PORTLAND – Friends are mourning a public defender found slain at her Portland home this week, with one of her clients calling her “a fighter.”
Police on Thursday continued to search the home of Nancy Bergeson and an adjacent wooded area. The 57-year-old was found dead Tuesday, and an autopsy Wednesday concluded she was a homicide victim. Police have ruled out gang activity or domestic violence.
“It could be a stranger, or it could be somebody that she knew,” police spokeswoman Mary Wheat told the Oregonian newspaper.
“It could have been someone from work or someone that wasn’t necessarily a stranger. Normally at this stage, we have some idea if this is someone she (knew).”
Bergeson was an assistant federal public defender who had worked in that office in Portland and Eugene since 1991.
She was a daughter of Marian Bergeson, formerly a California assemblywoman, state senator and California secretary of education.
Vernice Trease, a friend of 20 years and a state judge in Salt Lake City, said Bergeson was a mentor in the Salt Lake Legal Defender Association.
“Whatever it is that she thought was right, and was appropriate for her client, she stood up and advocated for them,” Trease told the Oregonian.
Earlier this week, Bergeson defended Roy Bendshadler, 48, of Portland.
He was convicted Monday of defrauding the government of more than $9 million in a tax-avoidance scheme that involved preparing more than 1,000 returns on the theory that compensation for personal labor is not taxable.
“I’m gut-punched sick because I lost my advocate,” said Bendshadler, who planned to appeal. “She was a fighter. She risked sanctions by the judge when she repeatedly objected to the prosecution putting hearsay documents into the records.”
Portland lawyer Lisa Maxfield said she and Bergeson shared a love of the outdoors, and Bergeson loved animals.
“I’ve never known Nancy where she didn’t have at least one dog in tow,” Maxfield said. “Sometimes two, sometimes three.”