Conrad Engweiler may be up for parole after 24 years behind bars

by: SUBMITTED PHOTOS - Erin Reynolds was 16 when she was murdered in Portland. Her classmate, Conrad Engweiler, was later convicted. Beth Greear turns her right wrist to show off a fresh tattoo under her forearm, a pink double-infinity sign just a month old on her skin. It was her late stepsister’s sign-off symbol, appearing at the end of notes and the occasional poem.

Greear, a native of Lake Oswego, says she decided to get the tattoo after a failed surgery last month to treat symptoms of fibromyalgia.

“I figured, if this hand’s going to be messed up the rest of my entire life, it’s going to be pretty,” Greear says.

The tattoo is an apt metaphor for the burden Greear and her family have been shouldering for the past 24 years, after the violent death of 16-year-old Erin Reynolds, whose body was discovered on Feb. 21, 1990, in a ravine behind a home at 5929 NW Skyline Blvd. on the west side of Forest Park in Portland.

Reynolds had been strangled, and within the next year, her Sunset High School classmate and former friend, Conrad Engweiler, would be convicted of aggravated murder, rape and sodomy.

Had Engweiler been three years older when he committed the crime, he would have been eligible for the death penalty. Instead, his case has had a complicated trajectory through the criminal justice system. Now 40, Engweiler will be granted an exit interview in front of the parole board May 13.

Engweiler’s initial sentence was a minimum of 30 years, but his case has been complicated by his dubious distinction of being one of the infamous Oregon Five, a group of juveniles convicted of aggravated murder before comprehensive parole guidelines were in place. In 1999, the Oregon Board of Parole determined that each could be required to serve up to 40 years before being eligible for so much as a parole hearing, a decision the state Supreme Court struck down in 2011.

In theory, Engweiler’s next court date could be his last as an inmate.

Engweiler is currently housed at the Oregon State Correctional Institution. He declined to be interviewed for this story.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTOS - A poem Erin Reynolds wrote shortly before she was killed, shows her trademark sign-off, the double-infinity symbol.A life cut short

By all accounts, Erin Reynolds was a natural-born caretaker. She worked after school at a retirement home in Portland. She convinced her family to let her adopt a stray cat; she gravitated toward outcasts and the shy.

Greear described her as “eclectic,” and remembered Reynolds arriving home from school one day and announcing to her stepmother that she wanted to go to clown college.

Classmate Lara Larson admired Reynolds for “her absolute individuality and her compassion for others.”

Reynolds was new to Sunset High, as was Engweiler, who originally hailed from Lake Oswego. At 15, Engweiler had a lengthy rap sheet and was in a drug-intervention program supervised in part by his father, Glenn.

“He was just somebody she was palling around with,” Larson said of Engweiler, recalling him as an especially paranoid young man who regularly tried to evade his father.

Greear recalls that Reynolds would routinely walk the couple blocks home from school, grab her car, then give Engweiler a ride to Glenn’s house on Skyline Boulevard. The friendship ended with Reynolds distancing herself from Engweiler and telling her stepmother he had been a jerk.

During this time, Reynolds was also wrapping up about two years of treatment for melanoma. Greear said that at the time of Reynolds’ death, she had just been given a clear bill of health.

“She had just had her last reconstructive surgery. She still had the staples left in her head,” she explained.

Few photos exist from this time, Greear added, because Reynolds was waiting for her hair to properly grow and cover any signs that she had had surgery.

“We always thought there would be more time,” Greear remembered, then added the physician who directed Reynolds’ treatment regimen would later speak in admiration of her at her funeral.

“She had been through a lot in her little life,” Greear said. “She battled cancer, and one of the things I wrote in the letters to the board is, would she have been a doctor, trying to search for the cure for cancer? What would she have been? Would she have been a mom?”

by: SUBMITTED PHOTOS - Conrad Engweiler, 40, is housed at the Oregon State Correctional Institute. He has an exit interview scheduled for May 13.Reynolds returned home one Wednesday in February and was confronted by Engweiler, who had allegedly been waiting for her. There were no witnesses to the incident, but it was later established that he sexually assaulted her and strangled her with a rope he had brought with him. He then hid her body in a ravine behind his father’s house and fled to his mother’s house in Lake Oswego.

In taped testimony, Engweiler admitted to the murder, claiming he had killed Reynolds in the midst of an LSD trip gone bad. He later recanted his bizarre account, and admitted he had been lucid.

A day in court

In the past two decades, Engweiler has secured a few college credits and has earned a reputation as a kind of in-house legal assistant, working in the prison law library and helping fellow inmates work on their own cases.

Attorney Andy Simrin has represented Engweiler since 2002, and notes that Engweiler was the first client to retain him when he went into private practice. Simrin would neither confirm nor deny rumors that he intends to offer Engweiler a position as legal aide at the firm, should Engweiler be released.

“We’ve been told he is referred to as the ‘jailhouse lawyer,’ that he writes a lot of his own legal documents, that he helps new prisoners acclimate to prison life,” Greear said. “In my opinion, he’s an asset there. They need him.”

Greear and her family approach Engweiler’s court date with trepidation, knowing that if Engweiler presents a compelling case about good behavior during his time behind bars, as well as a comprehensive parole plan, the parole board may well decide to release him.

Greear and her parents, Pam and Earl Reynolds, have been in regular contact with Steve Doell of the organization Crime Victims United. Doell’s 12-year-old daughter, Lisa, was murdered in Lake Oswego in 1992, and since then, he has become not only a formidable force on the legislative level, but also a crime victims advocate.

“Although (the family) understands the process, it is kind of brand new, because we’ve got a brand new parole board,” Doell said. “Because of that, I encourage the family to start over. Bring (Reynolds) to life, in that room, so that the press and the board and anyone else who’s there understand that this was a living, breathing human being at one point.”

Still, Doell said, “They can release him. It could happen.”

Life after death

Greear insists on dropping the “step” qualifier when describing her relationship with Reynolds, bolstered by nine years of sharing a blended family.

Greear was 21 and a new mother when she received the news of her sister’s death.

“It changed me as a person because I had children,” she said. “It changed my outlook on how I’m going to raise my kids. I’d tell them, ‘I don’t care who you think you trust. Even your so-called friends — you can’t trust anyone, really.’”

The Reynolds family’s loss, coupled with her own postpartum depression, proved physically devastating for Grear. She developed anorexia. Her weight dropped to about 87 pounds, and she discovered she had a heart murmur.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTOS - On April 1, 2013, Reynolds' family placed a flute of champagne on her grave at a Buxton, Ore., cemetery.She also developed a sense of hyper-vigilance about Engweiler after his conviction, monitoring his numerous appeals through the years. She googles his name regularly and calls the parole board every two to three months, “just to see if he’s up to anything,” she explained.

Most recently she wrote a widely circulated, eight-page letter protesting his release. It is equal parts passionate emotional plea and painstaking chronology of Engweiler’s legal record.

“Every year he gets to celebrate his birthday,” Greear said. “Every year, his dad gets to go see him with a beating heart. And we get to go to a cemetery.”

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