Man who gunned down protesters at Portland park sentenced to life in prison

PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — The man convicted of firing into a group of Black Lives Matter demonstrators at Portland’s Normandale Park last year, killing one and wounding four others, was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison with eligibility for parole after 55 years.

In March, Benjamin Smith pleaded guilty on nine counts, including second-degree murder and multiple counts of attempted murder.

Smith opened fire at a group of Black Lives Matter supporters who were gathered for a protest and march at the park near Northeast Halsey Street and 57th Avenue on Feb. 19, 2022.

Witnesses said that Smith, who lived across the street from the park, first harassed the group of demonstrators and tried to bait them into conflict. Members of the group tried to de-escalate the situation, telling Smith to leave them alone and go home. Smith then drew a gun and fired shots at the group, court documents said.

After Smith opened fire, an armed protester shot back — wounding and incapacitating the gunman.

But Smith had already shot five people, including 60-year-old June Knightly, known to fellow demonstrators as “T-Rex.” Knightly had been there to help with traffic control for the march. She was shot in the head at close range and died at the scene, according to court documents.

Due to the injury he sustained, Smith remained in the hospital for over a month after the shooting. He was transferred to jail in late March.

After initially entering pleas of not guilty to the nine charges, Smith later changed his plea to guilty on all counts and was convicted March 8, 2023.

At Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, Senior Deputy District Attorney Nathan Vasquez described the shooting as a “traumatic and horrible event,” asking Judge Christopher J. Marshall to impose a sentence of life in prison without parole until 55 years.

After the deputy DA’s statement, multiple victims of the shooting, friends and family members delivered their own statements — filled with an outpouring of pain, grief, rage and a desire for societal change. Vasquez said that many of them would speak under nicknames to avoid doxing.

The first person to deliver a statement was a young woman, identified by the name DEG, who spoke via video call. She was shot in the neck and paralyzed by Smith, spending five months in the hospital.

DEG said that she still cannot move her body and is unable to breathe on her own or speak without the use of a ventilator. The airy mechanical sounds of the medical device could be heard between each sentence she spoke.

“I really miss the sound of my laugh,” she said, going on to describe how her retired parents have had to become her full-time caregivers. “My days are entirely driven by my immediate medical needs.”

Like several other speakers, DEG said that she didn’t believe in punitive justice. Punishment wouldn’t change Smith’s worldview, she reasoned, and she didn’t believe that Smith was capable of remorse.

Smith declined to give a statement of his own. Defense attorney John Sarre spoke falteringly on Smith’s behalf, saying that there were “no words” for Smith to describe his unfathomable remorse. Several victims of the shooting stormed out of the courtroom, cursing Smith and calling him a coward.

Judge Marshall fully obliged Senior Deputy DA Vasquez’s request, handing down a sentence for Smith of life in prison without the possibility of parole until he has served 55 years. Marshall also noted that Smith would be required to pay over $58,900 in restitution.

© 2024 KOBI-TV NBC5. All rights reserved unless otherwise stated.

Skip to content