Robert Acremant trial begins today

The Associated Press

Roxanne Ellis' pickup truck was full of Christmas presents for her 2-year-oldgranddaughter on Dec. 4, 1995, when she drove to a northeast Medford neighborhoodto show a house for rent to a man from California.

Instead, Robert Acremant was looking for money to start life over. Aformer accountant in Los Angeles, his life had fallen apart. He'd been spurnedby a Las Vegas stripper and was drinking heavily.

When Ellis showed Acremant the house, he pulled a gun and demanded shewrite a check. When she refused, he lured her companion and business partner,Michelle Abdill, to the house and demanded that Abdill write the check.

When Abdill also refused, Acremant bound them with duct tape, orderedthem to lie in the back of the pickup truck and shot them in the back ofthe head with a .25-caliber pistol.

After pleading guilty last year to two counts of aggravated murder, Acremant,29, goes on trial for his life today in Jackson County Circuit Court. Ajury -- that could take two weeks to select -- will decide if he shoulddie or get life in prison without parole.

The slayings had sent a shiver through the gay and lesbian communityof Southern Oregon. Partners for 12 years, Ellis, 53, and Abdill, 42, hadworked for the defeat of a statewide measure to limit the rights of homosexualsand cared for AIDS victims.

I can't even tell you how frightening it was, especially for thelesbian community, said Cherie Garland of Ashland, a member of Parentsand Friends of Lesbians and Gays and a close friend of the victims.

Born in Stockton, Calif., Acremant lived with his mother and brotherafter his parents divorced when he was 5. His father is a bartender andlives on a ranch that has been in the family for 140 years. His mother,Darlene Bradshaw, is an accountant.

Acremant joined the U.S. Air Force after high school and worked in medicalsupplies while earning a bachelor's degree. After his discharge, he earneda master's in business administration from Golden Gate University and workedfor Roadway Express.

Expecting his job to be eliminated, Acremant left the trucking companyto market software he had developed. His personal life fell apart. His drinkingincreased.

After the slayings, his mother recognized her son from a police sketchand turned him in. He was arrested and freely admitted killing the women.

He also confessed to killing Scott George of Visalia, Calif., the sonof a friend of his mother's, during a night of heavy drinking. He dumpedthe body in a mine shaft on his father's ranch.

At first, Acremant told police that he knew the women were lesbians,and figured they wouldn't have any families to miss them.

Later, he wrote a letter to the Stockton newspaper saying he killed thewomen because he hated homosexuals and bisexuals. While in jail, he triedto hang himself.

I believe he's a headline hunter, Garland said. I thinkif he thought it would get him more headlines if he said he killed thembecause they were lesbians, he would do that.

Acremant has said he wanted to be executed by lethal injection ratherthan spend life in prison, but last week he allowed his attorney to requesta life sentence without parole. The request was denied.

For Lorri Ellis, the two years spent waiting for justice for her mother'skiller has been painful.

I lost my house, I lost my career, I lost all of my goals, my dreams,and it pretty much financially ruined me for who knows how long, shesaid.

Ellis has moved with her daughter back to Colorado Springs, Colo., whereshe grew up. She sold the property management business and manages an apartmentcomplex.

Ellis hopes for the death penalty.

Christmas for me is pretty much out the window, Ellis said.My daughter (now 4) is the only person who keeps it alive for me.

While believing Acremant deserves to be put to death, Garland doesn'tfeel she could vote for death if she were on the jury.

She prefers knowing that the slayings served as a catalyst for creationof the Abdill-Ellis Lambda Community Center, a house in Ashland that servesas a sanctuary for homosexuals.

What could you possibly do that would be a satisfactory revenge?Garland said. There isn't a way. You just turn it into something beautiful.That's what (Acremant), in his wretchedness, gives us the opportunity todo.