As triple murderer Gregory Alvin Cook was led away from Union County
Circuit Court Monday to begin serving life without parole, people in
the courtroom applauded. One man's voice was heard above the sound of
clapping hands: "Rot in hell," the man called out.
After hearing bitter remarks from family and friends of the victims,
Cook drew three consecutive life sentences for the killings last July
of Shannon Marie Sloan (also known as Shannon Marie McKillop), Jeremiah
Johnston and Frank Scaramuzzi.
He also was sentenced to 10 years for dismembering Sloan's corpse,
and five years for being a felon in possession of the firearm he used
to kill Johnston and Scaramuzzi. In addition, he was ordered to pay
$12,600 in restitution.
According to a negotiated plea agreement worked out with the Union County District Attorney's Office, Cook, who confessed to the crimes, may never appeal. In return, the state agreed not to seek the death penalty.
In handing down the sentence, Judge Russell West said that since Cook can actually serve only one life term, the three consecutive life sentences are "symbolic."
"There's no punishment that's severe enough for you, Mr. Cook," West said.
Prior to the sentencing, District Attorney Tim Thompson gave details of the killings, based on investigators' findings and also statements from Cook.
As part of the agreement with the DA, Cook gave a recitation of his crimes under polygraph. Cook said no one else was involved in the murders. Thompson said the polygraph shows him to be telling the truth.
"I think we've put an end to any conspiracy theories that are out there," Thompson said.
According to Thompson's statements, the crimes began to come to light July 24 when a human hand was found in Goldfish Pond off of Pumpkin Ridge Road near Elgin. Early the next day, human remains were discovered within a mile of the pond.
Authorities drained the pond and found a backpack containing a human head, a hand, rocks and rope. Oregon State Police criminalists were able to bring out sufficient fingerprint detail to identify Sloan as the victim.
Cook, Sloan, Johnston and Scaramuzzi were known associates and had been seen together around the time of the murders. Authorities sought Cook, Scaramuzzi and Johnston as "persons of interest" in the case.
On July 31, OSP trooper Kyle Hove spotted Cook's car in La Grande and pulled it over. Cook's girlfriend, Denise Murphy, was driving.
Murphy told Hove she had a written confession from Cook relating to the deaths of Sloan, Scaramuzzi and Johnston. The bodies of Johnston and Scaramuzzi were found north of Elgin the next day. Both had been shot multiple times.
Cook, who had last been seen in Hermiston, fled the state. On Aug. 3, Cook was taken into custody near Rainier, Wash., by the Thurston County Sheriff's Office.
Investigators determined that Sloan, Cook, Johnston and Scaramuzzi had been together on July 17. According to Thompson, Johnston drove to Umatilla County in Cook's car and purchased methamphetamine and an opiate drug.
In Elgin, Sloan and Cook shared some methamphetamine. A dispute arose over payment by Sloan to Cook for the drugs. Sloan refused to pay and Cook became angry. He took her for a drive in his vehicle. He struck her and refused to let her go home.
At one point, Cook had Sloan remove her shoes and walk to the location off Pumpkin Ridge Road where her remains were found.
He strangled her, dismembered her head and hands and placed them in the backpack and covered her body with brush. Then he disposed of the backpack.
Cook then drove to Sloan's house, located Johnston and Scaramuzzi, and told them to get in his car.
During the drive he told Johnston what had happened to Sloan, assuring Johnston that Johnston would be fine if he went along with what Cook planned to tell Scaramuzzi.
But at a remote location along Gordon Creek Road, Cook forced the men to each take a shovel he provided. The three men walked up a hill into the woods. There, he told them both he had killed Sloan.
Cook ordered the men to dig a shallow grave, telling them that they would be killed and buried there if they ever spoke a word about what happened to Sloan.
He ordered Johnston and Scaramuzzi to tie themselves together with a belt. They recited the Lord's Prayer before Cook shot them in the head several times. He covered their bodies with brush.
