williams then asked the judge if it was the ruling he could not pursue the testimony concerning the old car further.  When Judge Duncan reaffirmed his earlier ruling concerning the matter, Williams stated, “Your honor, the defense rests.”

At that point Williams asked that all final arguments be held to a single day. Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond arose to express surprise at the early completion of the defense presentation and to announce that the state had one rebuttal witness to call, but that he was not then available.  Then the jurors, who through the 22 days since the trial stared had been permitted to go home at nights, were advised by the judge that from now on they would be kept together until they had reached a verdict.  He reminded them not to read newspaper accounts of the trial or to discuss the case with anyone.  After the jury has heard the final arguments and the judge’s instructions today it will begin its deliberation.  If not needed at that time the two alternate jurors, Mrs. Pearl Gwynn of Salem Route 6 and Walter Oldenberg, Clear Lake farmer, will be excused. Only the 12 original jurors will deliberate.

The regular jury consists of nine women and three men. They are Mrs. Louise Franzen and Perry Baker, both of Turner, Mrs. Myrtle Rogers, Mrs. Delores Throneberry, Mrs. Doris McMullen, Mrs. Bessie Edwards, Mrs. Helen Taylor and Mrs. Norma Lawless, all of Salem, Mrs. Evelyn Beard, Aurora, Mrs. Margaret Edgell, Woodburn, David H. Barnhardt, Gates, and Harry Oldenberg, Jefferson.

The state’s rebuttal testimony was also brief, taking about 20 minutes.  Prof. Joseph Schulein who said he had been in the chemical engineering profession since 1928 and had testified as an expert witness several times before was the only rebuttal witness.  Shown the 30-30 Winchester rifle which the state says is the murder gun, he said, “I’m sure I’ve nver seen it before.” Prof. Schulein said it was his opinion that the gun had been subjected to moisture, but that he wouldn’t have any idea how long.  He explained that to tell how long would require knowledge of the nature of the water, temperature, acidity, concentration of oxygen, volume, motion and other materials in contact. “Even then I would hesitate to make an opinion without making tests.”  Under cross examination by Attorney Skopil, Schulein stated he would probably need hundreds of like pieces in similar situations to make a specifical analysis of the length of time the gun had been exposed.

Spectators, jammed into the courtroom for the brief morning and afternoon sessions Tudesday, got another lecture on decorum from Judge Duncan, this one preventative.  Before the jury was brought in for the morning session, Judge Duncan reminded the spectators that the relations for most of the trial had been good despite the intense feeling in the case. But he stated that any repetition of Monday’s actions by a few spectators would lead to removal by the bailiff if it could be determined who the individuals were.  If this could not be determined he said the courtroom would be cleared of all spectators for the balance of the trial.  Tuesday’s audience, largest of the trial, was extremely quiet throughout the sessions.

A witness-by-witness and point-by-point attack on the evidence presented by the state is expected in the defense final arguments beginning this morning.  This was indicated in the arguments of the two defense attorneys for acquittal Monday and Tuesday. At that time Williams stated the state had presented “not an iota of evidence” to link this weapon to Oveross.  Williams moved again Tuesday to have the testimony of Ralph Prouty stricken from the records on the grounds the state’s ballistics expert was not available for adequate cross-examination by the defense. Judge Duncan denied this motion stating that Prouty had been cross examined on every phase of his testimony.

In Tuesday’s arguments for a directed verdict Williams asked “brevity of remarks not to be taken as retreating from our position” of the “absolute insufficiency of the state’s evidence.” Voluminous special instructions for the jury, requested by both sides in the case, were presented to the judge Tuesday afternoon.  They will be presented along with general instructions required by law.

The Statesman morning newspaper, Salem, Thursday, July 14, 1955
Oveross Jury Quits for Night After Deliberating 3 Hours
Final Pleas of Prosecution, Defense Heard

A jury of nine women and three men retired for the night late Wednesday after failing in the first few hours of deliberation to reach a verdict in the first degree murder case against Casper A. Oveross.  Circuit Judge George R. Duncan ordered the jurors to their dormitory rooms at 11:22 p.m. after they had deliberated a total of three hours and 16 minutes.  There was little indication of votes or progress by the jury.  When Judge Duncan sent the order for them to cease deliberation until 9:30 a.m. today Mrs. Bessie Edwards, who has apparently been chosen foreman, was overheard to say, “We’re not getting anywhere.”

