EVERETT — After 35 years, she had 20 minutes to speak.
Sidney Oie didn’t get to pick the date. Her invitation had the wrong name and address.
She wanted the people making decisions on a prisoner’s freedom to understand how his actions one night 35 years ago changed the rest of her life.
In June 1980, two men burst into a tavern Oie owned near SeaTac. She and her husband had worked the lunch shift and headed home. Hours later, three people were murdered at the bar, and two more were left for dead, with cords wrapped around their necks.
One of the killers, Timothy Pauley, admitted he shot two men. At 22, he was sent to prison with the possibility of serving life. After 34 years, he is being considered for release, perhaps as early as 2018.
Oie is 73 now and living with her daughter in Everett. That’s 16 miles from the prison in Monroe where Pauley is an inmate in medium security.
For decades, Oie has written the state, asking that Pauley and his accomplice, Scott Smith, never be released. The people whom they killed were her employees and friends, people she loved. She and her husband eventually lost the business they’d worked to build.
Until last year, her letters went unanswered.
• • •
The state’s Indeterminate Sentence Review Board oversees some 3,200 inmates who were imprisoned before the sentencing reforms of the 1980s. The board also oversees sex offenders who face the prospect of lifelong commitment, and some offenders who were juveniles when convicted in adult courts.
Oie joined other victims and their families at a board hearing on Dec. 14 in Olympia to oppose Pauley’s release. Two weeks later, Oie attended another hearing in Monroe. It was Pauley’s turn to speak. The board asked him to describe his crimes and what he was thinking. They are trying to assess whether he’s been rehabilitated, a requirement for release.
Pauley told the board he would like to finish his college degree and teach criminal justice. The decision on his future is expected in the coming weeks.
On that night in 1980, he says, he was young and scared.
• • •
Sidney Oie grew up in Anacortes. In 1967, when she met Kenneth Oie, he’d run a grocery store and been a meat cutter. He’d always wanted to own a bar.
She had two kids and he had a son and in time they had another girl together. They were married 42 years, until his death in 2010.
As a young couple, the Oies saved up to buy the Conway Tavern in south Skagit County in 1971. Six years later, they sold the place and invested the profit in the Barn Door Tavern near what is now the city of SeaTac.
They had a specific kind of business in mind, clean-cut and no bar fights. They wanted to serve airport and Boeing workers, families and friends. They loaded the juke box with old-timey stuff, Perry Como and The Mills Brothers.
Business was going so well, the Oies talked about expanding, maybe a second location.
On June 11, 1980, the couple worked the morning and lunch hours, leaving before the dinner rush.
The killers were customers. They’d been drinking at a table in the bar. They left after last call.
Both were broke, Pauley said. They were looking for a place to rob.
• • •
It was around 2:30 a.m. on June 12 when Pauley and Smith returned to the Barn Door. They knocked, yelling that one of them forgot his wallet. Loran Dowell, the night manager, opened the door.
Pauley told the parole board that Smith barged in with a knife, and he followed. On that point, the parole board pressed him: Didn’t he have the gun? Wasn’t it in his hand? Yes, and yes.
Pauley said they didn’t expect to find five people still inside the bar.
Smith tied up Dowell and Robert Pierre, the bartender. Pauley stood by with the gun.
“My recollection is that I pretty much just stood there. … I wasn’t menacing anyone with it,” he said.
Pauley says Smith took the two men into the walk-in cooler and told him to stand watch.
After a while, he says Smith showed up with a bin of quarters and a bag of cash and told Pauley to check on the three women.
He says he found one naked. She was dead, hanged from a railing. The other two were naked in a bathroom, “sitting back to back and they had cords just dug into their necks and they were slumped over.”
“I thought they were dead, too, and I was sick,” he said. “I was panicked.”
Pauley says he headed for the car.
“As I walked past the cooler door, I just panicked and I opened the door and I shot those two men,” he said.
He was asked if the men spoke.
“The second guy hollered, ‘No.’”
“What were you doing when he hollered no?”
• • •
The Oies’ phone rang at 4 a.m. It was Maggie Dowell. She was one of the women tied up and left for dead in the bathroom.
Sidney Oie remembers her saying, “The tavern’s been robbed. Loran’s been hurt really bad. Come quick.” Then the line went dead.
