Oregon man sentenced for aiding young wife's suicide
SALEM, Ore. -- Anna Lorraine Proietti and Brian David Henry married in the summer of 2015.
She was 20; he was 40.
She was a flutist, a former Indiana University student, and a born-and-raised Midwesterner. Friends described her as beautiful, brilliant and talented.
He was a divorced father, a Chemeketa Community College graduate and computer software engineer. Also described as brilliant and a tech-wiz, he occasionally ran into trouble with the law. He was first arrested on firearm and criminal mischief charges in 1999, then later convicted of dealing methamphetamine in 2013 and sentenced to three years probation.
The pair met online. To her tight-knit family's dismay, Anna moved to Oregon. She and Henry married mid-July and settled down in Salem.
By the time the couple was due to celebrate their first wedding anniversary, one of them would be dead.
Within two years, the other would be in prison.
Deep in the forest
Douglas firs dominate the landscape in the remote, lush, rain-soaked forests of Tillamook County. With an annual rainfall of more than 100 inches, the nearby Tillamook Rainforest is one of the wettest areas in the country. The sparsely populated county becomes even more isolated the further travelers trek into the wilderness.
The campsites along Bald Mountain Access Road near the Tillamook-Yamhill county line are only a few dozen miles from Salem but require a 90-minute drive along highways and backcountry byways.
"Not the greatest camping," wrote one outdoors website. "But nobody will bother you."
In July, the hillsides explode with the color of pink, white, purple, yellow and orange wildflowers.
On September 9, a Yamhill County deputy found a bag containing Anna's birth certificate at one of the forest's campsites. A search of the surrounding area led deputies to a shallow grave containing the remains of an unidentified young woman. She had been dead for weeks.
Dental records confirmed the woman in the grave was Anna. Results from an autopsy by the Oregon State Medical Examiner's Office listed her cause of death as a probable drug overdose or traumatic asphyxia.
Her estimated date of death was July 16, just as the wildflowers were blooming.
The days before
Law enforcement's quest to find out why this 21-year-old woman ended up dead in the woods, 2,300 miles away from her hometown, led them to Salem, where Anna lived with her husband.
She was last seen when Henry picked her up from Salem Health hospital. She was admitted to the emergency room on July 14 with self-inflicted cuts to her legs, according to a violation report filed in Marion County.
Henry, 41, was not supposed to be in contact with his wife.
While still on probation for his drug conviction, Henry was arrested in September 2015 and charged with assaulting and strangling Anna.
The charges were dismissed after Anna wrote a letter to the judge claiming Henry had restrained and strangled her to keep her from hurting herself. Henry's supervised probation was extended. He was ordered to have no contact with Anna and attend a batterer intervention program.
After violating the protective order and picking his wife up from the hospital in July, Henry stopped returning his probation officer's calls, and his mother contacted police and reported that Henry had stolen her car.
When he resurfaced a week later, Henry denied being with Anna and told his probation officer he wanted to move to Alaska to live with his son.
Anna's sister called Henry on Sept. 1. He told his sister-in-law he hadn't seen his wife since picking her up from the hospital and claimed she'd left him for a stranger.
Seven days later, her body was found.
On Sept. 21, investigators from the Tillamook County Sheriff's Office, Tillamook City Police and Oregon State Police served a search warrant at Henry's residence in East Salem and seized a vehicle once belonging to the couple.
Henry was arrested for violating his probation by contacting Anna and drinking alcohol. Soon after, a Tillamook County grand jury indicted Henry on one count of second-degree manslaughter for his role in Proietti's death. He was taken to Tillamook County jail and held on a $50,000 full cash bail.
News of Anna's death and Henry's subsequent arrest made the headlines of most major Oregon news outlets. The stories detailed Henry's charges and arrest record but begged the question: Who was Anna?
According to an obituary published in her hometown of Danville, Illinois, Anna graduated from Fountain Central High School in Indiana in 2012 and went on to attend Indiana University. Family described her as a brilliant musician and gentle spirit. She played a variety of instruments and was an accomplished flutist. Family members wrote that she loved cats, online gaming, and Italian food.
Growing up, she aspired to become an archaeologist. She found "artifacts" on the playground as a girl and traveled to Italy to see actual ancient ruins in person.
A family friend said Anna loved music and thrift store shopping - she even thrifted a satin A-line dress and wore it to prom.
She described Anna as being "beautiful and talented," but a troubled soul.
