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Customer accused of kidnapping Northeast Portland store owner gets two years, prosecutor lacked evidence

Ermias Ashenafi

A man who was accused of wielding a gun to kidnap a Northeast Portland store owner, then rob her of $600, will serve about two years in jail — not the 7 1/2 years or more he faced if convicted of those crimes.

The reported victim, who owns Merkato Ethiopian Music & Food on Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, didn’t call police until months after she said Armiyas Ashenafi kidnapped her in her car on Dec. 28, 2009. She said Ashenafi, a customer, told her his brother had been stabbed and he needed to get to the hospital, so she agreed to give him a ride. She said he directed her to a parking lot at Lloyd Center mall, where he pointed a gun at her and drove around for hours before ordering her to give him money and letting her go.

She told police that he’d threatened to kill her and kidnap her young daughter if she told anyone, and she only reported the incident when he returned to her store in February 2010.

Because so much time had passed, Portland police were unable to lift fingerprints from the woman’s car. They also were unable to find video of her car at Lloyd Center because video from that date no longer existed. Bank records and video at an ATM verified her report of withdrawing $600. They also showed her incorrectly punching in her PIN a few times — she said, because she was so frightened. Video shows a man in her car, but his identity is unclear.

Ashenafi, 22, of Hubbard, claimed that the woman made up the story because she was jealous. He said she was upset upon learning that he’d had a baby boy with another woman. He told police that he’d routinely met the woman at a Lake Oswego hotel, but police could find no proof that he’d visited that hotel with the woman. A defense investigator, however, found that Ashenafi did visit another hotel in Lake Oswego. But the investigator couldn’t find evidence that he’d been there with the woman.

Ashenafi’s son — now a toddler — showed up to Multnomah County Circuit Court today with eight family members and other supporters. They waived and smiled at Ashenafi, who in turned grinned back, wearing handcuffs and a jail uniform. He’s been in jail since his arrest last December.

Ashenafi was charged with multiple counts of first-degree robbery with a firearm, second-degree robbery with a firearm, unlawful use of a weapon, first-degree kidnapping and coercion with a firearm. He pleaded guilty in June to two counts of coercion.

“I’d like to apologize to the victim, it was never my intention…,” he said softly, never finishing his sentence after the judge asked him to speak into the microphone. “Also, I’d like to apologize to my family for the pain and embarrassment that I’ve caused. …Also to my son for missing Christmas, for missing birthdays.”

Judge Jean Kerr Maurer sentenced Ashenafi, who has already spent a year in jail, to an additional year in jail and five years of probation. He must pay the victim back $600.

Prosecutor Nicole Jergovic reached the agreement with Ashenafi and his privately retained attorney, Ryan Scott. Jergovic described the deal as “unusual” because of the circumstances of the case, which would have made securing armed robbery and kidnapping convictions difficult.

The victim didn’t attend the hearing. Jergovic said the victim still fears Ashenafi. He’s not allowed to have any contact with her or go into her store.

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