Man pleads guilty to killing Rainier police chief, gets life in prison

Daniel Butts appears at a plea hearing in Columbia County Court on March 26, 2019. Butts pleaded guilty except for insanity to killing Rainier Police Chief Ralph Painter in 2011. KATU photo

RAINIER, Ore. – The man accused of killing Rainier Police Chief Ralph Painter in 2011 pleaded guilty Tuesday, and a Columbia County judge sentenced him to life in prison.

At the hearing, Butts waived the 48-hour wait he’s allowed before sentencing and said he wished to be sentenced the same day. He pleaded guilty to Aggravated Murder, for killing Chief Painter, and two counts of Attempted Aggravated Murder, for attempting to kill another police officer and a witness.

Judge Ted Grove sentenced Butts to life in prison. He will not be eligible for parole for nearly 49 years, at which time Butts will be 70 years old. Butts will first go to the state hospital. Once they declare him fit, Butts will go to prison. Butts pleaded not guilty except for insanity to the lesser charges including robbery, burglary, and theft.

During the hearing, Grove said Butts didn’t have the mental capacity to fully understand the crime when it occurred. Based on a doctor’s statement, Butts suffers from Schizophrenia.

It was an emotional morning in the courtroom, Tuesday. Several family members spoke during the hearing, sharing memories of Chief Painter and how his death impacted family, friends, and the community.

Amy Painter, Ralph's wife, said she will remember how her husband lived - not how he died.

"Our lives were torn apart that day. I have watched every member of his family struggle with Ralph's murder, each in their own way," she said.

Amy Painter added, "The toll this is taking on us individually will never be fully known, and it’s not just the emotional effect. It’s also the physical effects. I was diagnosed with breast cancer on February 5, 2017. Doctors believe that my cancer was connected to the continued stress I have incurred since Ralph’s murder."

"You may have taken my dad’s life, but his spirit still lives on," said Riley Painter, Chief Painter's son, to Butts in the courtroom. "I can always wish for one more big bear hug but I will never get one. I love you dad."

Family members remembered Painter as a loving father, who bragged about his kids, and always wanted to be a police officer.

"Ralph died doing what he loved... protecting those he loved and defending his community from evil," said Amy Painter.

Butts was given the opportunity to speak to the Painter family, but his attorney said Butts declined for two reasons. Butts is mentally ill and on medication that prevents him from showing emotion. He also said the Painter family did not want to hear from Butts, so he honored that request.

After the sentencing, Amy Painter said the sentence is still sinking in. She said no sentence would be long enough for what Butts did.

Other family members told KATU News they had hoped Butts would not be allowed to apply for parole, but they will accept the sentence handed down.

"It's closing a chapter and moving on, you have to," said Alan Painter, Ralph's brother. "You can't let it eat you up."

"No family should ever wait this long to get justice. There will never be enough justice for what we got," said Kathy Painter, Ralph's wife.

A spokesperson for Butts' family, his aunt, Melissa Gavin, said they want to thank the Painter family for allowing closure. She said they wish for healing and peace for all.

"Words cannot begin to express our deepest sympathy. We feel for the chief's family and the community. This was a profound tragedy that never should have happened," said Gavin.

Butts was found competent to stand trial in 2012, but officials later decided he required further evaluation.

A psychologist who evaluated Butts told the court in February that the defendant was schizophrenic but was fit to stand trial.

Doctors, along with Butts' defense attorneys, said he hears voices and that his schizophrenia went untreated for years.

In an interview, Butts told a psychologist he felt like his life was threatened when he crossed paths with Painter, and that he felt like he had to grab the chief's gun and shoot him for his own safety.

In a court document dated July 3, Judge Ted Grove wrote that Butts’ symptoms of schizophrenia have diminished because of hospitalization and forced medication.

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