A Myrtle Creek man who said his roommate claimed to have terminal cancer and begged to be put out of his misery was sentenced Monday to 10 years for first-degree manslaughter.
Charles Henry Teal, 29, entered a crowded courtroom and blew a kiss to friends and family. He has been in custody since October 2011 for shooting to death Jeffrey Scott Bension, 39, of Roseburg.
Bension’s body was found at about 8 a.m. Oct. 3, 2011, by a hunter on a logging road just off Louis Creek Road, 10 miles northeast of Myrtle Creek.
The Douglas County Major Crimes Team arrested Teal less than 24 hours after Bension’s body was found.
He told detectives that he shot Bension in the head with a 12-gauge shotgun and said it was a mercy killing.
Teal pleaded guilty in Douglas County Circuit Court last month to first-degree manslaughter, a Measure 11 crime that comes with a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison. As part of a plea deal, a murder charge, with a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years, was dismissed. Teal also pleaded guilty to unlawful use of a weapon.
Teal’s Eugene-based defense attorney, Laura Fine Moro, said Teal believed Bension was dying. “Mr. Teal acted wholly out of mercy,” she said.
Deputy District Attorney Steve Hoddle asked Circuit Judge Bill Marshall to sentence Teal to 15 years in prison — 10 years for manslaughter plus five years for the weapons charge. Marshall said doing so would violate an Oregon law, however.
“I looked at this case to see if the law could (allow) me to sentence to 15 years. I can’t give it in this case because of the structure of the plea,” Marshall said.
Instead, Teal will serve the sentences concurrently for a maximum sentence of 10 years. He was also given credit for the 2½ years he has spent in the Douglas County Jail.
Marshall shared his condolences with Bension’s parents, Debi and Fred Peters, and other family members and friends at the hearing.
“I don’t understand how anybody can get from valuing human life, loving someone, getting medical attention to pulling the trigger and shooting someone,” he said.
Fred Peters said after the hearing that the sentence was too light. “He murdered my son and is only doing 7½ years for it, he said.
Teal’s family and friends declined to comment.
Before the sentencing, Debi Peters began to tearfully read a letter to the court but was overcome with emotion. Hoddle finished reading the letter for her.
“Mr. Teal, I’ve waited over two years to have this conversation with you. No matter what I say to you, our lives are still forever changed,” the letter read. “This senseless act took away my right to say a final goodbye to my son. ... It’s crystal clear you knew what you did was despicable.”
The letter went on to say that Bension left behind two daughters. “I couldn’t say to them that you thought you were doing their father a favor. He will not see his daughters grow up,” it read.
An emotional Teal also addressed the court.
“I just would like the family to know I’m deeply sorry for the pain that I’ve caused them, and I will accept the punishment,” he said.
Bension had moved into a home Teal shared with his girlfriend and two other women shortly before the shooting.
Teal told detectives the men drove to the logging road at about 10 p.m. Oct. 2. Bension placed identification and Social Security cards in his shoe, laid on the ground and begged Teal to “end his pain,” according to court documents.
He said Bension spent several minutes persuading Teal to shoot him, and he finally did. He checked his pulse and confirmed Bension was dead.
Teal said he then returned home and hid the shotgun in his garage and threw the empty casing in bushes behind his home in the 300 block of Northwest Division Street in Myrtle Creek.
Teal told detectives that he then asked his girlfriend to call 911 and report hearing two men fighting and the sound of a gunshot in the 300 block of Louis Creek Road. Emergency dispatchers received the report at about 10:40 p.m. A deputy searched the area but was unable to find a disturbance, according to court documents.
After Bension’s body was discovered, detectives served a search warrant at the home and found the weapon.
An autopsy found Bension did not have cancer.
Other friends and acquaintances, however, told investigators that Bension said he had cancer, according to court documents.
Portland-based psychologist Robert Stanulis, who testified before Teal’s sentencing, said Teal is remorseful for his actions.
Stanulis said Teal experienced a traumatic childhood that influenced his decision to shoot and kill Bension. “He gave (Bension) the gift he wished he had,” he said. “He was trying to escape from the pain.”
Fine Moro in an interview described Teal as “a very good man.”
“Everyone we spoke to preparing for the case said he would give the shirt off his back and was the kind of guy you’d want as your neighbor. He found himself in a horrible situation, which triggered his post-traumatic stress, and he made a decision he will regret for the rest of his life,” she said. “There are no winners here. We feel a 10-year sentence is just.”
Teal was also sentenced to three years post-prison supervision and will have to pay $572 in restitution to the victim’s family.
• Reporter Jessica Prokop can be reached at 541-957-4209 and firstname.lastname@example.org.