Brett Kleng, who is facing multiple sex abuse charges, appeared before court via teleconference Tuesday afternoon to enter a plea of not guilty.
Kleng, 56, of La Grande is facing 18 sex abuse charges –– 10 counts of first-degree sex abuse, seven counts of sexual penetration with an object and one count of second-degree sex abuse. He was arrested Dec. 6, 2017 and is housed in the Union County Jail on a $500,000 bond. Two of the three victims are minors. The incidents range from 2000 through 2016, according to the indictment.
Kleng made his initial court appearance in December via teleconference from the jail room. Union County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Powers told Kleng the first-degree sex abuse charges each carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 75 months in jail; sexual penetration carries a minimum of 100 months and those that involve a minor carry a minimum of 300 months, roughly 40 years.
On Tuesday afternoon, Powers denied a request to demurrer, while granting a motion to sever.
A demurrer is a written response to a complaint filed in a lawsuit which, in effect, pleads for dismissal on the point that even if the facts alleged in the complaint were true, there is no legal basis for a lawsuit.
“I denied the demurrer, simply because under the demurrer statute the courts inquiry is limited to the face of the charging instrument,” Powers explained. “The charging instrument (in this case) alleged a conduct that was the same or of similar character under (an Oregon) statute, and alleged that the various offenses were connected by a common scheme or plan. Since that was alleged on the face of the indictment, I declined to grant the demurrer.”
Powers did grant a motion to separate Kleng’s counts so that he is not tried for all of them in one trial. Instead, one trial will be held for counts 1-6 and a second trial will be held for counts 7-18. Powers said that there is a substantial prejudice standard that the court is obliged to apply and analyze.
“The type of evidence that would be offered (within the counts) becomes very tangled and difficult to instruct (a jury) and can be addressed in separate trials,” Powers said.
Powers said Kleng’s argument previously was that he would testify on counts 1-6, but was exercising his fifth amendment right to remain silent on counts 7-18. A trial where all counts would be combined could self-incriminate Kleng on the counts where he’s choosing to remain silent.
“The interlocking evidence, the inflating self-incrimination and silence across these different counts is too hard to parse out,” Powers said. “Make no mistake about it, these cases will be going to trial, but there will be two trials.”
When asked what plea Kleng planned to enter, defense attorney Rick Dall spoke for his client stating, “There has been discussion, and an offer has been made by (Department of Justice prosecuting attorney Victoria Roe) on behalf of the state. My client has considered that and rejected that offer. Currently there is no additional offer made by the state or a counter offer by Kleng, so he is prepared to plead not guilty to all counts and we’re prepared to go to trial on both cases.”
Roe asked the court for time to discuss scheduling issues with all parties before setting trial dates.
Dall and Powers both agreed with her.
“I’m happy to give parties leave and time to figure (out the scheduling), sequence and length of each trial,” Powers said.