Only members of the Oveross family, newsmen, counsel for the defense and a half dozen other spectators were still in the courtroom when the jury retired for the night.  The jury received the case at 5:56 p.m. after hearing final arguments of defense and prosecution throughout the hot, humid day.  Temperatures, like the voices of pleading counsel, had risen in the courtroom far beyond the 91 degrees registered as Salem’s official reading.

Despite the heat which prompted a number of improvised fans among spectators and members of the jury, defendant Oveross remained apparently calm and impassive during the final hours of the trial.  Oveross, 43-year-old Silverton carpenter and father of two daughters who were in the courtroom Wednesday, is charged with shooting Ervin Kaser to death in the driveway of Kaser’s home last Feb. 17.


Capital Journal–The Oveross jury is shown here listening to an argument by District Attorney Kenneth Brown, standing at right. Front row, left to right: Mrs. Bessie Edwards, Salem; Mrs. Norma Lawless Salem, Mrs. Evely Beard, Aurora; Harry Oldenberg, Jefferson, Mrs. Helen Taylor, Salem; Mrs. Margaret Edgell, Woodburn rural. Back row: David H. Barnhardt, Gates; Mrs. Doris McMullen, Salem; Mrs. Delores Thorneberry, Salem; Myrtle Rogers, Salem; Perry Baker Turner, Mrs. Louise Franzen, Turner. (Alternates seated out of box are Walter Oldenberg, Clear Lake, and Mrs. Pearl Gwynn, Route 2, Salem).

Recounting of the state’s case against Oveross was District Attorney Kenneth E. Brown who was first to speak for the prosecution.  The evidence shows, Brown said, that Ervin Kaser was “shot down, shot in the back, dry gulched, shot down like a dog without a chance to turn on his attacker.”  Then he recounted the testimony offered by state’s witnesses — the bullet which killed Kaser, testimony of the Kerllerhals, the Gilhams and the Barnes relating to threats by and location of the defendant.  Oveross’ activities of the murder night, traced in testimony of witnesses, was reconstructed by Brown. He said he was first at Shorty’s Tavern, then at his former home about 8 o’clock, then driving slowly past Kaser’s place, at Frank’s Grocery store, at LeGard’s service station, at his own cabin for a few moments at 8:30 p.m., back at Shorty’s which he left again after 10, then near the scene again about 10:30 p.m., about 10:45 to 10:50 to do the killing and about 11 p.m. at Gilham’s calling to Danny.

Brown hit the defense failure to explain where Oveross’ gun was. “Where is his gun?” he asked.  Then pointing to the state’s exhibit No. 21, “It’s obvious, that’s his gun.”  He emphasized the motive, that Kaser had been going out with his wife.  “Consider the implications of the statement about three slugs,” Brown told the jury. “Why three, not four?  Because his first shot missed.  Nobody but the man who killed Ervin Kaser would have said, ‘Ervin’s got three slugs in him.’  That man is this man,” Brown said, pointing his finger at Oveross across the counsel table.

Defense Attorney Otto R. Skopil Jr. opened final arguments for the defense.  Referring to “red herrings” which Brown had accused the defense of throwing into the case, Skopil said, “I’m not going to talk about 17 red herrings, I’m not even going to talk about pink elephants.  I’m going to talk about facts.”  Skopil charged that the prosecution had failed to prove its allegation that the defendant had “laid in wait,” had come “looking for his ex-wife.”  There was no evidence to show that Oveross was at the scene Skopil asserted.  “He would have to be there in order to shoot someone,” he said.  “How could he shoot the deceased Ervin Kaser when he was not there.”

Attorney Bruce Williams took up the defense argument from Skopil, making an impassioned plea for acquittal of Oveross. “This is no Sunday school picnic, a man’s life is at stake,” he stated.  He rapped hard at the presence of Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond in the case, and at the actions of police officers both at work and as witnesses.  Williams pointed to Oveross and said, “I think he still loves Ethel Oveross.  He’s been stripped of everything; all he has is the love of his two daughters.”  “I think he was a lonely little guy.  I know I’m a better man for having known Cap, and Karen.” As he closed his arguments he approached the bar between him and the spectator seats where Oveross’ family sat in the front row.  “We know, each and everyone of us, that Cap is not guilty,” he concluded.  A short burst of applause shocked the courtroom.  One man who had apparently begun the clapping was escorted from the courtroom by the bailiff at the direction of Circuit Judge George Duncan.  He was identified as a Mr. Sleighter.

