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Murder in the Applegate

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Leslie Ghiglieri points to places on the property where a murder, featured in her book “The Decision to Kill,” was committed in Murphy in 1986.
Leslie Ghiglieri with her book “The Decision to Kill,” at the residence where a murder was committed along the Applegate River near Murphy in 1986. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

A 1986 murder in rural Josephine County has spawned a true-crime novel about a family ripped apart when a son murders his father in cold blood.

Josephine County sheriff’s deputies responded to a grisly scene in the 8200 block of North Applegate Road the morning of Oct. 18, 1986. Donald Wier had been found in his bed, blood saturating the mattress, dripping into the carpet below.

His only daughter, Donette, returned home from a sleepover to discover her father’s death. The girl’s mother, Cherie Wier, was away at a reunion, and her brother, Dwayne Dean Wier, was nowhere to be found.

The following morning, the Mail Tribune described the alleged attacker as a 16-year-old white male. Sadly, the attacker would be found to be the victim’s adopted son.

“The Decision to Kill,” released in mid-July and expected in local bookstores this month, was written by one-time 911 dispatcher Leslie Ghiglieri. A longtime friend of Cherie Wier, who died of cancer in 2019, Ghiglieri said she promised her late friend she would one day write the family’s story.

Told through the eyes of a bereaved mother, the book shares Cherie Wier’s experiences of being overcome by grief, suffering the loss of her husband and incarceration of — and struggle to forgive — her son.

The book details courtroom accounts, gruesome details of the murder and testimony from experts that Ghiglieri said would force any parent to question supporting a child turned murderer.

Cherie Wier provided Ghiglieri with more than 350 letters — front and back page in cursive, written by Dwayne Wier from prison. The son’s letters reveal struggles with substance abuse, gender identity and search for faith, Ghiglieri says. His outlook on life and his crime seemingly evolved during the decades he spent behind bars.

Prior to the brutal murder, Dwayne Wier was a troubled teen, his parents struggling to find resources to help with mental issues and drug abuse.

“Cherie and Don had tried having kids for eight years, unsuccessfully, before they adopted Dwayne. They conceived Donette when Dwayne was 5. They wanted a lot of kids in the beginning,” Ghiglieri said.

Ghiglieri said the couple wanted to turn the riverfront property into a parklike setting. They spent countless hours on the property either fishing or making improvements. After Don Wier’s death, his wife would find solace in working on the property, planting trees and flowers.

A visit to the serene riverfront property where the Wiers raised their two children belies the evil that happened there. Thick green grass grows over river loam, and birds sing in trees overhead. While the river channel has moved over the years from flooding and other factors, a handful of large rocks remain, including one on which a widow remembered happier times.

“Don caught his first steelhead on that rock. After the murder, she would go down there to be alone and be able to just cry. She’d want to get away from Donette and just feel all her grief without worrying Donette,” Ghiglieri said.

“She called it her crying rock, and she would just sit up against it. There’s a chapter in the book called ‘The Crying Rock.’”

Before Dwayne Wier died in 2010, from a genetic disease, he spent most every waking moment bombarding his mother with letters that ranged from pleas for forgiveness to declarations of innocence. Ghiglieri said Cheri Wier set boundaries but tried to still fulfill the duty of being his mother.

“When they adopted him, part of the adoption procedure was to put their hands on the Bible and promise to be the best parents they could be. After everything happened, her family members were like, ‘Write that kid off. You did what you could.’ He was totally unremorseful, terrible to her. But she felt an obligation, like she hadn’t finished raising him.”

The couple’s daughter, Donette, still lives on the property — even sleeping in the bedroom where her father died. She declined to give her married name due to privacy concerns.

In her mother’s later years, they transformed the family property into a beautiful event venue, even adding a cottage for brides to get ready.

Sitting at the crying rock, daughter and friend reminisced about a heartbroken mother and a son turned murderer. A stone’s throw from a myrtlewood tree planted by a Boy Scout, who years before tried to drown a litter of kittens while standing on a nearby footbridge, Donette said publishing of the family’s story felt surreal.

“I’ve known she’s been working with my mom on this for a long time, but then when it’s actually in print and you’ve got the social media aspect happening, it’s like, ‘Oh, OK’ Dwayne was in high school when it happened, and I was just in sixth grade. I was 11,” she said.

“I think some people are surprised I’m still here, or they ask me if it feels weird, but it’s not weird for me, because it’s just always been my family home.”

Decades since she last saw her father or brother, and now without her mom, the daughter refuses for her beloved home to be stuck in time, on the worst day of her life.

“We just kept going because there was no other choice. We kept moving on, and eventually I guess things just become more bearable, and you remember more of the good than the bad,” she said, noting a change in perspective, now a mother herself.

“Now that I’m an adult, I think about her side of everything. Losing her husband and her child. I could see how she could want to maybe not keep going. She told me once that it was me who helped her keep going ... gave her a reason.”

She added, “It was, yes, a horrible tragedy. It was a sad story ... but it wasn’t our whole story.”

Ghiglieri plans to contribute some of her proceeds from book sales toward programs in Jackson County that provide help with mental illness and drug abuse.

Online, wildbluepress.com/the-decision-to-kill-leslie-ghiglieri-true-crime/

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Buffy Pollock at 541-776-8784 or bpollock@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @orwritergal.