Court document: Missing marijuana led to kidnapping

Court document: Missing marijuana led to kidnapping
Suspects jailed in connection with the investigation (clockwise from top left): Richard Benson, Cody Morton, Dustin Norris, Payton Benson, Kody Lawrence and Jared Youngblood

EUGENE, Ore. - As he attempted to flag down a passing car, Jeremy John Cooke stood in the middle of Marcola Road in order to make someone stop.

The 35-year-old later told investigators he thought he would be killed if his captors realized he had escaped by jumping out a window.

They had already left him tied to a tree for hours and talked about leaving him to die before taking him to another location, where they threatened to break his fingers or even sexually assault him.

The alleged incident, which prompted a manhunt and led to six arrests, had started at least a few days earlier with suspicions about the theft of some marijuana plants, according to an account of interviews with the victim and suspect filed by a deputy investigating the case.

One of the suspects - Richard Benson, 46 - told investigators he had heard talk for a few days that "the boys" planned to beat up Cooke, according to court documents.

Cooke told investigators that on the morning of Friday, Oct. 7, Kody Lawrence, Dustin Norris and Payton Benson showed up at Cooke's uncle's home where he was staying. Cooke said Lawrence pulled him out of the house by force and accused him of stealing marijuana plants from near the Marcola River.

During the confrontation, Lawrence pointed a rifle at Cooke's face, he told the sheriff's office, and later fired the gun after moving it to the side of Cooke's head. Cooke said Lawrence threatened to shoot him in the foot and pointed the rifle toward's Cooke's chest and crotch before Cooke wrestled the gun away from Lawrence and retreated inside the house.

Cooke avoid the trio for the rest of the day, later camping out in the woods across from a convenience store on the outskirts of Springfield.

He said he awoke on Saturday, Oct. 8, to six armed men who placed him in handcuffs and forced him into a waiting car. The men drove Cooke to the woods near Shotgun Creek Recreation Area and forced him to march barefoot into the woods, where they left him taped to a tree with his arms and legs bound.

When the men returned, they took Cooke back to an Old Mohawk Road residence not far from where the confrontation with Lawrence happened a day earlier, according to the court document.

After being assaulted and threatened for hours over the matter of the missing marijuana, he managed to escape out a window after one of his captors - a man who later admitted to deputies that he had in fact stolen the marijuana in question - cut the tape binding Cooke's hands. He escaped on the morning of Oct. 9, taking to the nearest road to flag down a motorist.

Deputies obtained a search warrant and raided the property on Oct. 14. Three people there - Cody Morton, Dustin Norris and Richard Benson - were taken into custody. Payton Benson later turned himself in.

Police launched a manhunt for Kody Lawrence and Jared Youngblood. Both men were taken into custody by Saturday, Oct. 22.

The men all remain jailed, charged with various criminal counts of kidnapping and assault, depending on the roles they allegedly played in the incident.

Deputies also brought charges against some of the men related to a stolen car found "chopped" on the property, as well as the production of the missing marijuana.

The men face tentative trial dates in December.