PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Twenty-eight years isn’t nearly long enough for a mother to forget her daughter’s murder. For Holly Thrasher, she remembers the day after Thanksgiving in 1994 when she tried to get a package for her daughter, Nikki.
“I called her and I called her to come and get it and I couldn’t get ahold of her,” Thrasher said.
Nikki’s roommate hadn’t seen her at the motel in Roseburg where she worked and hadn’t heard from her either.
Then on Sunday, the 19-year-old’s body was found on the side of a rural road, with a bullet hole in her head.
As the year turned to 1995, Kyle Hedquist was arrested for her murder. Before the year was over, he was convicted of Nikki’s murder, and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“He took the life of my daughter in cold blood. It was a cold-blooded murder. He planned it,” Thrasher said.
According to a release from the Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson, Hedquist had killed Nikki to protect himself. Hedquist had stolen some things from his aunt and Nikki, not knowing about the burglary, asked about the items.
“She innocently inquired about them, he took that as a threat to him and to his ability to get away with the crime,” Clarkson said in an interview with KOIN 6 News, “He tricked her, drove her to a remote location, shot her in the back of the head execution-style and dumped her body on the side of the road.”
The nature of the murder makes Clarkson question why Hedquist was granted clemency. What was bewildering about the situation is that Thrasher was never told by the state that Hedquist’s case was being considered, nor did Governor Kate Brown’s office seek Hollie out to see how she felt about it.
Thrasher was first told about Hedquist’s release when KOIN 6 News called her for her reaction.
“I am upset. I wasn’t even told,” she said.
Upon the state’s attempt to locate Hedquist in his release, Douglas County refused the convicted killer because of safety concerns related to victims of his crimes still living in the community. That’s when conversations began with Marion County public safety officials and the Governor’s office, Clarkson said.
“These types of decisions are not reflective of public safety, they’re not reflective of good decisions,” Clarkson said.
The state gave one Marion County address the county’s community corrections team determined was not acceptable. They denied the petition only for the Governor’s Office to try again.
That notice, Clarkson said, came on April 13 when Hedquist was scheduled to be released. Clarkson says that was not enough time for Community Corrections to vet the address in south Salem given by the Governor’s office.
“This particular release into this community just seemed inappropriate for Marion County and wasn’t done with the appropriate protocol and the proper risk assessment and safety measures in place” Clarkson said. “The only thing that my sheriff and I were left to do was just let people know that it was happening.”
In Douglas County, district attorney Richard Wesenberg submitted a detailed letter to Gov. Kate Brown’s office objecting to Hedquist’s release where Wesenberg says Hedquist is “uninterested in having his version of events be based in reality.”
“There are thousands of pages of discovery on this case, and yet large swaths of Hedquist’s petition are completely unsupported by any of them,” Wesenberg said in the letter, “In fact, many statements fly in the face of the evidence.”
“This office has concerns that clemency for Mr. Hedquist will erode faith in the justice system. Specifically, clemency for Hedquist will demonstrate that a life sentence without the possibility of parole does not really mean a true-life sentence,” Wesenberg’s letter said.
Thrasher worries for her and her son’s safety following Hequist’s release and says “how can we trust ” the outcome.
The concerns for the justice system echo from Clarkson. She says victims have reached out to her wondering why the perpetrator in their case was given leniency, why their sense of justice was diminished.
“I think what it’s telling them is they don’t matter, that these offenders are being prioritized over them and over what happens to them, their families and what is appropriate for public safety,” Clarkson said. “We need victims to trust us. We need them to participate. We need them to be willing to come to court and to hang in there with us.”
It’s part of a troubling pattern Clarkson has noted, among other district attorneys in the state, of Governor Kate Brown.
The commutations of sentences for violent offenders started with juveniles in Brown’s office. Clarkson was willing to hear the debate of the chemistry of a young mind and an offender’s ability to change.
Clarkson agrees that low-level offenses like livability crimes or crimes that are committed from a place of substance abuse or behavioral health are not best rehabilitated through incarceration. But she says there are a group of people that deserve the consequences of their action and Governor Brown is undoing those “with one swipe of one pen.”
“The direction that our state leadership seems to be taking us here is putting the average citizen and our state at risk. These are really violent offenders both physically and sexually violent and I think as a community, we have a right to expect better from our leadership and expect that they’re going to protect us in a way that we deserve,” she said.