RAINIER, Ore. — Tuesday was the day an Oregon family and the small community of Rainier had been waiting for for nearly a decade. Daniel Butts pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison for the 2011 murder of Rainier Police Chief Ralph Painter.
Butts pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated murder and two counts of attempted aggravated murder for intentionally causing the death of Chief Painter. He was also charged for attempting to kill former Clatskanie Police Chief Marvin Hoover and a witness.
It has been a long and emotional battle for the Painter family since they lost a beloved husband and father on Jan. 5, 2011.
Ralph’s wife Amy shared her story with a Columbia County courtroom Tuesday during Butt’s sentencing. She said the pain of losing her husband comes in waves. Sometimes it hits like a tsunami, sometimes in small unassuming waves, but they never stop coming.
"On that day, the love of my life was taken away forever. We were each other’s true happiness. Our moments have been diminished to memories. Our hopes and dreams into court dates and memorials. It has left a huge hole in the hearts of his family, friends, and community,” Amy said.
After eight years in and out of courtrooms the man who took Ralph from his family and friends has been sentenced. Amy said that she chooses to forget the way her husband died and instead remember the way he lived.
Ralph’s daughters also addressed the court. They called their father a hero and said he will live on through his children, friends and community.
At El Tapatio Family Mexican Restaurant in Rainier, a group gathered Tuesday, seated at a bar with a plaque honoring Ralph. They went there after the sentencing of his killer to remember and honor their friend.
“This is a place that we used to hang out quite a bit,” Chris Smith said. “It's kind of a memorial for him.”
Chris Smith says he knew Ralph for most of his life. The years without his friend waiting for justice have taken their toll.
"A lot of ups and downs. Watching grandkids grow up. His son Riley has went without his dad longer than he was alive,” Smith said. “That's a huge one, watching Riley and all of the grandkids grow up.”
Nearby at a local hardware store Kathryn Parks told KGW she also knew Ralph well. Many people did, because he was an integral part of the Rainier community.
“You don't know a whole lot of people like that in our lives that touch us like that,” Parks said.
Parks echoed a common thought: Tuesday's sentencing gives closure in the courtroom, but not necessarily in her heart.
“I don't know if you can heal after this. It's been too long,” she said.
Many wished for a harsher punishment and say they're relieved it is over. However, as the group sat near an open chair at El Tapatio, where Ralph should be sitting today, they won't be able to fill the hole his death has left.
“It's a relief and we have to move forward now. This is the next chapter in our lives,” Smith said.