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Judge applies the maximum sentence available under Washington law; defense attorney says he will appeal

Barring a successful appeal, a Dayton man will spend more than three decades in prison for the murder of a Newberg resident in 2019.Belander

In a decision handed down Thursday morning, Skamania County Superior Court Judge Randall Krog sentenced Damian Bradley Belander to 385 months for the January 2019 murder of Brian Bodle on a deserted U.S. Forest Service Road near Mount Saint Helens in Washington.

Bodle's body was found adjacent to a burned mini-van belonging to an acquaintance of Belander's. Krog also sentenced Belander to 17 months in prison on a second-degree arson charge that resulted from the van's burning.

Belander will serve the sentence on the arson conviction concurrent to the first-degree intentional murder conviction and 36 months of court supervision following his release. Belander is 22 years old.

"I do think it was fair," prosecutor Adam Kick said of the sentence. "Mr. Belander gave the court no reason at all to think he had any remorse. He offered no explanation that would have mitigated the seriousness of the crime."

Kick added that Belander's criminal history prior and after the murder weighed into the stiff sentence handed down by Krog.

"He committed multiple violent offenses right before and right after the murder (convictions for attempted kidnapping and fourth-degree assault in Yamhill County) that suggest a serious disregard for human life," he said. "Mr. Belander is a very dangerous criminal. I think the court recognized that and sentenced him accordingly."

Belander's court-appointed counsel, White Salmon (Wash.) attorney Chris Lanz, said the sentence, the maximum possible under Washington law, was unfair.

"I believe the sentence of 385 months is excessive given the state's lack of direct evidence inculpating Mr. Belander," he said, adding that he planned to approach the Washington State Court of Appeals on Thursday to review the sentence.

"A new attorney shall be appointed for the purposes of appeal," he said. "That attorney will consider the issues, which included the court's denials of the defendant's many motions to suppress evidence seized from a number of search warrants, and which arguments to make within the appeal. I am hopeful that the appeal will be successful and, at a minimum, Mr. Belander shall be granted a new trial."

"Virtually every defendant appeals his conviction, so it's no surprise that Mr. Belander will appeal," Kick said. "We feel like the judge's decisions throughout the case were considered and followed the law. We can't really comment on any specific errors, as none have been identified to us, but no trial is perfect. We don't believe that any alleged errors were significant and in any case did not prejudice the defendant. Ultimately, we think Mr. Belander's conviction and sentence will be affirmed."

Jury renders a quick verdict

Belander found himself before Korg Thursday about a month after a Skamania County jury found him guilty of murder after deliberating for four hours. Deliberation followed nearly five days of trial.

Belander's defense followed his strategy during interviews by law enforcement in the days and weeks after the murder, a "general denial" of all the facts of the case, Kick said.

"I believe the key piece of evidence that convinced the jury that Mr. Belander was guilty was that he was obviously lying about his whereabouts and involvement to law enforcement when they initially questioned him about the case," he said. "Skamania County Detective Jeremy Schultz did an exhaustive investigation and was able to demonstrate that Mr. Belander was lying about his whereabouts and connection to the burned-out minivan …"

Kick added that the shear amount of evidence pointing to Belander as the culprit ultimately was responsible for his downfall.

"There was a ton of evidence, from cell phone tower information, phone and text activity, surveillance and witness interviews, and even Facebook messages that all helped demonstrate Mr. Belander's dishonest attempt to mislead law enforcement," Kick said. "There were at least 30 witnesses in the trial, most of whom had no connection to the defendant or the victim, Mr. Bodle."

The prosecution's case against Belander was complex and had to withstand numerous motions by Lanz to have certain aspects of the case squelched or evidence dismissed entirely.

"The most challenging part of the case turned out to be getting all of the evidence in front of the jury in a way that they could understand it," Kick said. "We had to schedule a dozen or more professional witnesses, both from Washington and from out of state (and) some who had to fly here from as far away as Texas."

Complicating matters was Belander's insistence that Oregon extradite him immediately to Washington once he served a two-month sentence in the Yamhill County case, and his refusal to waive his right to speedy trial, which required quick action by the prosecution.

"So everything we did was on a very short clock and it required a lot of work from a lot of different people," Kick said.

Belander was indicted for first-degree premeditated murder, first-degree murder in the course of another crime, second-degree intentional murder, second-degree intentional murder in the course of a felony and second-degree arson.

The jury convicted Belander on all counts, although the four murder charges were merged into one count of first-degree intentional murder (with a deadly weapon), as well as the arson charge.

The prosecutor's office attempted to negotiate a plea deal with Belander prior to the trial, "but he never showed any interest in taking responsibility," Kick said.

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