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Trial Evidence Taken To Deliberation Room By Oveross’s Jurors

Jury deliberation

Statesman–Camera Catches Glimpse of Jury Deliberation. Casper A. Oveross, on trial for murder, spent Wednesday night in Marion County jail while three floors below these juurors debated the firsdt degree murder charge against him. Taken with the aid of a telephoto lens from the Grand Hotel building, this photo looks through windows in the jury room which are normally curtained. Extreme heat in the courthouse Wednesday night probably caused jurors to open them. The jury of nine women and three men retired late Wednesday night without reaching a verdict.

Some 44 separate items of evidence, including the 30-30 Winchester rifle which the state claims is the murder weapon, were taken into the jury room with the jury considering the case against Casper Oveross.  During the state’s case, which took 13 days to present, a total of 53 separate items of evidence were offered and 41 of them admitted as evidence.  Three exhibits of defense evidence were admitted.

Going into the jury room along with the material evidence were the detailed instructions of Circuit Judge George R. Duncan.  He told the jury they could return one of five verdicts.  They are first degree murder with no recommendation, first degree with a recommendation for life in prison, second degree, manslaughter or acquittal.  Judge Duncan instructed the jury that to return a first degree verdict the decision must be the decision of all the jurors.  For any of the other verdicts 10 of 12 jurors must concur in the decision.

All members of counsel participated in the closing arguments which took all the day Wednesday.  Defense Attorneys Bruce Williams and Otto R. Skopil Jr. teamed in a scathing attack on the state’s case.  Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond and District Attorney Kenneth E. Brown teamed in a broad review of the case and in criticism of the defense for failure to explain away evidence.  District Attorney Brown, who had generally taken a secondary role during the rest of the trial, took the major role in the final arguments.  However, Raymond carried the burden of final summing up for the prosecution and the final refuting of defense statements.

Defense arguments centered on the testimony of Ralph Prouty, the state’s ballistic expert, who appeared as a witness three times during the course of the trial.  Pointing to Oveross, Skopil stated, “If you send this man to the gas chamber it will be on the basis of Officer Prouty’s testimony.”


The Statesman morning newspaper, Salem, Friday, July 15, 1955
Jury Frees Oveross of Murder Charge
Jurors Consider Case 24 Hours Prior to Verdict

Cap Oveross, the man almost no one wanted to see convicted, went free Thursday night.  It was the second time the lean-faced Silverton carpenter had been cleared of a murder charge since Ervin Kaser was found shot to death in his car last Feb. 17, but this time it was by the conclusive, unanimous vote of a hot, tired and solemn-faced jury.

Jury Foreman Mrs. Bessie Edwards read the verdict at exactly 5:26 p.m., just 30 minutes short of 24 hours after the Marion County Circuit Court jury of nine women and three men began deliberation.  Oveross heard the verdict “Not Guilty” with little outward emotion, but tears moistened the eyes of many of the 44 spectators, most of them members of his family who were on hand for the jury decision.  Defense Attorney Bruce Williams hugged Oveross’s shoulder at the verdict, almost it seemed to keep him from sliding back into the chair he had occupied during the 18 days of the trial.


Statesman–Family Rushes to Congratulate ‘Cap’ on ‘Not Guilty’ Verdict. A relieved family, led by his two daughters, surrounded Casper Oveross Thursday evening when a jury returned a verdict of not guilty in his trial for the murder of Ervin Kaser, a one-time neighbor. Here left to right in the courtroom a few seconds after the jury decision was read are Oveross, his brother-in-law, Henry Anunson, daughters Colleen, and Karen, siter-in-law Mrs. Henry Oveross, and sisters Mrs. Lillian Anunson and Mrs. Ruth Schubert.

When Circuit Judge George R. Duncan told Oveross he was released, he walked back to the second row of spectator seats and sat down with his relieved family.  Then they all filed quietly out of the courtroom. Some five minutes after the verdict Oveross, with daughter Colleen on one arm and daughter Karen on the other, walked out of the courthouse, presumably to a family reunion at the home of one of his sisters or his brother.  All had kept an unbroken vigil outside the courtroom while the jury was deliberating.

Oveross, forever free of the charge of slaying Kaser, plans to stay a few weeks in the Silverton area with his family.  Then he intends to find a job to prove himself to his daughters, his family and to the 12 jurors who acquitted him.  he says he wants to work to provide a college education for Colleen and Karen. He didn’t say whether his plans would take him back to Alaska where his car and his carpenter tools are.

