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McGuffin sentenced to 10 years

World Photo by Benjamin Brayfield Nick McGuffin and his attorney, Shaun McCrea, glance at the McGuffin family before hearing the sentence imposed by Coos County Circuit Court Judge Richard Barron.

Nick McGuffin had three things to say Monday afternoon:

'I'm innocent, I'm innocent, I'm innocent."

It was sentencing day for his manslaughter conviction for killing Leah Freeman in June 2000.

Circuit Court Judge Richard Barron sentenced McGuffin to 10 years in prison, minus one year for time served.

'It is tragic that a 15-year-old girl is dead and her body disposed of the way hers was," Barron said to McGuffin after declaring the sentence. 'It is also tragic that someone your age is sentenced to prison."

First-degree manslaughter is a Measure 11 crime, which means it has a mandatory 10 year sentence -- plus three years of parole -- with no opportunity of early release.

A jury acquitted McGuffin of a murder charge July 19 but found him guilty of manslaughter, meaning jurors believed he recklessly caused the death of Freeman.

Freeman disappeared from the streets of Coquille the night of June 28, 2000. Her body was found 37 days later, dumped in a heavily wooded area off Lee Valley Road.

On Monday, McGuffin's lawyer Shaun McCrea argued the judge should reduce McGuffin's sentence to second-degree manslaughter because there was no evidence that he had committed any crime.

'The prosecution has done a masterful job of character assassination of Nick," McCrea said. 'But they don't have any evidence to show what was found in the verdict."

Barron said he did not believe he had the authority to change the jury's verdict. He also denied two motions McCrea filed to postpone sentencing to give the defense time to investigate two of the jurors.

Just before sentencing, McGuffin rose to give a final statement, which he read from a handwritten speech. It was the first time McGuffin spoke in court since testimony began July 7.

'People have said things that God knows, Leah knows and I know in my heart and soul, that I'd never say, not in a million years, and this is why I have chose to read from this paper, so no one can claim I've said anything different," McGuffin said in a steady voice.

He said he has been quiet throughout the trial as witnesses lied about what he said and did. There was no forensic evidence linking him to this crime, and that should have proven his innocence.

'I'd never wish any mother to lose her daughter the way Leah's mother, Cory, lost hers," McGuffin read. 'This is not justice putting an innocent person in jail while the guilty person or people are still out there walking free.

'It sickens me to think that people can even think that of me.

'This has been the hardest thing to live through in my life, and now it has become even harder with the injustice that is being served to me here today."

Freeman's family made no final statement to the court.

Over

Back in his office, after the sentencing, District Attorney R. Paul Frasier shook his head.

'I'm glad it is over," he said.

Frasier had been involved in investigating the case since shortly after Freeman went missing in the summer of 2000. He was on scene after police discovered her body off Lee Valley Road.

During the investigation, many suspects cropped up, he said.

'We must have looked at 10 or 15 people, and everybody we looked at we were able to eliminate, except Nick McGuffin," Frasier said. 'It always came back to him. There wasn't a single soul who looked at this case who didn't come back and say, 'You need to look at Nick McGuffin.'"

The case was entirely circumstantial, but that does not mean there was no proof, Frasier said. Just like a parent determining a child ate cookies by the crumbs on the child's face, the jury determined McGuffin killed Freeman by his actions that night 11 years ago.

'The thing that bothered me since the beginning was Nick never went to Cory Courtright's door," Frasier said. The night Freeman disappeared, McGuffin drove around town for hours searching for her. He also changed cars and clothing during the night, Frasier said.

McGuffin pretended to search for Freeman that night to cover up what he did, Frasier said.

'He could not run and go home and hide in his bedroom," Frasier said. 'He had to go out and be seen."

Frasier said he believes McGuffin killed Freeman by himself, but thinks he had help covering it up.

'That is just Paul Frasier's gut reaction," he said.

But there is no evidence to indicate McGuffin had an accomplice, and even if someone did help him hide Freeman's body, the statute of limitations to press charges has long passed, Frasier said.

During the sentencing hearing, the defense still maintained McGuffin's innocence. He made some bad decisions, but he did not kill Leah Freeman, McCrea said.

'I will say one thing, or actually make that three things," McGuffin read Monday. 'I'm innocent, I'm innocent, I'm innocent."

Reporter Jessie Higgins can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 240, or jhiggins@theworldlink.com.

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