Police were everywhere when the Oies arrived at the tavern. Inside the kitchen door was a lake of blood, too wide to jump across, Sidney Oie said. The Oies started making their way in but officers ordered them to leave. Outside, Maggie Dowell and the other surviving woman were in squad cars, being interviewed.
In the hours that followed, the Oies would learn that Loran Dowell and Robert Pierre were dead, both from gunshot wounds to the head. Police alleged that Linda Burford, who was Pierre’s girlfriend, was raped before she was hanged from a railing in the bar.
Pauley, who lived near the tavern, says he got a couple of hundred dollars from the robbery, went to a medical appointment and then got drunk. He and Smith were arrested within two days.
• • •
Heather Oie was 17 when her parents’ tavern became a crime scene.
These days, criminal justice is a world she understands better than most. For years she worked for 911 centers and police departments in California and Snohomish County. Now she is a manager at the county Medical Examiner’s Office, often working with families in grief.
Before the arrests were made in the Barn Door killings, the police told the Oies to lie low, unsure how the case might develop. It was advice meant to last a few days, but Sidney Oie never got that warning out of her head: She wasn’t safe anymore.
She returns often to what she saw on the tavern floors and walls after police let them in again. She thinks about those memories when people dare to doubt her grief.
For four years, the Oies tried to rebuild their bar business. Employees wouldn’t come back. People didn’t want to eat and drink there, the scene of three murders.
Sidney and Ken Oie took turns being the cook and the bartender. They brought in a recliner, so one of them could sleep between orders.
In the end, they sold the liquor license, which had become more valuable than the business.
No one told the Oies to get counseling, or about the unpredictable ways that trauma can linger and surface, pool and eddy.
“We just floundered along,” Sidney Oie said. In the late 1980s, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Decades later, in the summer of 2010, Ken Oie was dying of cancer. He asked Heather Oie to check on the two prisoners. At that point, Pauley wasn’t eligible for release until 2021 and Smith until 2039.
In November 2014, Heather told her mom it was time to move in with her, in Everett. Sidney Oie has the basement apartment, where there aren’t so many stairs. She was in and out of the hospital last year. It’s a strange feeling, when daughter starts taking care of mother, she said.
This past August, Heather got a call from a friend, saying, “Oh my gosh. Is your family OK?”
That was the Oies’ notification that Pauley was being considered for parole.
They have never believed Pauley’s version of events, or that he was an unwilling participant in the violence. They’ve been told that he stood over the women after they’d been ordered to remove their clothing and threatened to kill them.
Sidney Oie has never been able to put her fear, her grief and her questions to rest. The new uncertainty has brought it all back.
The Oies repeatedly have asked the state to notify them of any changes in the case. They say they’ve seen some progress in transparency over the years, but not enough.
One victim’s family has a lawyer. Some have their grown children speak for them now. Some have died. Others are older, live farther away and can’t make the drive.
Board Chairwoman Kecia Rongen says they have tried without success to find the other woman who survived in the bathroom that night. The Oies also have looked for her.
The Dowell family learned last year that Sidney Oie had been writing letters on their behalf.
After 35 years, there aren’t as many voices left.
• • •
The laws were different in 1980, and so were prison sentences. Washington’s Sentencing Reform Act went into effect four years after the murders at the Barn Door.
Any prisoners sentenced before the reforms, unless specifically given “life without parole,” are eligible for release at some point. In addition, up to a third of the sentence is subject to reduction for good behavior. Prisoners in the early 1980s were given a mandatory minimum with an indeterminate maximum. The parole board decides when they go free.
Pauley pleaded guilty in 1981 to three counts of first-degree murder. He had a previous robbery conviction as a juvenile in 1976. He was sentenced for the murders on Feb. 20, 1981. Prosecutors had sought 120 years for each count, which likely would have amounted to life.
Pauley’s mandatory minimum was a little over 33 years, which he has served. He still faces life as his possible maximum.
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg wrote a letter in August opposing Pauley’s release.
“The crimes in this case call for the forfeiture of liberty for life,” he wrote. “Certainly no reduction of the minimum term previously imposed is appropriate.”
