ASOTIN – Judge Scott D. Gallina sentenced a Clarkston man to more than 23 years in prison Monday after listening to a 40-minute statement from the convicted killer.
Melvin O’Rourke, 66, talked a lot about his medical conditions, but never once expressed regret for shooting Duane C. Hettinger to death two years ago.
The Asotin County Superior Court judge pointed out the lack of remorse when he opted for the high end of the sentencing range – 280 months – as recommended by Prosecutor Ben Nichols.
Dressed in stripes and shackled at the waist and ankles, O’Rourke smiled as he entered the courtroom. His demeanor changed when it came time to speak to the court.
During the disjointed statement, O’Rourke focused on his perceived lack of defense at trial, the inadequacies of the gun he used to blast two holes through the victim and his own deteriorating health.
O’Rourke said “zero defense” was offered before the Asotin County jury determined he was guilty of second-degree murder.
“I would like to say if I was a member of a jury I would’ve voted exactly the same way they did, considering they only had part of the story,” O’Rourke said.
In what attorneys and the judge called one of the oddest testimonies they’ve ever witnessed, O’Rourke admitted on the stand to inviting Hettinger inside his apartment, shooting him in the chest and making sure he was dead before he called 911.
On Monday, O’Rourke tried to dial back some of those admissions, saying he would never use such an unreliable weapon and the victim must have picked the lock to get inside. He also accused the judge and prosecutor of withholding testosterone replacement therapies while he’s spent the past two years in the Asotin County Jail.
His attorney, Vic Bottomly, said his client was evaluated twice during his incarceration to determine whether he was competent to stand trial, and O’Rourke passed both mental health exams.
“It’s one of the most unusual cases I’ve ever handled,” the public defender said.
Bottomly said O’Rourke has trouble with “tracking and logic” because of his Parkinson’s disease and other ailments and does not have a long life ahead. Because he has no prior felonies and is not likely to reoffend, Bottomly sought the low end of the sentencing range.
Nichols said based on the defendant’s testimony, the state could’ve sought a first-degree murder charge with a weapons enhancement. The slaying was a “cold, deliberate” act, as evidenced by the defendant’s own words during the trial, the prosecutor said.
The only other person who spoke to the judge during Monday’s hearing was Merel R. O’Rourke of Grangeville, the defendant’s brother. He said Melvin O’Rourke is an “ever-increasing threat to himself and to others” and should be sentenced along the guidelines for second-degree murder.
“In a sense, this case represents a series of lost opportunities,” Merel O’Rourke said in a written statement to the court. “… We almost have to ask ourselves how deep we want the pile to be.”
Merel O’Rourke said it grates to ask for a long prison sentence for a family member, “but every metric – psychological, social and legal – says that to do anything else would be a grave error.”
Gallina said he believes the version of events outlined by the defendant on the stand. He invited Hettinger to his apartment, pulled out a gun and shot him in the chest.
When called as a witness for the defense, Melvin O’Rourke’s testimony lined up perfectly with the state’s evidence in the case, the judge noted.
“I, frankly, have never seen anything like it,” Gallina said.
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