Casper Oveross and daughters

Statesman–Oveross Daughters Grip Freed Father. Colleen Oveross had a proud grip on one arm and Karen had a firm hold to one hand as they escorted their dad Casper Oveross from the Marion County Courthouse Thursday. A few minutes before the poicture was taken Oveross was freed of a first degree murder charge by a tired jury of nine women and three men. Oveross said he planned to go to work to provide a college education for the two daughters, who stayed by him faithfully through two arrests and a long trial for the shooting of Ervin Kaser.

Judge Duncan thanked the jury for its public service.  “No other jury will be called on probably for many years to come to hear such a difficult case,” he said. Then the judge excused the jurors, Mrs. Edwards, Mrs. Louise Franzen and Perry Baker, both of Turner, Harry Oldenberg of Jefferson, Mrs. Myrtle Rogers, Mrs. Delores Throneberry, Mrs. Doris McMullen, Mrs. Helen Taylor and Mrs. Norma Lawless, all of Salem.  Mrs. Evelyn Beard of Aurora and Mrs. Margaret Edgell of Woodburn.

Defense attorneys Williams and Otto R. Skopil Jr. were jubilant over the verdict.  District Attorney Kenneth E. Brown appeared satisfied that the long deliberation of the jury was indicative of careful consideration of all the evidence. Special Prosecutor Charles Raymond, contacted in Portland, said, “The jury has spoken. We presented all the evidence available. Judge Duncan gave us a very fair trial.”  At 5:28 p.m., only four minutes after the jury had filed back into the jury box, Judge Duncan recessed the court in the case of State vs. Casper Arnold Oveross.

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Acquittal of Oveross Adds Kaser’s Death To Unsolved Crimes

Acquittal of Casper Oveross Thursday of the charge that he killed Ervin O. Kaser adds the Silverton area shooting to the list of unsolved mysteries. Oveross, himself, by law can never be retried for the crime. The kaser murder case, which since the first areest of Oveross had become the Oveross case, has commanded the highest interest of any criminal case in recent Marion County history. The quiet little Evergreen Community some two miles south of Silverton was torn in two by the rifle shots that ripped through the frosty, starlit night last Feb. 17.

One of the four slugs tore through the doorpost of Ervin Kaser’s Plymouth sedan, tore a gaping wound in Kaser’s back and killed him instantly.  Across the Silverton-Stayton Highway from the white frame house where Kaser lived alone, Mr. and Mrs. Emmanuel Kellerhals had just retired for the night.  They told of hearing the first shot, of rushing to their bedroom window, of seeing the last three flashes, and of seeing a dark sedan speed off south into the night.  It was only a matter of minutes before police, called first by Kaser’s brother Melvin, began the search for “Cap” Oveross, who many knew had blamed Kaser for breaking up his home.  Cap, a slender, taciturn carpenter, had lived alone in a small cabin apartment in Silverton since he moved out of his Evergreen home last August.  There, about three hours after the slaying, police found him and began a night-long interrogation which became a temper point in the investigation and trial to follow.

Evergreen community was made up for the most part by residents who had lived all their lives in the area. Melvin and Harvey Kaser, both brothers of the slain man, lived within a short distance of the murder scene, Melvin just next door to the south.  Ethel and Cap Oveross, both born within a few miles of Silverton, had lived there for many years.  Both their pretty young daughters, Colleen 19, and Karen 14, had attended the two-room Evergreen school where Ethel was the clerk of the school board.  Mrs. Oveross had been Ethel Knight before her marriage to Cap twenty years ago.  She was a twin sister of Edith Knight who married Harvey Kaser.  The Kellerhals, the Wayne Moores, the Barnes families–all of them were long-time residents of the community, all of them were to play roles in the tragedy.

Sympathies of the community mostly went to Cap Oveross.  Ervin Kaser, described as a “lone wolf” was not on speaking terms with his two nearby brothers, hadn’t been for over a year.  He was described as a man who feared for his life, careful of his actions, driving behind his home so he could enter the house from the rear.  Since 1952 he had been seeing Ethel Oveross.  She said they had met frequently at a trysting place north of Silverton.  Last year Kaser’s wife Mary moved out and started a suit for divorce.  Earlier Cap had taken steps to divorce Ethel, blaming her associations with Kaser in the complaint.  Their divorce, result of a countersuit by Ethel, was granted in October.

