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Mariah Pelker's killer released after 25 years; candidates for governor weigh in on prison releases

After 25 years behind bars for a brutal murder he committed as a teenager, James Anderson was released July 21. Though he was released by the parole board, his case was among the 73 cases of juveniles Governor Kate Brown wanted the parole board to consider for early release through her constitutional power of commutation.

In August 1996, Ellen Pelker's 17-year-old daughter Mariah disappeared after leaving work at the Woodburn Safeway. About a month later, with her daughter still not found, Pelker told KOIN 6 News, "This is every parent's worst nightmare, seeing their child's face on a flyer."

What happened to Mariah in a hazelnut grove was horrifying.

"(Anderson) begins stabbing her over and over and over again, I think more than 20 times with a 3-inch knife. The co-defendant said she was lying on the ground, moaning," Pelker said, adding that Anderson was the father of Mariah's unborn baby.

Mariah survived the stabbing.

"There she was, sitting up against a tree alive, pleading for help, thinking that someone maybe had come to rescue her," Pelker told KOIN 6 News. "Little did she know it was her murderers who came back. And once he found her alive, he took his shovel out and bashed her skull in."

In October 2021, Pelker went to a parole hearing to plead for the board to keep Anderson locked up. He was close to completing 25 years in prison on his 25-to-life sentence. While she was there, she received troubling and confusing news — Gov. Brown put his name on the list for early release that she wanted the parole board to consider.

"The parole board didn't know. They were a bit seemingly confused by what was going on from the governor's office," Pelker said. "We were very confused, including my attorney."

Whether the governor can transfer her commutation authority to the parole board resulted in a lawsuit that is now being decided by the Oregon Court of Appeals. But Brown's action added a layer of uncertainty to Pelker's heartache.

"I never heard from the governor. She never reached out to me."

Click here for the full story.

KOIN 6 News is a partner of the Pamplin Media Group.

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