According to court records, Anna had a history of self-harm and suicide attempts.
After dropping out of Indiana University, Proietti met Henry online and moved to Oregon.
Henry's social media feed is full of photos of Proietti - at the coast, in a forest, climbing a tree, visiting a cemetery, carving their names on a sandstone wall - and were posted before and after her death.
Amid the cryptic quotes and song lyrics on his Facebook page, Henry includes: "As God of my world, yet a slave to fate, I have seen clearly the terrible truth. Love is a sickness."
Proietti's close-knit family was working to bring her back to the Midwest before her death. They were in the process of buying plane tickets when she was released from the hospital, but Henry picked her up and she was never seen again.
Proietti's friends and family gathered for a celebration of life ceremony on Oct. 8 at Sunset Funeral Home in Danville. Her family asked that memorial donations be made to the local humane society.
The suicide pact
According to court documents, Henry was accused of helping his wife commit suicide on July 16.
Henry told detectives he and Anna made a "suicide pact," according to court records. The plan, he said, was for them to go to a remote area and commit suicide together.
He admitted to being with Anna at the time of her death.
After months of hearings, the Tillamook County District Attorney's Office reduced the manslaughter charge to attempted second-degree manslaughter. Henry pleaded guilty on Monday and was sentenced to three years in prison.
According to Oregon law, criminal homicide constitutes manslaughter if a person intentionally causes or aids another person to commit suicide. Second-degree manslaughter is a Measure 11 offense carrying a mandatory minimum sentence of six years and three years in prison.
Very little case law is available on cases involving aiding in suicide. In his more than 31 years as a prosecutor, Tillamook County District Attorney William Porter said he's never handled a case involving assisted suicide, an act which is legal under certain, different circumstances in Oregon. He worried the very unusual set of circumstances surrounding the case would lead to possible jury confusion.
Given Proietti's history of suicide attempts and Henry's own mental health issues, Porter said, he was inclined to offer a negotiated plea. Normally, attempted manslaughter would carry a presumptive sentence of 15 to 18 months in prison. Under the plea agreement, Henry will serve double that.
Porter said some of Anna's family agreed with his decision to offer a plea agreement. Others did not. Both sides had valid reasons, he said, but ultimately no penalty is ever going to be enough to undo their loss.
"We are in a situation where on the one hand, I have some significant suspicions, but I'm stuck with what I can prove beyond a reasonable doubt," Porter said during Monday's sentencing.
Henry will not be eligible for early release or alternative sentencing. He could also face additional time in prison for violating the terms of his probation.
"I knew he could be dangerous," said Alisa Hunt, Henry's ex-wife.
Hunt and Henry divorced in 2006. She said Henry was extremely intelligent and brilliant with computers but had a history of mental illness and being verbally abusive. He was a great person when he was on medication and away from certain friends.
Hunt said her 12-year-old daughter still misses Proietti and cries about her often.
The three-year sentence seems like a slap on the wrist, she added. No one deserves to be thrown away in a shallow grave like trash, she said. Something needs to change about how these cases can be prosecuted, Hunt added.
Henry's decision permanently altered so many people's lives: Proietti's family, Hunt, her daughters, Henry's parents and other children.
"Anna did not deserve this," she said.
"A hole in our hearts"
Henry declined to speak at his sentencing. In his plea agreement, he agreed to pay restitution for Anna's funeral expenses.
In his plea petition, he admitted to intentionally attempting to aid Anna in committing suicide.
Proietti's three siblings attended Henry's sentencing.
Anna's sister Maria Steinsdoerfer recounted receiving late-night calls from her sibling.
"I know what a monster you are because she told me everything," she told Henry in court. "I hate to say it as much as it kills me inside, but sister is in a better place than anywhere around you because you have done nothing but torture her physically and emotionally."
Anna's other sister, Nina Proietti, said her family was concerned when Anna moved across the country to marry a man she met online, but they promised to always be there for her. Plans were in the works to help Anna move back.
"She was going to come home and live with me," Nina said. "I would have been able to help her."
Her father, Gary Proietti, addressed the court over the phone.
"My words will fall far short in being able to even begin to express what impact the loss of my daughter has meant to our entire family," Gary said. "The entire family has dealt with unbearable grief at the realization that we will never again see our daughter, sister, niece, aunt and granddaughter again. Although time has passed, a hole in our hearts remains."
Information from: Statesman Journal, http://www.statesmanjournal.com