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Conviction reversed for man who represented self

A man who represented himself and lost during a 2015 Jackson County Circuit Court trial had his conviction reversed after a state appeals court said he wasn't adequately warned about the dangers of self representation.

Robert Bruce Roland, 39, a registered sex offender with mental health problems, was originally convicted by a jury of assault against Jackson County Jail deputies and sentenced to 2½ years in prison.

Given a second chance by the Oregon Court of Appeals, Roland was transported from prison back to court, where he accepted a plea agreement and entered no contest pleas to the charges Friday. He was ordered released from custody after spending almost 2½ years in the Jackson County Jail, a state hospital for people with mental health issues and a state prison.

"In the beginning, it was difficult for him to sit down and reach an intelligent resolution of the case," said Jackson County Deputy District Attorney Marco Boccato. "Once he'd gone to prison and came back, he was able to talk logically. Had he decided to negotiate in the beginning, he would probably have been sentenced to far less time. He did not want to negotiate. We were stuck with a trial."

Boccato said he believes Roland was warned numerous times during the process about the dangers of representing himself at trial, but the appeals court could only make a judgment based on records of conversations between Roland and Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Timothy Barnack, who presided over the March 2015 trial.

"There was not sufficient information on the record that he was made aware of the risks of self-representation, but he was probably aware," Boccato said.

Boccato said the rights of defendants, including those with mental health issues, sometimes conflict with each other.

"They have a right to an attorney, but also a right to self-representation. They are told self-representation is obviously a bad idea," he said.

Back in 2003, Roland was convicted of third-degree rape and fourth-degree assault.

Then on Sept. 21, 2014, a Medford police officer responded to a report of Roland acting in a disorderly fashion at the Medford Gospel Mission. Roland was belligerent, confrontational, aggressive and threatened to harm the officer. He was taken into custody and jailed on a charge of failure to report as a sex offender, according to court documents.

Several days later, Roland was meeting with his attorney in jail when he became agitated and upset. When jail deputies responded, he stood in a boxing stance, threatened deputies and refused to obey their commands. A Taser was deployed with no noticeable effect. Roland threw a punch but a deputy was able to partially divert the punch and received a glancing blow to his head, according to an affidavit.

"Inmate Roland continued to resist, would not go to the ground and was able to maintain his feet for several minutes," the affidavit said. "It took eight deputies and several deployments of the Taser to finally get inmate Roland to the ground. It took another several deployments of the Taser and several more minutes to get his hands in wrist restraints."

In addition to the deputy who was punched, a second deputy received a cut on his wrist from Roland's tooth, a Taser probe to his hand and a puncture wound on his nose from his glasses being pushed into his nose and breaking. Two other deputies received abrasions in the scuffle, the affidavit said.

After the jail incident, Roland was charged with four counts of assaulting a public safety officer and four counts of fourth-degree assault.

His defense attorney at the time asked a Jackson County Circuit Court judge to find Roland unable to aid and assist in the preparation of his own defense. The attorney asked for Roland to be sent to the Oregon State Hospital to have his fitness to proceed be determined. The psychiatric hospital also attempts to improve the mental state of defendants so they can take part in court proceedings.

A judge ordered Roland to the state hospital. A December 2014 psychological evaluation is sealed.

By January 2015, Roland was back in jail and asking the court for a new attorney. He was granted one that month.

His new attorney, Mark Hendershott, filed a motion with the court saying he believed Roland was unable to understand the nature of the proceedings against him, assist and cooperate with counsel and/or participate in his defense.

However, a trial readiness hearing was held March 2, 2015, and the one-day trial took place March 5, 2015.

The jury deliberated for a half-hour and convicted Roland on multiple counts of assaulting a public safety officer and fourth-degree assault. He received a 30-month sentence.

In May 2016, Roland sent a handwritten letter to Judge Barnack from prison proclaiming his innocence.

"I am an innocent man falsely incarcerated of the crimes of assaulting the police," Roland wrote. "I never assaulted your evil police. The only thing I am guilty of is having an attitude problem combined with a true case of mental illness. Your evil justice system gave me a very unfair trial. I am an innocent man behind bars. The police beat me so purple that they had to lie and say I assaulted them. They even injured themselfs (sic) and blame there (sic) self inflicted injurys (sic) on me."

Roland added Bible quotes indicating he may have thought God would speak through him at trial.

Roland included a certificate from Universal Life Church saying he had been ordained a minister in February 2016.

On its website, the Universal Life Church claims it has ordained 20 million people worldwide — including Conan O'Brien, Stephen Colbert and Lady Gaga.

Although the ordination is free and takes only a few seconds online, Universal Life Church sells ordination certificates, degrees, minister bumper stickers, clergy badges, minister baseball hats, letters of good standing, Catholic-style priest clothing and more. Its honorary religious titles and degrees include Dr. of Metaphysics, Jedi Knight and Master of Wicca.

Meanwhile, Roland's assault case was on appeal.

The Oregon Court of Appeals reversed his conviction and remanded the case back to Jackson County Circuit Court in September 2016.

Although Roland had already lost at trial the first time, he appeared to be plotting a second trial instead of entering plea negotiations, according to a January 2017 email to the court from Roland's brother.

In the error-ridden email, the brother complained Roland's attorney wasn't working to gather witnesses for the trial.

"My brother also is not all there when off his meds," the email said. "Hes had a tough life But a good guy tho! He was aloud to be his own lawyer while off his meds almost 2 years ago. The judge at this time aloud this to be, knowing and seeing my brother was not capable of ever being able to represents himself, still aloud it."

The email said images of Roland's bruises weren't shown in court, which would have proved "police britality."

Boccato, the deputy district attorney, refuted the claims of police brutality.

"That is totally inaccurate and totally false," he said, adding that the jail deputies responded appropriately to the situation Roland created.

Ultimately, Roland agreed to a plea offer instead of going to trial again and was ordered released after being in custody since September 2014.

Boccato said although the case was reversed on appeal and remanded back to Jackson County Circuit Court, he believes justice was served because Roland spent a substantial amount of time in custody for injuring the deputies.

"He's had consequences," Boccato said.

— Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous

Robert Roland