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Medford man accused of racially based threat to burn house

A white Medford man faces several charges after he allegedly threatened to burn down the house of a black Talent man because of the homeowner's race.

Joseph James Murdock, 37, of the 1800 block of Sunnyview Lane in Medford, was indicted by a grand jury on July 13 on two counts of first-degree intimidation and one count each of second-degree intimidation and second-degree disorderly conduct.

On Friday, Murdock failed to appear for an arraignment in Jackson County Circuit Court. A warrant was issued for his arrest.

According to an indictment against Murdock, on April 15, Murdock, Melissa Manring and another unidentified female allegedly placed David VanHook "in fear of imminent serious physical injury by threatening to burn his house down" because of "their perception of his race."

The trio also allegedly threatened to cause substantial damage to the property of VanHook or a member of his family.

Murdock is additionally accused of "engaging in violent, tumultuous or threatening behavior," according to the indictment, though it does not give more details.

VanHook is head of information technology for Living Opportunities, an organization that helps people with disabilities live and work in the community.

VanHook said he prefers not to discuss the April 15 incident, but he was heartened by the community's response.

"I've lived here almost 17 years and I haven't experienced anything even remotely like that," VanHook said. "It's a very welcoming community in the Rogue Valley. For me, what came out of that was I realized a lot of friends and the community support me. It was reassuring that stuff like that is not tolerated."

Murdock has other cases pending in court, including charges of manufacture, delivery and possession of methamphetamine, possession of heroin and possession of a forged instrument. The charges were brought against him after the Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement Team allegedly found drugs, scales, packaging and three guns in a trailer where Murdock and Manring lived.

In 2015, Murdock was convicted of possession of a controlled substance and a charge of menacing was dismissed after he allegedly threatened to strike his wife and destroy everything in their house with a baseball bat, according to court records.

In 2009, Murdock fired a shot in a house with a girl inside during a stand-off with police. He was convicted of recklessly endangering another person.

Although Manring was listed in Murdock's indictment as taking part in the incident involving the threat to burn down VanHook's house, court records do not show a pending case against her in relation to the incident. She does have other pending cases involving methamphetamine, heroin, forgery and theft.

Manring has past convictions for driving under the influence of intoxicants, fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer, possession of a controlled substance and interfering with a peace, parole or probation officer.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.