Cook told investigators that he killed Johnston and Scaramuzzi to prevent them from identifying him as the last person to be seen with Sloan, Thompson said.
The district attorney said that between July 17 and July 24, Cook attempted to conceal his crimes by disposing of evidence. He returned to each crime scene to reposition brush to further conceal the bodies.
When he became aware that Sloan's remains had been identified, he made plans to leave the state.
Ultimately Cook told Murphy what he had done, wrote the confession letter and told her to take it to police in Union County. He traveled from Hermiston to Seattle and Rainier, where he was captured.
Before passing sentence, West gave survivors of the murder victims a chance to tell Cook how they felt about the crimes.
Sloan's daughters, Jessica Willard and Nicole Sloan, sat at the prosecution table and read from prepared statements, struggling to hold back tears as they did so.
Willard recalled her mother in loving terms, said she was a woman of good humor who kept a spotless house and liked to grow things.
"She loved me unconditionally and forever," Willard said. "All I have left of her is a jar of her ashes and the knowledge that a monster will be serving at least part of the sentence he deserves."
Nicole Sloan was equally bitter.
"She was beautiful but you brutalized her and threw her away like a piece of trash," Sloan said. "You're a waste. I hope you know there's a spot reserved for you in hell."
Vickie Danforth also stepped forward, saying she was there to speak for Scaramuzzi's aged mother, who was unable to attend.
"You have taken and broken this lady, and she'll never be fixed," Danforth said to Cook. "She's trying hard to forgive you. I don't know if she ever can. I know I can't. What you got out of these sentences is nothing. I hope you rot in hell."
Leo Kepplinger, Jeremiah Johnston's stepfather, also spoke, but not to Cook. Kepplinger urged people in the courtroom not to be be consumed with hatred.
"You will all suffer longer if you hate," he said. "I'm not saying you have to forgive - that's up to the Lord."
Joey Becker, Johnston's sister, told Cook there were things he didn't know about her brother.
"He loved to read, he loved the outdoors and he loved children, especially his two daughters. He had the ability to become a child himself when he was with children," Becker said.
Becker said she doesn't believe that Cook is sorry for the crimes, and added that she hopes he lives in fear the rest of his life.
"I hope you face terror from the criminals you now have to live with. Hopefully this terror is like the terror your victims felt," she said.
Near the end of the hearing, Cook was given a chance to speak. Shackled and dressed in a jail jump suit, he stood and for the space of a minute struggled for words.
In the looming silence, West asked if Cook wanted defense attorney Ken Hadley to make the statement for him.
"I have to say it myself," Cook said, shaking his head. Then he turned to face the people in the court room.
"I don't blame you at all for the way you feel about me," he said. "I felt so bad about myself that I went to Seattle to buy heroin to kill myself with. But it didn't work."
Cook repeated what he told local reporters in an interview following his capture: drugs were to blame for his behavior.
"The truth is, in my heart I'm not a bad person," he said. "When I wasn't high on meth I wouldn't in a million billion years do something like this."
Cook, who previously served prison time in Washington and Oregon for assault and sex abuse, said that after he started using meth he stopped "folding my hands and getting on my knees to pray."
"I became thoroughly addicted and I lost touch with God," he said.
He also said he wants the community to be aware of the threat meth poses.
"No one who does meth is exempt from doing the things I did," he said.
He apologized to the survivors for the crimes.
"I'm sorry. I know that won't bring them back but I hope it's better than silence, just not saying anything at all," he said.
Hadley told the court that while people have to make their own judgments about remorse, he believes Cook is sorry for the crimes.
"I never had a client that showed more remorse," Hadley, a seasoned criminal lawyer and former Baker County district attorney, said.
Hadley said that Cook cooperated with authorities and did not try to get out of his punishment.
After the hearing, Thompson said that the people who investigated the crimes deserved much credit.
"The investigators solved it," Thompson said. "The big break was identifying (Sloan's) fingerprints. That's what caused Cook to write the confession."