Sep. 24-A young man who stabbed another man to death in a Medford field was sentenced this week to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years.
A jury unanimously convicted Ethan Gabriel Gutierrez of second-degree murder after a trial this week. Now 20 years old, Gutierrez was 18 when he killed Ronald Leroy Satterfield Jr. in 2020. Satterfield was 48.
The night of the murder, Satterfield was wandering in Medford and told people his car had broken down. Gutierrez was drinking with friends in a backyard, and he and his brother invited Satterfield to drink with them, said Jackson County Deputy District Attorney Michael Cohen, who prosecuted the case.
Gutierrez and Satterfield decided to go buy cigarettes and ended up in a field behind Albertson's on Ross Lane. They got into an argument. The victim shouted racial slurs. Gutierrez assaulted Satterfield and left him bleeding with a broken nose, Cohen said.
Satterfield moved to a different part of the field and fell asleep. Gutierrez went home, changed his shoes, washed his hands and went back to the scene. Gutierrez searched the area, which was dark and unlit, until he found Satterfield, then straddled him while he was asleep and stabbed him six times in the neck, according to the DA's Office.
Two witnesses came upon Gutierrez in the midst of the attack and stopped him by calling out to him. He fled the area while the two witnesses pursued him. Police and other emergency personnel responded to the scene shortly thereafter, but the wounds Gutierrez inflicted on Satterfield were fatal, and he was pronounced dead at the scene, the DA's Office said.
Medford Police Department and other law enforcement agencies set up a perimeter in the surrounding streets and neighborhoods. As a result of their efforts, law enforcement officers were eventually able to find Gutierrez and take him into custody, the DA's Office said.
"There are so many things that lined up terribly for Mr. Satterfield," Cohen said. "The stars lined up in the wrong way. He had asked a witness, 'Where is a safe place to rest?' A homeless person said, 'That field is pretty safe.' It turned out not to be as safe as he hoped."
Original reports described Satterfield as homeless, but Cohen said Satterfield's family said he was living in an RV on family property. Although Satterfield had told people his car broke down and that's why he was hanging out that night, investigators didn't find a car and couldn't confirm that part of his story, Cohen said.
It's also not clear why Gutierrez went to the field and stabbed Satterfield after their earlier argument.
"We don't know why. There are theories. Maybe after Mr. Gutierrez assaulted Mr. Satterfield, he was afraid he would get in trouble and he went back," Cohen said. "The defense focused on the age of Mr. Gutierrez. He was 18 at the time and is 20 now. Certainly while it's sad to think Mr. Gutierrez made such a horrible and violent decision so early in his life, we can't forget that someone is permanently gone because of it."
Cohen said Satterfield is dearly missed by his family, who attended all three days of the trial.
Although the public may think otherwise because of what they see on television or in the movies, the question of motive doesn't have to be answered in criminal cases. Evidence just has to show beyond a reasonable doubt that a person committed a certain act.
"It's disconcerting to see someone take another person's life and you don't know why," Cohen said. "But motive doesn't have to be a part of the prosecution."
Gutierrez has been lodged in the Jackson County Jail since July 11, 2020, without bail. He will be transferred to an Oregon Department of Corrections prison. If he gets out of prison on parole after 25 years, he will be subject to a lifetime of post-prison supervision, according to jail records and the DA's Office.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.