Choice of Evil | The Atavist / Outside Magazine
Words by Emma Marris
Klamath County, Oregon, is the perfect place to go if you don't want to be found - and the worst place to be if someone threatens your life.
The social contract is not a buffet - if you opt out because you want absolute freedom, you have to accept that no one will come to save your ass when trouble starts.
In May 2015, Taylor signed a contract for nearly nine acres of unimproved backcountry in Klamath County, sight unseen. The ad for the lot had included a few photos of flat, grassy land with mountains in the distance.
Taylor liked the sound of it. He agreed to a price of $19,200, with 7 percent interest. That worked out to 72 monthly installments of $317.11. He imagined the Oregon of his youth: green, balmy, bathed in golden sunlight, far from Wisconsin’s bitter winters. What he found when he arrived was something else entirely.
GENERAL INFORMATION: Huge Parcel in the Oregon Pines Subdivision with over 900 feet of frontage on Nagel Ridge Way.
TYPE OF TERRAIN: rocky
WATER: no. must install well or holding tank
SEWER: No. Only needed when/if you build.
One day, on his way to Beatty to get food at the Palomino Deli, Taylor stopped his truck to talk to a bearlike Vietnam veteran with a cane and a felt hat. His name was Gary Powless, and he’d gotten his Tableland plot back in the 1980s, in exchange for a roofing job. Tableland suited him and many other veterans, Powless explained, because they “couldn’t deal with society and people anymore.” When he’d first moved in, his immediate neighbor was “a Hell’s Angel running from the law and living in a tepee.”
After berating Taylor for several minutes, Knight started to walk away from the trailer, still in possession of Taylor’s phone. That’s my last link to the outside world, Taylor thought. Taylor stepped down from the porch; Knight turned to face him. The two men were about 20 feet apart. Knight kept shouting. Taylor asked for his phone back. “Screw you, take it,” Knight said, according to Taylor. “You going to do something? Shoot me.”
Knight turned away again, lifting his hand in what looked like a dismissive gesture. Taylor raised his shotgun and fired.
Knight staggered, turning toward Taylor for a moment, then rotating away. He was hit. Two seconds after the first shot, Taylor fired again, this time blowing a three-inch hole in the back of Knight’s left shoulder. One pellet from the blast hit an artery that carried blood to his brain; others damaged major arteries on the left side of his body and entered his lungs and spinal cord. Knight fell to his knees and then collapsed, face-first, onto the dirt.
Taylor walked over to Knight and picked up his phone. He plugged it back into his truck’s battery. Then, for the fifth time in less than a week, he called 911.
“Hi, yeah. This is Tim Taylor up on Nagelridge Way again. He had come up here… Uh—I shot him.”
“Shot who?” a dispatcher asked.
“Roy Knight. He’s already threatened my life.”
“What’s the address?”
“I don’t have an actual physical address.”
“Did you call earlier?”
“Yes,” Taylor said. “I’ve been calling ever since last Friday.”
Defense attorney Phil Studenberg
Judge Roxanne Osborne
Prosecutor Cole Chase
Defense attorney Alycia Kersey
UPDATE: In the weeks before the retrial, Klamath County offered Taylor a deal: If he agreed to plead “no contest” to criminally negligent homicide, he would be sentenced to 75 months in prison. Taylor took the deal on September 10, 2019, rather than go to trial and risk being convicted of manslaughter, which would carry a heftier sentence. With credit for time served and reductions for good behavior and participation in prison programs, he could be out in a couple of years. Taylor will serve his sentence at a state prison after already spending three years, three months, and 17 days in county jail.