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Sirens & Gavels

Archive for June 2010

More bail imposed on Hoopfest suspect

A teenager arrested in connection with a shooting at Hoopfest on Saturday will need to pay an additional $50,000 bond to get out of jail, and if he does get out, he’ll be on home detention.

Prosecutors requested the additional bond for Adam Doe for assault and riot charges related to an October 2009 stabbing after Doe was arrested at Hoopfest. Doe, 19, was released from jail on his own recognizance in December under the condition he not possess weapons and he not commit crimes.

The $50,000 bond, requested by Deputy Prosecutor Steve Garvin and approved by Judge Ellen Kalama Clark, is in addition to $200,000 bond imposed Tuesday in District Court, where Doe is charged with third-degree assault and unlawful possession of a firearm for the Hoopfest incident.

Under Garvin’s request, If Doe posts bond, he’ll be on home detention and will only be allowed to leave his home between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. if accompanied by his mother or father. Doe’s mother has told court officials he isn’t welcome at her home, a judge said Tuesday.

Doe’s public defender, Dennis Dressler, has said Doe was close to resolving the stabbing charges when he was arrested.

Dressler declined to comment today on the proposed plea deal, saying Doe’s new arrest “put a little bit of a wrinkle” in it.

Doe remains in Spokane County Jail, along with suspected gunman Miguel C. Garcia.

Garcia faces three counts of first-degree assault after police said he fired a gun during a gang fight at Hoopfest. The bullets hit three bystanders.

Past coverage:

June 30: High bonds set for shooting suspects

June 29: Hoopfest shots not ‘surprising’

June 28: Shooting suspect already charged in stabbing

June 27: Shooting hurts 3, leads to 5 arrests

Murder for $7.25 gets man 31 years in prison

A convicted killer’s lawyer called a judge’s comments to the victim’s family “one of the most moving statements I’ve ever heard a judge give” in a sentencing Tuesday in Spokane County Superior Court.

Judge Jerome Leveque urged the family of Timothy Eby, who was stabbed to death by 53-year-old Terry Conner, to live his legacy and urged Conner to pay attention.

“Your life isn’t over,” Leveque told Conner, though the judge said the man likely will die in prison. “And to the family, the things common to all of you - you all referenced a man who had a tremendous belief in what can be. He never gave that up. That is a tremendous legacy. I extend my condolences to everyone.”

Public Defender Ed Carroll praised Leveque’s statement. “He was right. Don’t let yourselves get torn apart by this,” Carroll said to Eby’s family.

Conner was sentenced to 31 years in prison Tuesday.

Read Tom Clouses’s story on the sentencing here.

Past coverage:

Dec. 8, 2008: Slaying may have been over $7.25

Vote gives SPD ombudsman more power

Almost a year after he was hired, Spokane’s police ombudsman on Monday was granted the power to investigate cases of officer misconduct.

The Spokane City Council voted unanimously to increase the ombudsman’s authority after the third hearing on the topic in two months.

Kiondra Bullock, executive director of VOICES, a group that advocates for low-income people, called the council’s decision “historic.”

“We still have a long way to go, but we are extremely encouraged by the changes here tonight,” she said.

Read the rest of Jonathan Brunt’s story here.

Kid’s football league thief to repay $13,000

A woman who stole money from a children’s football league will repay nearly $13,000 and perform community service, a judge ruled this week.

Diann L. Brown, 50, was sentenced Tuesday to 30 days in jail with credit for one day served, but the sentence was converted to 232 hours of community service.

Brown pleaded guilty to second-degree theft before Judge Maryann Moreno. She was charged in May 2009 with stealing from the Pop Warner Football League where she worked as treasurer.

The league was started by a certified accountant and reserve officer with the Spokane Police Department, Steve Larsen, who began investigating embezzlement claims in 2007 after noticing suspicious activity in the organization’s bank account.

Brown, who had been appointed treasurer in January 2007, was removed from the board of directors, then wrote an e-mail to Larsen: “If you think I did anything wrong or inappropriate with the funds for Pop Warner,” Brown wrote, according to court documents. “… if you feel I owe Pop Warner any money, please give me an amount and I will gladly pay it.”

Now a convicted felon, Brown will be on probation for a year and is to repay the Pop Warner Football League $12,658.

May 8: Pop Warner’s former treasurer pleads not guilty

Shooting suspect’s mom: He can’t stay here

When a judge ruled that a 19-year-old man arrested after a shooting at Hoopfest Saturday deserved a substantial bond, she noted that his mother has said he isn’t welcome at home.

“She stated she does not want the defendant to stay with her if he is released,” Judge Debra Hayes said Tuesday before approving a $200,000 bond for Adam Doe.

Hayes called Doe and alleged Hoopfest gunman Miguel C. Garcia, 19, a “tremendous risk to this community and many innocent and defenseless bystanders.”

