PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - The Oregon Supreme Court has denied the release of a man convicted as a 15-year-old of the 1990 rape and killing of a high school classmate, though the justices held that the time he earned off his sentence could still function to reduce the time he has left in prison.
The decision issued Thursday leaves the authority of Conrad Engweiler's release to the Oregon Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision, who must decide whether he has a "present severe emotional disturbance" significant enough to make him a danger to others.
He was convicted in 1990 of the aggravated murder of Erin Reynolds, a classmate at Beaverton's Sunset High School.
Her body was found in a yard debris pile outside Engweiler's home in February 1990 after his father called to report his son was missing and a strange car was outside. The car was Reynolds'. Police believe she was killed the previous day.
Engweiler was too young to be eligible for the death penalty. Prosecutors conceded at sentencing that state law did not provide clear guidelines for sentencing juveniles convicted of aggravated murder.
He was sentenced to life, but parole board guidelines for juveniles in that time period didn't exist. So Engweiler - along with four other Oregon men convicted as teenagers - received new terms for their sentences from the parole board.
After another challenge before the high court, Engweiler received a 28-year sentence, which began in 1990 and ends in 2018. Engweiler, now 39, argued that he has accrued more than five years of time off his sentence, referred to colloquially as "good time."
Engweiler's attorney Andy Simrin argued to the Supreme Court that he deserved to be released in 2012. The court ruled Thursday that the time he earned off his sentence counts, but doesn't matter until the board of parole interviews him.
Simrin's argument for Engweiler's immediate release was "mistaken," the court said in its ruling.
The high court ruled that Engweiler has an initial 2018 release date scheduled, but not a final psychological exam for his possible review, leaving him without a definite scheduled release date.
The result of the decision is that the Oregon Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision retains the final authority of determining when inmates are eligible for release, regardless of the time the inmates have earned off their sentences.
The Supreme Court did not set a time for when the board should conduct an interview.
Parole board director Brenda Carney said in an email that the board is "in (the) process of reading and evaluating the opinion and will take appropriate action as soon as practicable."
Simrin said Thursday that the decision doesn't come with any mandate to interview Engweiler, and thereby start the process of his potential release.
"If it's a discretionary call by the board (of parole), then there's no obligation for them to do it at all," Simrin said, "and they can screw him out of his earned time."
The Oregon Department of Justice said in a statement that the decision lies with the parole board.