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An Oregon man who suffocated a federal public defender during a botched burglary more than a decade ago will spend the next 15 years in prison.
Christopher Alexander Williamson, 29, was sentenced in a Multnomah County courthouse on Thursday in connection to the 2009 home invasion murder of public defender Nancy Bergeson. Williamson, who along with Justin Joseph Panek, broke into Bergeson’s southwest Portland home on Nov. 24, 2009 and wound up strangling the woman when she confronted them.
“Nancy Bergeson is remembered as a devoted mother, a passionate defense attorney and a
trusted friend to many,” Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill said in a statement. “We know Nancy’s enthusiasm and passion continues to inspire those who knew her.”
Bergeson’s family were pleased with the judgment, prosecutors said. Williamson supposedly suffers from a genetic disorder and is expected to die in the next 10 years. He was previously arrested at a medical facility where he receives dialysis treatments.
"Do I wish it were more? Of course, but I think it was a tough case after all these years," the woman’s daughter, Jamie Lyon, said in court, according to the Oregonian.
Williamson’s co-defendant, Panek, reportedly had family who lived around the corner from Bergeson, the Portland newspaper reported. The pair of friends decided to rob Bergeson after they noticed her door was open and her BMW wasn’t parked outside.
Williamson, who was 19 at the time, put the public defender in a lethal chokehold when she found the two men going through her things.
For years, Bergeson’s murder went unsolved. But in 2016, investigators caught a break.
Panek, who was incarcerated on separate charges, reportedly boasted of Bergeson’s killing in a recorded jailhouse conversation with another inmate who was wearing a wire, the Oregonian reported. Panek, who didn’t name Williamson directly, referred to him as “his homeboy” in the recording.
“Panek laughs and says that he and his homeboy killed that (expletive),” Washington County Sheriff’s Det. Robert L. Rookhuyzen wrote of the 2016 recording in an arrest report. “He says he swears on everything he loves that he did it.”
Detectives described how Panek attempted to justify the killing, telling the inmate informant, “how sometimes people are in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“That s--t happens,” Panek told the informant.
Williamson was later investigated and arrested in Bergeson’s homicide. The 29-year-old pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter and burglary charges on March 12.
Panek, a serial thief, was also convicted and sentenced on a series of prior robbery charges in Linn and Washington counties. He received a 10-year sentence last week in connection with those charges, as well as his involvement with Bergeson’s killing.
Joe Calhoun, Williamson’s defense counsel, didn’t respond to Oxygen.com’s request for comment on Thursday.
“As public defenders, we appreciate a criminal justice system that considers the unique failings and strengths of the person being sentenced,'' Lisa Hay, Oregon’s federal public defender, said, according to the Oregonian. "We trust and believe that happened in this case.''
Bergeson’s daughter described her mother as her best friend, her “rock,” a “force of nature,” and a skilled public defender, according to the Oregonian.
"Being here in a courtroom, I’m struck by another angle of this tragedy: Clients no longer get her,” Lyon said. “She protected you against the system. She gave you a chance. She fought for you as if you were family. And it’s so damn sad that the people who took her life were the exact type of people she was so committed to helping.''
Lyon, who called her mother’s murder “senseless,” also spoke of the traumatic fallout in the aftermath of her mother’s killing, which she said, “completely ruined Portland” for her. She explained she doesn’t expect to find “closure” following Williamson’s sentence, but insisted she would “try and forgive” her mother’s killer.
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