Both men appeared in court Tuesday via video from the jail. Garcia was given a $750,000 bond for three counts of first-degree assault; Doe is charged with unlawful posession of a firearm and third-dgree assault.

The assault charge stems from Doe allegedly reaching for gun when approached by police, which led to an officer drawing his gun. But the officer didn’t fire because of the large crowd, leading to what he described in court documents as a violent struggle with the teenager.

Doe is due back in court today for violating his release conditions on assault and riot charges connected to a stabbing in October.

Read more in my story here.

June 29: Hoopfest shots not ‘surprising’

June 26: Two hospitalized after shooting at Hoopfest

Nebraska warrant issued for Barefoot Bandit

NORFOLK, Neb. (AP) — Police have issued an arrest warrant for a teen burglar known as “The Barefoot Bandit” after surveillance cameras apparently captured images of him at a northeast Nebraska airport the same day that an SUV was stolen from there.

Police have also collected fingerprints that could link 19-year-old Colton Harris-Moore to the theft of the Cadillac Escalade from the municipal airport near Norfolk earlier this month, according to the arrest warrant affidavit.

The vehicle later turned up nearly 240 miles away in Pella, Iowa. The affidavit said police believe Harris-Moore was also involved in the theft of a car from Yankton, S.D. — which turned up in Norfolk — and another vehicle taken from a small airport near Pella.

Harris-Moore, a 6-foot-5 fugitive from Camano Island, Wash., escaped from a halfway house south of Seattle in April 2008.

Authorities believe he has since broken into dozens of homes and committed numerous burglaries across the Northwest, stealing boats, cars and even small airplanes, including a theft at the Boundary County Airport last year.

Norfolk detectives sent the surveillance video they believe shows Harris-Moore from the Norfolk airport to the Seattle office of the FBI and the Island County, Wash., Sheriff’s Department.

The Nebraska warrant charges Harris-Moore with burglary and theft. Harris-Moore, whose nickname arose from his penchant for committing crimes without shoes, has become notorious, with a Facebook fan page that boasts more than 42,000 followers.

Rolling Stone magazine also published a story on his exploits in May.

Past coverage:

June 22: Has the Barefoot Bandit hit the Midwest?

June 3: $50,000 for Barefoot Bandit’s surrender

Feb. 11: Stolen plane, chalk drawn feet: Teen burglar back?

Oct. 7: Teen bandit becoming national sensation

Oct. 2: Stolen plane may be the work of teen bandit

Convicts deny extortion plot against jailer

Two federal convicts accused of trying to extort a Spokane County jailer told police they’d heard of the plan and were checking to see if the jailer was OK when they were arrested in a sting Monday. 

But investigators didn’t believe Stephanie A. Strong, 28, (left) or Douglas R. Mobley, 30, (top right) and the two appeared in Superior Court Tuesday on a second-degree extortion charge.

Jail deputy Velven “Jack” York, 47, (bottom right) remains on paid leave as the sheriff’s office investigates his relationship with Strong, who he said he met while she was an inmate a couple years ago.

When Strong was released from federal prison a couple months ago after serving time for fraud and mail theft, York began giving her rides from drug rehab to a halfway house where she and Mobley lived with other federal convicts, according to court documents. 

The sheriff’s office is investigating the extent of their relationship, said Sgt. Dave Reagan. Office policy prohibits employees from contacting criminal suspects while off-duty.

York received a phone call Sunday demanding $5,000 to keep his relationship with Strong a secret. He told detectives on Monday and they arranged an undercover rouse where York dropped an envelope of paper at downtown hamburger stand.

“York was concerned about getting in trouble at work, and for this incident going public,” according to court documents filed Tuesday in Superior Court.

Strong and Mobley were arrested when police say they went to retrieve the envelope.

 In court Tuesday, Strong’s aunt, Cathy Kersey, urged an investigation into York’s role in the situation.

Kersey said after court that Strong was released from prison a couple months ago and was doing “so well.”

“I can just hardly believe this,” Kersey said.

She said Strong was doing so well she’d been told she could leave the halfway house early. She was due out in August, Kersey said.

Strong told police she and Mobley are dating. The two work at Wal-Mart in Shadle Park. Strong’s bond was set Tuesday at $5,000. Mobley’s is at $10,000. They’re to be arraigned on July 13.

Past coverage:

June 28: Jailer on leave after extortion plot emerges

Hunt still on for alleged bank robber’s driver

A bank robbery suspect who used a carjacked vehicle as his transportation was arraigned on two felonies Tuesday as police continue to search for his getaway driver.

Police still haven’t determined who was driving the stolen Buick Lucerene when Gorder got into the car as a passenger after allegedly robbing Washington Trust Bank, 3810 N. Maple, on May 28.

