Jury finds Zornes guilty of murder
After deliberations lasting more than five hours, a jury Thursday night convicted Shane Anthony Zornes of murdering 27-year-old Isaac Deleon in 2015.
Circuit Court Judge David Hoppe sentenced Zornes to life in prison after the late-night verdict was handed down in Jackson County Circuit Court, the mandatory minimum sentence under Oregon's Measure 11. Zornes, 27, will have to serve a minimum 25 years before he can apply for parole, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Jeremy Markiewicz, lead prosecutor in the case, and should he ever be paroled, he'll be placed on post-prison supervision for the rest of his life.
"People don't understand, drugs and alcohol just don't mix with firearms," Markiewicz said. "People make bad judgments and have lower inhibitions when they're under the influence, and to be carrying around a loaded firearm with a round in the chamber... it's not smart, it's not safe, and frankly going out in downtown Medford, it's not appropriate — it's not necessary."
The verdict, announced around 8:40 p.m., was emotional for Deleon's friends and family, some who'd sat through the entire three-day trial and waited inside the courtroom since closing arguments.
"This helps, but it doesn't help bring Isaac back," close friend Eric Valencia said just after the verdict was announced. Valencia said Deleon had been a part of his household growing up since Deleon moved to Oregon in his youth, saying he was "literally like my brother." He and his wife took Deleon into their home for about two years until 2015, and described him as someone with infectious laughter who was always willing to pitch in and help.
"He was one of the most genuine persons I've ever met," Valencia said. "He was right there, always."
Before sentencing, Zornes' court-appointed defense lawyer Don Scales said that after getting to know his client over the past year and a half, he knows that Zornes regrets taking Deleon's life.
"It's difficult to see that because he's pretty stoic," Scales said. "He's a good person who made bad decisions."
Zornes briefly broke down in tears after the verdict and apologized just before sentencing.
"I'm sorry to the victim," Zornes said. "I know sorry can't bring him back."
Closing arguments Thursday had circled around whether drawing a gun, disabling the safety and firing at point-blank range were proof Zornes intended to kill Deleon in downtown Medford in the wee hours of Dec. 13, 2015.
Scales had asked the jury to consider a manslaughter charge in the shooting death of Deleon.
"I have no allusions Mr. Zornes is going to be held responsible for this crime," Scales said during closing arguments. "The question is to what degree."
In the prosecution's closing arguments, Markiewicz described Zornes as "an adrenaline-pumped, angry, tough guy walking around downtown Medford" who "can't get out of his own way."
Markiewicz reminded the jury that Zornes interjected himself into a dispute between his friend Daniel Meza and Deleon, arguing that witness Ruben Marmolejo largely tuned out the confrontation because Meza "didn't need saving."
Scales, however, disputed the clarity of eyewitnesses at the scene about 2:15 a.m., arguing that different witnesses had different recollections about the weather at the time of the dispute, how heated the confrontation was and how far away Deleon was when Zornes fired the fatal shot. Scales said he had to ask Detective Bill Ford some "pointed questions" because he seemed to discredit the testimony of witness Corey Vatari, who'd testified that Deleon was combative.
"He said this was almost an instant argument," Scales said. "It was a confrontation."
Another witness testified that the conversation was friendly before Zornes stepped in, stating that Deleon had invited Meza to an after-party. Scales called the claim "ludicrous."
Scales attributed the different accounts to stress and alcohol.
"We have a tendency to want to fill in the details," Scales said. "All of these different stories show the limits of witness testimony."
Scales said Zornes made a "tragic decision" to de-escalate a situation by pulling the gun from his waistband and clicking off the safety to show he was serious. Scales argued his client felt threatened when Deleon refused to back down.
"He doesn't have police training, but he does have street training — and his reflexes kicked in," Scales said.
Deleon had approximately three times the legal limit of alcohol in his system the night he died, according to medical examiner Dr. Jim Olson. The bullet, fired at point-blank range, pierced Deleon's heart.
Markiewicz said Deleon "let his pride get in the way of a good life," suggesting that Deleon did challenge Zornes to shoot him, but argued he wasn't a threat.
"He's drunk, he's high, but he's not the one with a weapon," Markiewicz said. "Two immovable objects came together that night."
— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.