At this point, the board has three options, Rongen said. They can add time to Pauley’s minimum sentence, make no changes to his term, or decide to start the process of parole. If Pauley is determined to be ineligible, he cculd try again in 2017.
Smith, the other killer, went to trial and was convicted of three counts of murder and two counts of assault. He is incarcerated at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, not up for release for decades.
Pauley already persuaded the board to reduce his mandatory minimum by five years. A decision from the board in May 2015 cited his “prolific programming” — prison speak for taking classes and being in self-help groups — and his lack of serious infractions since 1995. A psychiatric evaluation last year described him as a low risk to re-offend.
“Mr. Pauley expresses remorse over his crimes and thinks about them on a daily basis,” the board wrote in 2015.
If Pauley had been sentenced after the reforms, the board noted, he would have faced up to 80 years.
• • •
Since the 1980s, the consideration given to crime victims also has evolved.
The Indeterminate Sentence Review Board added a victim’s liaison in 2006. That’s separate from the Department of Corrections’ victim services program, which started in the 1980s.
Victims and witnesses of certain crimes can sign up for notice if an inmate is approaching release or a transfer to work release. There also are notifications if an inmate dies or escapes, program manager Steve Eckstrom said.
When an inmate’s released or transferred into work release, the idea is to give victims at least 30 days notice so they can share any concerns, he said. Victims sometimes sign up for notice years after an offender is imprisoned.
Last year, 11,399 people were enrolled for inmate status notifications, and the state sent 3,467 notices.
The parole review board maintains a separate list of contacts, though the names may overlap. Input from victims and survivors was infrequent in the board’s hearings until 1984, and for years after that, was organized through prosecutors, Rongen said. Since then, there has been a movement for more victim involvement with additional liaison staffing added in December, she said.
It can be difficult to find victims from decades-old cases, as people change addresses or get married or divorced. Court paperwork from the cases may not provide family names or contact information, she said.
Pauley’s case has drawn more than 75 letters, she said. Typically, the board gets about 120 letters a year from people who either support or oppose an inmate’s release.
To make sure everyone gets the opportunity to speak at hearings, victims are asked to keep their comments to 20 minutes.
• • •
All those years, Sidney Oie kept sending her letters to the Department of Corrections. She wrote in June 2014 and again in June 2015, the 35th anniversary of the killings.
In November, she got a response. It was addressed to Ken, who’d been dead five years. The letter was sent to their old address, her sister’s house in Mount Vernon. The board’s victim database hadn’t been updated.
Sidney Oie was told the board didn’t know who she was, but she could speak at the Dec. 14 hearing in Olympia. Heather Oie urged her mom to write down her thoughts, so she’d be collected and organized.
Sidney Oie felt the weight of 35 years. She was determined to tell the board about blood and violence, what she scrubbed from the floors and what she can’t scrub from her memories.
She saw those 20 minutes when she could speak as her time for judgment for a killer who now could be free within her lifetime.
The board was “forced to sit and listen,” she said. “If nothing else they would know what this man did.”
• • •
The Oies had assumed that Pauley and Smith were sentenced long enough that both would die behind bars.
“That was a big mistake on our part,” Sidney Oie said. “… I was satisfied. Three life sentences meant to me, they weren’t getting out.”
She and Heather Oie were allowed to observe Pauley’s parole hearing on Jan. 5. The Daily Herald obtained an audio recording through a public records request.
The board members sat across the table from Pauley. They asked the balding, clean-shaven man in khaki coveralls to talk about his crimes.
Why didn’t he stop the murders or walk away? Why pull the trigger?
How could Smith have been the leader if Pauley had the gun?
“I panicked and I just did the wrong thing,” he told the board. “I don’t have a good answer for why I would do this.”
His attorney described the programs and classes he has completed in prison. His teachers describe him as respectful and gentle, she said. He is not the same man he was 35 years ago.
Board chairwoman Rongen said they must consider Pauley’s success in prison but also the nature of the murders and assaults, which she called “horrendous.”
At the hearing, she told Pauley that she found it baffling that he offered no insights, even from his sociology classes, into what drove him that night in 1980.
“That’s what’s missing for me too, some explanation,” board member Jeff Patnode said. “You’ve had an awful lot of time to think about this.”
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; firstname.lastname@example.org.