Gorder was arrested the next day, but he refused to talk to detectives and police didn’t recover the Buick for several days.

Now they’re searching Gorder’s cell phone records for clues about how might have driven him from the bank robbery. If you have any information, all Crime Check at 456-2233.

Gorder pleaded not guilty today to charges of first-degree escape and first-degree burglary connected to an alleged crime spree that began when he escaped from a work release center May 25.

He’s already pleaded not guilty to robbery and attempted kidnapping charges. Prosecutors will be seeking an exceptionally long sentence.

Past coverage:

June 1: Carjacking suspect has history with ‘Cops’

Mont. man arraigned in Grant Co. murder

(AP) A 29-year-old Montana man accused of fatally shooting a Grant County man has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder.

David Emerson Nickels appeared in Grant County Superior Court on Tuesday and remains jailed on $5 million bail.

He was arrested in Helena last week and is accused of killing 35-year-old Sage Munro in Ephrata, Wash., on Dec. 29. Munro, who was dating Nickels’ ex-girlfriend, was found dead from a single gunshot to the chest. Nickels and the woman had been secretly still seeing each other.

Court records say Nickels told investigators and friends he was in Great Falls at the time of the slaying, but cell phone records showed his phone registered a call from a cell tower in Spokane about two hours after the shooting.

He was extradited to Washington on Thursday.

Past coverage:

June 26: Love triangle alleged in Grant Co. murder

Felon admits to bilking DSHS of $96,000

A man admitted today to defrauding the state Department of Health and Social Services of nearly $100,000. 

Robert J. Childress, 34, pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree theft and one count of second-degree theft. 

Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno approved a plea deal that dropped a dozen other charges and sentenced Childress (pictured in May 2009) to the Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative.

That means Childress, a previously convicted felon, will serve two years in prison and two years under state supervision.

The case began when cameras caught him stealing an iPhone from the Airway Heights Wal-Mart on Jan. 23, 2009, then cashing a check in another area of the store. Detectives searched his Airway Heights home and found stacks of blank checks, driver’s licenses, credit cards, stolen mail and two felons wanted by Crime Stoppers.

Childress told the newspaper he woke up “and those things were in my house with a bunch of people I didn’t know.”

At one point, his attorney filed a motion seeking an insanity defense, but withdrew it after Childress started taking his medications. Childress said in court today that he began taking OxyContin during treatment for a 2007 crash that put him in a wheelchair “and that’s how all this happened.”

The fraud conviction stemmed from Childress receiving $96,000 worth of benefits from DHSH while he was also receiving funds from worker’s compensation from the state, Deputy Prosecutor Tom Treppiedi said in court.

Judge defends his Amanda Knox support

SEATTLE (AP) — A King County judge accused of using the power of his office to lobby for convicted killer Amanda Knox says his statements to Italian authorities on her behalf were appropriate.

Judge Michael Heavey filed his response with the Judicial Conduct Commission, which posted the document on its website this week.

  The commission accused the judge of violating ethical rules by lending the prestige of his office to a private cause when he wrote letters to Italian officials and spoke publicly on behalf of Knox.

Knox is the former University of Washington student convicted in the 2007 slaying of her flatmate in the Italian town of Perugia. Her trial featured sensational testimony about wild partying and sexually charged encounters, earning her the nickname “Foxy Knoxy” in European tabloids.

Heavey said Knox did not receive fair treatment from the Italian court, and speaking out was his duty and his right. He argues that his actions were appropriate because he was speaking out not for a private cause, but for the greater cause of justice.

Molester jailed after police find child porn

A child molester released from prison last year and once called “a real danger to little girls” is back in jail after Spokane police found suspected child pornography on his cell phone.

Charles E. Smith, 39, was jailed on a probation violation June 24, two days after detectives found a cell phone with inappropriate photos of young girls. 

Police learned of the phone from Smith’s landlords at 9 North Rambo Road, who rent to registered sex offenders and had written permission from Smith to check his trailer for prohibited items.

Smith is known to hunt through dumpsters for photos children, pornography, ID cards and cell phones, according to a search warrant used to search the phone.

Smith told detectives he’d found the phone in a dumpster at near Jefferson and 7th or 8th Avenue about nine months ago. The images are low quality, and detectives still are trying to determine which ones fit the statute for child pornography, said John Grandinetti, a detective with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.

But Smith’s probation officer determined the case violates his probation, and he’s been in jail since.

Smith, level 3 sex offender, has convictions for third-degree child molestation in 1993, possession of child pornography in 1995, failure to register as a sex offender in 2002, possession of child pornography in 2005 and failure to register as a sex offender in 2008.

In 1995, a detective called Smith “a real danger to little girls,” according to previously published reports. He caused a stir when he moved in near a Spokane Valley elementary school, tried to get a job as janitor at the YMCA and was a suspect in 17 child sex assaults before undergoing treatment in Montana.

