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Investigation finds that missing evidence in triple-murder case was probably destroyed
BYLINE: Steve Beaven, The Oregonian
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Polk County, OR

The former district attorney in Polk County said he doesn't know what happened to missing evidence that led to the release of a convicted killer in a triple-murder case, according to a report released Monday by the Oregon Department of Justice.

The report said that former District Attorney John Fisher admitted that he "probably" signed a document four years ago that acknowledged the receipt of some of the prosecution evidence in the case against Philip Scott Cannon. The report said the document included Fisher's signature, dated June 9, 2005.

Fisher told an investigator he intended for the evidence to be transferred to the Polk County Sheriff's Office, as is the custom in homicide cases. But he doesn't know what happened to the prosecution's trial exhibits.

The report concludes that the evidence has likely been destroyed.

"Polk County just completely screwed up," Jennifer Murdock, the sister of one of the victims, said Monday. "The families don't deserve this."

Cannon, 43, was convicted of three murders 10 years ago but was released from the Polk County Jail on Dec. 18 because investigators could not find evidence used to convict him.

Neither the attorney general's report nor Polk County officials have said how much or what evidence is missing.

Cannon had been granted the right to a new trial in August. But prosecutors dismissed murder charges against him earlier this month, saying that "dismissal is in the best interest of justice for the reason that necessary evidence is unavailable."

The attorney general's report, dated Dec. 18, said that a recent search of the county's evidence storage facility and the district attorney's office didn't turn up any of the prosecution trial exhibits used in the case against Cannon, who has maintained his innocence.

Fisher could not be reached for comment Monday. His successor, District Attorney Stan Butterfield, did not return a phone call.

Prosecutors in Cannon's case relied in part on evidence from "comparative bullet lead analysis," a technique abandoned by the FBI in 2005 because of its unreliability. After Cannon's attorney challenged the use of the analysis, the state agreed in August that Cannon should receive a new trial.

Cannon had been serving a life sentence for the murders of Jason Roger Kinser, his girlfriend, Suzan Renee Osborne, and their friend, Celesta Joy Graves in November 1998.

The three were found shot in the back of the head at a mobile home in a rural area west of Salem.

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