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Judge uses `3 strikes' law on Eugene man.

Byline: Bill Bishop The Register-Guard

A Eugene man convicted of child molestation for the third time was sentenced Monday to life in prison without the possibility of release under Oregon's "three strikes" law, which provides the harsh sentence for chronic sex offenders.

The victim was 4 years old at the time of the offense and testified in the trial of 53-year-old William Kenneth Owens Jr. A jury convicted Owens of first-degree sexual abuse on April 17.

It is the policy of The Register-Guard to not identify child victims of sex crimes.

Lane County Deputy District Attorney Bob Gorham said Owens operated a janitorial business where he employed the victim's mother and he volunteered to baby-sit the girl, Gorham said.

In court, the victim's mother told Owens that she forgives him and prays for him. Owens said nothing before Lane County Circuit Judge Maurice Merten imposed the sentence.

Lawmakers passed the three strikes law in 2001. Eight Oregon inmates are serving life-without-parole sentences for sex crimes, according to Oregon Department of Corrections data.

Court records indicate that Owens was convicted of molesting a 4-year-old girl in 1979 and a 6-year-old boy in 1982. He violated parole by not registering as a sex offender and was sent back to prison, according to court records.

The investigation of the current case revealed a fourth molestation by Owens in 2006, Gorham said. Owens confessed to that crime, although he was not charged with it. The 9-year-old victim of the 2006 molestation testified in the current case, Gorham said.

Defense lawyer Bill Tufts argued in court that Owens qualified for a lesser sentence because a psychological test showedOwens was a "medium risk" for offending again, and because the current offense created less impact for the victim than is typical in similar cases. Tufts did not elaborate.

The law requires that a judge find "substantial and compelling reasons" to impose less than the mandatory life term.

Gorham said Owens is the type of offender targeted by the three strikes law.
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Title Annotation:City/Region
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 13, 2008
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