Oveross made damning denials during that night and morning of questioning, police said. Sheriff Denver Young, who direct the investigation, testified Oveross had denied owning a rifle, denied being south of Silverton that night, told of spending the evening between two Silverton taverns.  After some 10 hours, during which time he was questioned at his cabin, enroute to the sheriff’s office, back to the scene and in Silverton, Oveross was taken back to his cabin. The 10 hours, because of the testimony and through accusations of defense counsel, played a heavy part in the trial. Oveross’ attorneys Bruce Williams and Otto R. Skopil Jr., who he had retained shortly after his release, accused police of gestapo tactics, of denying constitutional rights to a free American.  They said his cabin was entered and searched without benefit of a search warrant in violation of the bill of rights.  They said he was held through those hours without a warrant being issued for his arrest, without being able to contact an attorney. They fought the admission of evidence based on that period.

For five days the Silverton seethed with rumors, of a rendezvous near Silver Falls, of two men in an old car, of the unexpected death of one of Kaser’s one-tim friends.  Ponds and streams, wells and brush in the vicinity of the crime were searched for the murder weapon. Then, after a long session with an unnamed witness, a deputy sheriff and a state policeman went to Oveross’ niece’s home with a warrant for his arrest on a charge of first degree murder.  A week later, after 17 witnesses had testified, a Marion County Grand Jury declined to indict him and Oveross walked unbelievingly and happily from the jail a free man. Police went back to work investigating.  Oveross went back to work as a carpenter.

Then after about six weeks he paid up his bills, said goobye to his daughters, his sisters, his brother and his friends and drove his 1950 Ford to Alaska where he got a job carpentering. In the meantime voices of complaints were heard that District Attorney Kenneth E. Brown, himself a Silverton resident, hadn’t called all his witnesses for the grand jury. possibility of a special prosecutor was raised.  And police kept looking for the murder gun, the one piece of evidence they felt they needed to break the case. That break came on May 8.  It was Sunday, Mother’s Day, and Larry Wacker, aged 12, was down on the Pudding River near Pratum looking for crawdads.  He spotted the butt end of a .30-.30 Winchester carbine sticking out of the muck and the water, so he pulled it out and carried it up on the bridge to show his two young friends Neil and Ralph Beutler. They carried the rifle home and the sheriff’s office was notified.  Next day the gun was at the State Crime Detection Laboratory where Ralph Prouty conducted some tests and said it fired the bullet which killed Ervin Kaser.

Police had already checked through Silverton hardware and sporting goods store records.  They knew Cap Oveross had bought a gun from the Ames Hardware Co. in 1949 about the time the store got a shipment of two .30-.30 Winchesters.  One of those guns had the same serial number as the murder gun. WIth this new evidence District Attorney Brown took the case to the grand jury again and came away with a first degree murder indictment against Oveross.  Police began a widening search for the defendant.  So did his attorneys who found him first through a letter he sent Colleen from Alaska. Oveross, notified of the indictment, turned himself in to authorities at Fairbanks, Alaska, and a week later was returned to Marion County by Sheriff Denver Young and Sgt. Wayne Huffman of state police to stand trial.

The trial began on June 21, 24 days ago.  It took three days and 123 prospective jurors to get a jury. It took 13 days for the state to present its case.  It took 13 witnesses and 2 hours and 29 minutes for the defense.  It took 23 hours and 30 minutes for the jury to deliver a verdict.

[undated, unattributed newspaper article, from June/July 1957]

Gun Presented in Murder Trial Now Used by Deputies

A 30-30 rifle which played a major role in the Kaser murder trial here two years ago this month was released by court order Tuesday to the Marion County sheriff’s office for use in the sheriff’s official business.

The Winchester carbine, which allegedly was the weapon used to slay Ervin Kaser, had been held by the Marion County clerk’s office since the conclusion of the trial in which Casper Oveross was acquitted in June, 1955.

Release of the gun was ordered on a motion by the district attorney’s office pointing out that the weapon had never been claimed by its rightful owner.

And that concludes the trial. Next up: The Idiot Magazines

Blogically yours,


2 thoughts on “Not Innocent: The Trial (Part 5) – The Conclusion

    • 🙂 Not written yet. Life has been busy. But I keep thinking about and DO plan to finish it. There’s really just one more chapter: my summary, a few later brief reminiscences that bear on the story, and the conclusion. Hopefully before the year’s out.

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