Playing With Fire Part Two
When Raymond Martin DeFord was one and a half years old, his father hit him over the head with a clipboard because he would not stop crying. Doctors later testified that this injury caused the brain damage that caused DeFord’s learning disabilities and agravated his behavioral problems. Ray’s problems started with his father Tom Martin aka DeFord.
Tom Martin was a self-proclaimed “drifter” and drug user with a needle and spoon tattooed on his arm. In 1969 he was arrested for robbery in New Mexico. Martin blamed the crime, stealing a car from someone who stopped to pick up a hitchhiker, on a friend. He claimed he was only riding in the car and didn’t know about the crime. New Mexico didn’t believe him and sentenced him to ten years for robbery. Two years later Martin escaped from the New Mexico State Penitentiary.
A Texas native, Martin said he was “tired of the desert” so he made his way to Oregon where it was green. Martin worked as a short order cook. He worked under several different names and used at least three different birthdates to hide his identity. In 1980 a bloody riot at the New Mexico Penitentiary destroyed the records of Martin’s crimes, further covering his trail. Eventually Martin married Carolyn DeFord, a mentally retarded woman and on February 13, 1985 Ray was born.
Abuse started early for Ray. Tom Martin was partially paralyzed by a stroke and collected disability for himself and Carolyn. No longer able to drive a car, Martin tooled around the neighborhood on a three-wheeled bicycle collecting cans and bottles for recycling. In his spare time Martin liked to watch pornography and smoke pot with his son and older teenage boys from the neighborhood. When he got bored or angry Martin would shoot Ray’s legs with a BB gun. Witnesses saw Martin shoot Ray with BBs when the boy was as young as 6.
“Look at his parents, and you'll get the whole story,” said Jed Dairy, a teenage neighbor at Oakwood Park. “He needed better love and care; I don't think they know what he needed.” The DeFords were not well-liked at Oakwood Park, where they moved in 1991. That year Carolyn DeFord was convicted of harrassing a neighbor. It is possible that Carolyn’s conviction prompted the move to Oakwood Park.
At 11 Ray DeFord was known as a bully. He owned a python named Satan and regularly chased and beat up kids as young as 5. He carried a knife “for protection” and often threatened children with a BB gun. Ray had learned to blame others for his problems from his father. His parents were always there for him when he got in trouble, too.
“One time he punched my son badly,” said Rafaela Contreras Vargas, whose children were 5 and 9. “I complained to his mother. She wouldn't say anything. She laughed.” Tom Martin taught his son important lessons, like how to make cyanide gas from bleach, detergent and Coca-Cola.
Teachers and other adults that came into contact with Ray away from home found him to be a caring boy eager to please. Lisa Mentesana, a reading coordinator at Barnes Elementary School who worked durign the third grade with Ray and the Aguilar twins, who died in the fire, said, “I never saw the child that they are saying that he is. I never saw anything that would make me say this child is mean. I think he was a little boy who needed lots of hugs and support. I just feel so sad. ”
Carol Pullen, the owner of Pet Circus, a pet store on Tualatin Valley Highway, said that DeFord was an “exuberant little kid” who seemed to have a great interest in animals and who cared about them very much. She said that when Ray was shown respect he gave respect and was very eager to please.
Ray was ostracized at school because he was a slow learner who dressed in raggedy, dirty clothes. Kids would run from him yelling “Ray germs” when he approached. Academically and socially Ray, 11, functioned on the level of a 7 year old.
Fire was a problem. Ray set fires on the counter in the kitchen of his home. His parents didn’t punish him or even make him stop. At least five times Ray set fires that could have got as badly out of control as his fatal fire.
In 1994 Ray set a fire in the recycling bin at Oakwood Park. His neighbor Raliegh Houk said that his son came running into their apartment yelling “Fire.” Houk used a fire extinguisher to put out the flames. Thinking that his son set the fire the boy was punished. Houk said that DeFord admitted to setting the fire.
Houk told the police about this incident right away, but he was not a credible witness. By the time DeFord went on trial Houk was in prison for kidnapping. He had a previous record for burglary and possession of a controlled substance. Nice neighborhood Ray grew up in.
After the fatal fire at Oakwood Park on June 28, 1996 Tom Martin(DeFord) and Carolyn DeFord were interviewed on TV and they talked about how their son “the hero” rescued them from the flames. Police investigating the fire soon heard rumors that Martin had been overheard bragging that he had escaped from a prison in the southwest. Soon “the hero” Ray was the main suspect.
Ray said he thought the fire had been set by three kids from the neighborhood that were trying to pressure him into joining their gang. When Ray was arrested for arson and murder, Martin said, “What we need now is Perry Mason to find out who's done this thing.”
It didn’t take Perry Mason, just Detective Michael O’Connell of the Washington County Sheriff’s Department. Ray confessed to setting the fire to O’Connell. The detective said that Ray was “pretty flat” emotionally while talking about the fire. He seemed to be able to understand that eight people had died, but he didn’t seem to understand what it meant.
Tom and Carolyn DeFord claimed that O’Connell had coerced their son into his confession. Carolyn believed it until she died of cancer at 51 in 2000. About nine months after the fire, Michael O’Connell had the duty of arresting Tom Martin and sending him back to New Mexico. Martin served a little over two years and was released in 1999. He returned to Oregon and now lives in the Hillsboro area.
Ray DeFord faced trial for murder and arson, the youngest person ever charged with murder in Oregon. Ray was so young that he caused all kinds of problems for the system. Oregon’s juvenile justice system was set up for children 12 and over. DeFord’s parents had to waive Ray’s right to a verdict and sentence in 56 days so that he could be tried as a juvenile after his 12th birthday.
Coming Soon: Part three: Aftermath
Part one: Oakwood Park Apartments