As a Jackson County grand jury indicted Jordan Criado on three-dozen Measure 11 charges Tuesday for allegedly murdering his wife and four children, the victims' relatives said they decry the alleged acts but insist Criado loved his family.
"We don't know what either one of their mental states was at the time," said Jesse Adams, oldest brother to Tabasha Paige-Criado. "We don't know their last words. We don't know what took place in that home."
Criado, 51, is accused of killing his 30-year-old wife, Tabasha Paige-Criado, and children Elijah, 7, Isaac, 6, Andrew, 5, and Aurora, 2, and then lighting their Medford home on fire on July 18.
The grand jury heard 13 witnesses and indicted Criado on 24 counts of aggravated murder and four counts each of murder, first-degree manslaughter and first-degree arson, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Beth Heckert.
The jury deliberated for three hours after hearing from several Medford police officers and detectives, three fire officials and inspectors, two civilians and Jackson County's medical examiner, she said.
Criado was an orphan of Portuguese descent who appeared to have no family other than his wife and children, said Bill White, Paige-Criado's stepfather. The two met at Bakersfield College in 2003 and started a family in 2004, relatives have said.
"She never talked about his family and he never talked about his family," White said.
Other family members have told police they believe Criado once had a brother in central California who has been estranged from him since 1990, when Criado was convicted for molesting three girls under age 14 and went to prison for more than 11 years.
When Criado's criminal past was brought to light by family members in California, his sister was urged to leave her husband. The family pressure re-ignited her determination to keep the family together and Criado's protective instincts. The family moved to Oregon with his sister's blessing, said Adams.
"Certain family members hounded her to leave Jordan," he said. "And they want to believe he forced her to move away, that he's some monster that was abusing her all the time. But they both found stability with each other. And (Tabasha) wanted to show that a family can stay together."
White said he taught Tabasha how to write her name when she was about 4 years old. But White and his ex-wife fell into heavy drug use. And the children were left to fend for themselves, he said.
"Tabasha was the kind of person who always tried to make the best of things," White said. "She'd say, 'That's OK, Daddy. We can make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.'"
But by the time Tabasha was about 10 years old, things had gotten so bad in the home that she and the other children were removed by state child welfare workers, he said.
"Tabasha ran away," White said. "She had issues, and I'm a part of that."
Adams agreed he and his five siblings survived a difficult childhood. And their past has left them all struggling with various forms of mental and emotional fallout, he said.
"We come from a family that tries to confine and deny and shield ourselves from these issues," Adams said. "Tabasha still had to deal with that depression and those abandonment issues."
Adams and White said Paige-Criado told them both that she was no longer in love with Criado.
"I think she was tired of the relationship," White said. "She had lost feelings for him. She told me that."
But Paige-Criado was in no hurry to leave the relationship, and she was not living in fear of Criado, they said.
"She said she was going to take Aurora and he was going to keep the boys," White said.
Adams asked his sister whether she needed help with the move, and specifically whether she was fearful of Criado's reaction to the end of their relationship, he said.
"I offered my help, if there was going to be a problem," Adams said. "She assured me it never got physical and I believe it. They argued like all married couples. But it wasn't that type of relationship. She did state that she was going to leave at her own pace."
The move that was slated for before Christmas didn't happen. Six months later, the couple were busily engaged in fixing up their home, White said, adding he exchanged a text message with his stepdaughter just two days before the killings.
"It was like they were working as a family," he said.
Both men say they are struggling with their grief, and to understand the source of the violent eruption that destroyed the family. And they are hoping the trial may answer some of their questions.
"I think Jordan loved her very much and he loved his children. I never would have expected anything like this. The only thing I can think of is that he must have snapped," White said. "I guess he thought he was going to die with them. And now he has to face what he's done."
Criado appeared before Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Lorenzo Mejia Friday, less than one day after he was released from Rogue Valley Medical Center, where he was being treated for smoke inhalation suffered in the fire and a laceration on his left wrist.
Because Criado may face the death penalty on the aggravated murder charges, he is being represented by a public defender from Redmond, Geoffrey Gokey, who has training and experience in these types of cases, Heckert said.
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail email@example.com.