Former PSU student sentenced to three years in prison

This past Tuesday, former Portland State student Heath Avery was sentenced to three years in prison followed by three years of parole for stabbing Andrew Richardson, also a student, last summer on campus.

This past Tuesday, former Portland State student Heath Avery was sentenced to three years in prison followed by three years of parole for stabbing Andrew Richardson, also a student, last summer on campus.

The sentencing was part of a plea bargain—the maximum sentence for assault in the second degree is nearly six years—and Avery will be released in two years if his time in jail is free of violations.

At the sentencing, Judge Kenneth Walker urged Avery to seek mental health treatment.

“There’s no legal defense to your actions, but it concerns me that you overreacted in this situation,” Walker said. “I think you have some mental health concerns that need to be addressed.”

In September, Avery’s defense attorney, Martha Spinhirne, ordered a psychological evaluation of Avery to support her argument that he was unable to assist in his own defense, but the court ruled that he was competent.

“Finding him able to aid and assist is not to say he doesn’t have psychological issues,” said Deputy District Attorney Christopher Ramras, who represented Richardson. “We all believe his mental state was a factor in what led to the stabbing.”

Ramras said he received several handwritten notes of apology from Avery, until Avery was notified that his letters broke a law against informal communication between the defendant and the prosecution.

The assault took place on Aug. 14, 2010. According to the report filed by Ramras, Richardson was sitting on a bench outside Montgomery Court with student Haley Baptiste when Avery approached him.

Avery said, “Are you talking to me?” and advanced towards Richardson, who punched him. Avery staggered and sat down, stabbing Richardson in the side with a knife when Richardson approached him to punch him again.

Avery told police that he’d been walking to his dorm before the incident and heard Richardson say “You’re fucked; you’re screwed,” which prompted Avery to take a knife from his dorm room and walk back to the bench to confront Richardson.

 “I can still see it in my head,” said Richardson. “A random act of violence is difficult to process…I still look over my shoulder. I’ll probably never look at the world the same.”

The 13-inch knife punctured Richardson’s spleen, requiring $40,000 in surgeries and treatment.

Richardson was unaware that Avery’s defense ordered a mental health evaluation until the middle of December, when Avery pled guilty.

 “The last couple of weeks have been easier, once I found out about the evaluation. It allowed me to look at him in a more compassionate light,” said Richardson. “I’m not worried about the guy coming back and harming me. I’m worried about his well-being.”

At Avery’s plea hearing in December, Richardson made a statement expressing his wish to see Avery receive treatment.

“I’m fearful that Avery will remain…wasting away in a prison cell instead of receiving much-needed attention,” he said in his statement.

Richardson said that he remembered wondering before the incident about Avery’s “off-putting” persona, known around the dorms. Richardson and Avery had never officially met but both say they recognized each other. In July, Richardson voiced his concern to a resident adviser, who agreed to keep an eye on Avery.

Friends in Avery’s hometown of Lawrenceville, Ill. were shocked to receive a letter from him telling of the assault.

“Heath never had a bad or mad bone in his body,” said Patrick O’Neal, a friend of Avery’s since middle school who kept in touch with him on Facebook after Avery moved to Portland in 2005. “In sports, he was competitive, but you’d never think Heath would be pushed to a certain limit…I really don’t see him as being that unstable, if at all.”

Both of Avery’s parents suffered from severe arthritis and died when he was young.

“His family was a really close group,” O’Neal said.

Avery was majoring in philosophy at PSU. 

“I’m spending 36 months in a state facility when I’ve never been in trouble before in my life,” Avery said in a phone interview with the Vanguard from the Multnomah County jail. “Right now I could be working on graduate papers.”

Commenting on his time at PSU, Avery said he isolated himself.

 “I would just speak to my professors,” he said. “I spent most of my time at bookstores or in my room, looking at the Internet, looking for somebody to talk to.”

At Tuesday’s sentencing, Avery said he was committed to earning an early release date of January 2015.

“I’m in gratitude to God and God’s will,” he said. “I do hope that…I’ll be able to work towards my Ph.D. and being a better human being.”?