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Killer seeks fewer years

Twenty-four years after bludgeoning his parents and youngest sister to death, convicted murderer Billy Frank Gilley Jr. was back in Jackson County Circuit Court Thursday seeking a lighter sentence.

Gilley, 42, was 18 when he was convicted in 1984 of using a baseball bat to beat his father, mother and younger sister to death at their home on Ross Lane.

After decades of appealing his sentence, Gilley was granted the right to a new sentencing hearing by the U.S. District Court in Portland, a decision upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Gilley has maintained that his defense attorney, Steve Pickens, did not provide effective legal assistance at the trial. Gilley was given three consecutive life sentences by Judge Mitchell Karaman. Neither Gilley nor Pickens provided any possible mitigating circumstances for the murders during the trial. Gilley did not testify in his own defense. Pickens called no witnesses and only cross-examined one prosecution witness, Billy's sister, Jody.

The U.S. District Court issued an amended judgment on May 14 upholding the three convictions, but remanding the case back to the Jackson County trial court for a new sentencing hearing.

According to Mail Tribune archives, Gilley killed his family members after an argument about punishment. Jody Gilley had been scolded and slapped for ditching school that day. Gilley told Jody their father had previously tied him to a tractor and beat him with a garden hose.

Late that night, Gilley took 11-year-old Becky Gilley into Jody's upstairs bedroom. He told them to stay put.

Gilley killed his mother in her bed. His father was killed on the living room couch. Becky, who had followed her brother downstairs, died two days later at a local hospital from blunt force trauma to the head.

Karaman stated in 1984 that he was sentencing Gilley to the harshest allowable penalty available at the time "from a lack of information."

Gilley received a life sentence for each aggravated murder conviction. If Gilley had received the minimum sentence — 30 years for each murder to be served concurrently — he could have qualified for parole after 20 years, the Mail Tribune reported.

Gilley, speaking for the first time, said during the sentencing he was "still confused about it all." He added he'd been physically threatened and "had a great fear" a couple of days prior to the killing.

Jackson County District Attorneys Mark Huddleston and Beth Heckert will argue the case for the state in the resentencing. Attorney Paul Beneke will defend Gilley. Heckert said the hearing would include "a mini-trial" with expert witnesses called for each side.

"This is going to take several months (to prepare) given the complexities of the issues," Beneke said.

Circuit Court Judge Ron Grensky agreed Thursday to give both sides three months to review decades-old files and prepare their arguments. Grensky slated the next pre-sentencing hearing for 11 a.m. Aug. 21.

Gilley remains in custody in the Jackson County Jail. He had been serving time in Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

Billy Frank Gilley Jr., convicted in 1984 of bludgeoning his mother, father and younger sister to death with a baseball bat in Medford, appeared before Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Ron Grensky Thursday. Grensky set a pre-sentencing hearing for 11 a.m. Aug. 21. - Bob Pennell