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Catholic Sentinel | Portland, OR Thursday, October 27, 2016

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Man sentenced to life in prison for 2001 death of UP student, Kate Johnson
Staff and news service reports

Deniz Aydiner, a Turkish citizen linked by DNA to the 2001 sexual assault and murder of University of Portland student Kate Johnson, was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 37 years after pleading no contest last week. If parole is granted, he is to be immediately deported to his native Turkey, according to the agreement.

A trial was scheduled to begin later this month.

Johnson, 21 at the time of her death, was murdered inside her Mehling Hall dorm room on the University of Portland campus, May 29, 2001.

Aydiner, 32, also agreed to perform confidential 'obligations' in a deal reached with Johnson's family. Prosecutors said the clause, the details of which were sealed, was key to arriving at the plea deal.

So far, no civil action has been filed against the university, although the Johnson family has retained a lawyer to evaluate whether legal action will be taken against the North Portland college, run by the Holy Cross religious order.

A police investigation revealed Aydiner had burglarized three rooms in the same Mehling Hall dormitory where Johnson was killed during spring break 2001, more than two months before her death. A dormitory master key had been stolen. Public safety officers and resident assistants told investigators that the university had started changing locks on the interior dorm rooms but hadn't finished before Johnson's killing.

Friends found Johnson, sexually assaulted and strangled. She had moved into the dormitory two weeks earlier to work as a residence hall monitor for summer session.

Kate Johnson was born in Hillsboro and grew up in Vancouver, Wash. She graduated from Evergreen High School. She was a music education major at the University of Portland, and had student-taught to prepare herself for a job as a high school band teacher and volunteered for Habitat for Humanity.

Detectives, seeking DNA evidence from those who had contact with Johnson and were on campus at the time, put Aydiner on their watch list in February 2003. He was a former university student who had been an acquaintance of Johnson.

DNA evidence obtained from a stain on a pillowcase in Johnson's room and from a swab taken from her right wrist matched Aydiner's DNA profile. By then, Aydiner had left the country and was in Turkey; his U.S. business visa also had expired. Federal agencies assisted police to make sure Aydiner obtained the necessary visa to return to the United States. He was arrested Jan. 16, 2004, at the airport.

Under the 24-page agreement Aydiner pleaded no contest to 10 counts of aggravated murder, one count of first-degree sex abuse, one count of attempted rape; two counts of first-degree sodomy and four counts of burglary. Three of the burglary charges stem from break-ins to three other students' dorm rooms in Mehling Hall during spring break 2001.

Given two years credit for time already served in jail, Aydiner will be eligible for parole in 35 years. He will be eligible to petition for parole only if he adheres to all terms of the plea deal and shows good behavior in prison. If paroled, he will be immediately deported to Turkey and can never become a U.S. citizen. He will also have to register as a sex offender and remain on post-prison supervision the rest of his life.

Aydiner's attorney had argued that he did not knowingly and voluntarily provide an oral swab for DNA purposes because police were not forthright about how it could impact his immigration status. In a tape-recorded phone call with a Portland detective, Aydiner expressed concerns about his immigration status and the police said the request for his DNA had nothing to do with that. His lawyer argues that while police were seeking it for a criminal case, it clearly could affect his immigration, according to court records.

Aydiner's lawyer says he will appeal the decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on the grounds that law enforcement violated international law by luring Aydiner back from Turkey in 2004 to arrest him.

'The University of Portland community is grateful that the justice system has helped resolve the tragic loss of Kate Johnson. We hope that this plea agreement can bring some peace and closure for everyone who knew, loved, and celebrated Kate's life,' said Holy Cross Father William Beauchamp, University of Portland president in a written statement. 'Our thoughts and prayers have been with Kate's family and friends since May of 2001. Those thoughts and prayers will continue because it is impossible to fill the deep void left by Kate's death.

'Kate will always be remembered and honored on the Bluff for her selfless generosity. She embodied the best of the University of Portland, and we continue to celebrate her life through an annual award for the most outstanding student in volunteer services.

'We would like to especially thank the many men and women in law enforcement and in the justice system whose collection of facts and hard work helped bring legal closure to this case.'

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