Child murderer Dustin Wallace was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison for raping and murdering a 5-year-old Roseburg girl, receiving the punishment his attorneys had sought to avoid.
“Justice dictates that Dustin Wallace not be released on parole,” Douglas County Circuit Judge Randy Garrison told a packed courtroom that included Wallace’s family, the victim’s relatives and investigators.
The defense had argued that Wallace, who was 16 when he suffocated Sahara Dwight on July 9, 2010, should be given the chance to rehabilitate himself in prison and be eligible for parole in 30 years.
Sahara’s mother, Lydia Sahlberg, took a deep breath as Garrison announced Wallace will never be free. Sahara’s father, Tyler Dwight, seated one row ahead, looked up and smiled.
“I’m satisfied with the decision,” Sahlberg said a few minutes later outside the courtroom.
“Justice prevails. My daughter can finally rest in peace,” Tyler Dwight said.
Members of Wallace’s family declined to comment following the decision.
Dressed in a dark blue jail jumpsuit, Wallace, now 18, stared down at the table in front of him as Garrison reviewed the evidence presented during a four-day sentencing hearing.
Wallace stood and stared straight ahead when the judge asked him to stand to receive his sentence.
Prosecutors said they were pleased.
“I would have respected the decision either way, but I felt this was the right decision,” said Deputy District Attorney Kathleen Johnson, who worked the case with another deputy district attorney, Shannon Sullivan.
Defense attorney Don Scales said Garrison listened intently to all of the testimony and asked hard questions of both sides.
“I thought he was very fair,” Scales said.
Garrison said pleas by Wallace’s mother to give her son the possibility of parole and by Sahara’s family to lock up the defendant for the rest of his life were powerful.
In the end, the judge said he could not risk placing the public in danger if Wallace were released.
“We really don’t know what’s wrong with Dustin. More importantly, no one will know in 30 years what he will be like,” said Garrison, who found Wallace guilty in June after a bench trial.
Garrison said he was impressed by testimony from defense psychiatrists who felt Wallace would benefit from treatment and medication while in prison. However, he said he was swayed by testimony that Wallace took deliberate steps to ensure he wasn’t discovered while he sexually abused a sleeping Sahara.
Garrison said he was bothered that Wallace didn’t stop the abuse when Sahara struggled. Likewise, he was disturbed by Wallace shouting “shut up” to Sahara’s mother after she reacted hysterically to her daughter’s death.
Wallace showed a lack of remorse, Garrison said, when he nonchalantly spoke to his dad, who was dating Sahara’s mother, about riding ATVs as they rode in a police car to be questioned.
Wallace initially blamed an intruder for the nighttime attack, then changed his story several times, trying to avoid responsibility, Garrison said.
“He is a very, very scary and disturbed person,” Garrison said.
Looking into the audience, Garrison noted that Sahara’s murder, Wallace’s trial two years later and the sentencing phase had taken a heavy emotional toll on everyone involved in the case. He said a fellow judge told him he “looked spent” before he went on the bench to announce his decision.
“There have been a lot of tears shed in this case and rightfully so,” he said. “One of the lessons is that whatever we do has a profound and significant effect on others.”
Speaking for Sahlberg’s side of the family, Sahara’s aunt, Sarah Meyer, said they were pleased with the life sentence.
“Our worries would have been that another girl would lose her life if he was allowed out of prison,” Meyer said.
• You can reach reporter John Sowell at 541-957-4209 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Justice prevails. My daughter can finally rest in peace.
Father of murder victim Sahara Dwight