PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) – An Oregon man convicted in a brutal double murder case when he was 16 years old is going to get a chance to prove he’s a changed person.

Sterling Cunio is serving out his sentence of life in prison without parole. He was convicted in the 1994 killing of Bridget Camber, 18, and her fiancé Ian Dahl, 21.

Cunio and Wilford Hill approached the young couple outside an apartment in Salem and ordered the pair, at gunpoint, to get into Camber’s car. Cunio then drove the car down Interstate 5 to the Albany area. They stopped at a park near the Willamette River. Once there, Camber and Dahl were shot and killed. Cunio and Wilford took off.

Cunio is now 42 years old and spent more than two decades behind bars. Thursday, a federal judge in Portland ordered the State Parole Board to give Cunio an opportunity to show he’s a changed person.

“The court said that the constitution requires the state to give him a chance to show the progress he has made,” said Cunio’s attorney, Ryan O’Connor.

O’Connor has been on the case since 2012. In that time, he has been arguing that your brain isn’t fully developed in your teen years. He says you change over time and a person convicted and sentenced to life in prison as a minor should have the opportunity to prove they’ve been rehabilitated.

“A vast majority of kids who commit crimes, even murder, will become rehabilitated and be productive members of the community as they become adults,” O’Connor said.

In 2012, the Supreme Court found mandatory sentences for life without the possibility of parole are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders.

In 2019, Oregon lawmakers changed youth sentencing guidelines that align with that ruling. The sticking point in Oregon’s legislation is the law only applied to cases moving forward, it did not work retroactively.

That’s why the ruling in federal court on Thursday is important for certain cases.

“What this federal court was saying to Oregon, to the state, give Sterling Cunio that chance now even though it is looking backwards. He deserves it anyway under the Supreme Court case law,” said Lewis & Clark law professor Aliza Kaplan.

Kaplan said decision will have an impact on a handful of cases. They have to meet several criteria to fall under the ruling.

For O’Connor, he says Cunio is a changed person now. He says Cunio is working on his degree, is an award-winning writer and helps with the prison hospice program. 

“He is a totally different person and I think that any person who meets him and looks at the things he’s accomplished and meets with him can see that,” O’Connor said.

Camber’s family says they were not surprised by the federal ruling adding they are not out for revenge in the case. They say they just want Cunio to serve the sentence that was handed down in 1994. They say the court followed the state guidelines at the time.

A hearing for Cunio has not been scheduled before the Oregon State Parole Board.

Copyright 2020 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.

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(6) comments

kyjaha

Yeah, generally, the age of reasons twelve for both us, ten for girls,. Meaning they know right from wrong by that point. Now, I did things in my life at 16 that I would never do today. I mean I made some bad decision's. But nothing so serious as to take anothers life, things that I regret , still. So I can see the point here. However, a capital crime? At 16, regardless of upbringing, etc., He knew what the result would be. That pulling that trigger would result in a death. And the attorney is fighting for him to have a chance to prove that he has changed? At what risk? He's already oroven life has no value to him, what more do we need to do.? If he can see to the table WITH the degree, and with a clear prison record, and all the hospice and all that, then.., in strict consultation with the victims families (because they know who and why and what about the killer of their loves ones) then maybe. But we currently have him where he needs to be. It shouldn't place us at additional risk to allow him back into our community, put additional lives on the line to offer him a second turn to demonstrate he has changed. The burden, every bit of it, should be on him to show that he indeed is worthy of a return from a life sentence. But all of those who are advancing these comments about the death penalty for a child ,. You really need to look at what you are saying cuz that's just not right. Too many people are being discovered to be innocent, being freed from death row, and life sentences, having had to take on the entire government of the US just to be heard about some clear and convincing evidence PROVING the innocence, and we only hear about those who are lucky enough to get a judge who is willing to take their duty seriously, take the heat that goes with such a ruling. For you to blindly rely upon conviction, without knowing all the elements of a case, which in today's criminal justice system there is no guarantee a jury knows all the details of a case, we may be responsible for putting hundreds of innocent people to death. I don't want to o place one innocent person in prison with no hope of ever proving their innocence never mind killing an innocent person. But anyone who studies our legal system, court rulings, etc. Will understand what I'm talking about. Prosecutorial misconduct is A reality.

CherryAnn1000

This man needs to stay locked up. You do the crime, you do the time. If he is truly rehabilitated, then let him show it in prison by doing good there, but we don't want him on the streets ever again.

sagebrush

The only change that should be made is that worthless animals like this should get the death penalty.

Brighteyes

I don’t think murderers of this kind, killing two innocents just for fun, should Ever get a chance at release, the victims deserve justice and the civilized citizens deserve to be protected. I may feel differently if in those 25yrs he’d earned an advanced degree in an area of study that corresponded to the current in demand job market.

Smku

Will his victims also get a second chance at life? That'd be wonderful.

Frederick Fukov

No kidding. My thoughts precisely. Who cares what he's done since he's been in prison. How he even lives with himself after what he did to that young couple, is beyond my reasoning. Oh, but of course he's been counseled by enabling liberals who assure him it's not his fault, because he was just a teen, and his brain was not fully developed. Oh really? Then why aren't millions of other teens committing grisly murders? This is such utter bull Schiff it's not even funny. Oh, how lovely is it that he's an "award winning writer," and he helps with hospice care. Good for him. Sounds like he's actually doing more good IN prison, than he would ever do on the outside. I don't get the lenient, misplaced sympathies in our judicial system. Randy Woodfield was serving a 10 year sentence back in the late 70s, for multiple sx assaults and robberies at gunpoint. He was let out by the parole board after just 4 yrs..for "good behavior." Then in 1980-81, he went on a 5 month crime spree where it's now estimated he committed as many as 60 rapes and 44 murders. Cunio can rot right where he is. If he's allowed to go free, it's a complete insult and another crime against the family of the victims.

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