Off-duty cop helped catch Hoopfest suspects

An off-duty Spokane police detective witnessed the Hoopfest shooting Saturday and helped investigators identify the suspects. Suspected gunman Miguel C. Garcia, 19, is to appear in Spokane County District Court today on assault charges.

He remains in jail with 19-year-old Adam Doe, who’s accused of unlawfully possessing the gun used in the shooting.

Two suspects, Tyrone Carell, 21, (left) and Kalen Bedford, 19, are out of jail after being cited for misdemeanor disorderly conduct. Carell was released from prison in February after serving about 15 months for four counts of second-degree assault.

A third man, Marquis Johnson, (right) remains in custody on a probation violation. Johnson was released from prison June 7; he’d been there since April 2007 for two second-degree assault convictions stemming from a shooting in 2006 that didn’t injure anyone.

The gang-related gunfire that left three bystanders wounded was disturbing but not unexpected, as I explain in a story you can read here.

Past coverage:

June 28: Shooting suspect already charged in stabbing

June 27: Shooting hurts 3, leads to 5 arrests

Boy, 16, charged as adult in armed robbery

A 16-year-old boy accused of robbing a man at gunpoint in Spokane two weeks ago is to be arraigned on a felony today in Superior Court.

Richard R. Hill is charged as an adult with first-degree robbery for a June 15 hold up at East Desmet Avenue and North Helena Street. Hill and Brandon  L. Glore, 22; and Frank R. Marusic, 19; are accused of robbing a man of $72 and an mp3 player.

The robbers fled in a Ford Focus, and the victim got the license plate. Police traced the plate to Brandon’s girlfriend, Daisey Mace, who said Glore took the car about 11 p.m. They also find a cell phone in the street near the robbery that belonged to Glore.

Police waited at Glore’s home until the Ford pulled up, then arrested Marusic and Glore. The men told police they’d met Hill at a part on Magnesium Road, where they said Hill stole the rifle, according to court documents. They were looking for marijuana when Hill saw the victim walking and suggested they rob him, Marusic told police.

“Marusic said Richie pointed the rifle, which was loaded, at the guy and said, ‘Give me your stuff, West Side Crips,” according to court documents.

Marusic and Glore each got $20 from the robbery, according to court documents. The men pleaded not guilty to first-degree robbery last week and remain in jail.

Hill is in the Spokane County Juvenile Detention Center.

Men admit to kidnapping, assaulting burglar

Two men who kidnapped and assaulted a burglary suspect will serve time for the crime.

Jesse T.R. Bushnell, 19, (right) was sentenced to 15 months in prison after pleading guilty Friday to second-degree kidnapping and second-degree attempted assault.

Chaz P. Crow , 21, was sentenced earlier that week to a year and 10 days in jail for the same charges; he’ll be credited for time served. Crow’s sentence was a few days longer than prosecutors recommended - Judge Jerome Leveque said he deserved it.

Crow and Bushnell were arrested in April after an attack on a suspected burglar who reportedly bought marijuana from Crow and was caught leaving Crow’s apartment with a rifle and a half-ounce of pot, according to court records.

The men dragged the burglar from his apartment hours later and beat him until he told them where to find some of the items. They kidnapped him again later that night and demanded the stolen marijuana.

Firefighters found the victim walking near the Palouse Highway and Valley Chapel Road with a broken nose, concussion and wounds “all about his head and body,” according to court documents prepared by Spokane police.

Charges against a 17-year-old boy arrested with Crow and Bushnell have been dismissed.

Past coverage:

Police: Pot dealer tortured burglary suspect

Tips sought on alleged Idaho child molester

A Bonner County, Idaho, man is wanted on child sex abuse charges.

Ted Norman “Bear” Engelbrecht, 50, is wanted on felony charges of lewd and lascivious conduct with a minor under 16 and sexual abuse of a child under 16, the Priest River Police Department announced Monday.

The charges were filed in Bonner County District Court. The case is sealed, records show.

Engelbrecht is known to drive a maroon 1991 Ford Ranger pickup with a black canopy, Idaho license plate 7BE8662.

Anyone with information on his location should call their local law enforcement agency.

Jailer on leave after extortion plot emerges

Two people are in custody and a Spokane County Jail deputy is on paid administrative leave as authorities investigate his connections to an extortion plan allegedly hatched by a former inmate.

The deputy, Velven York, alerted authorities to the extortion attempt Sunday after he was contacted by a caller threatening to disclose his improper off-duty contacts with a former female inmate, identified as Stephanie A. Strong, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

The male caller told York he needed to pay $5,000 “if he did not want his activities with Strong made public,” Sgt. Dave Reagan said in a news release.

Sheriff’s policy prohibits employees from contacting criminal suspects when off duty. York had been giving Strong rides from a drug treatment program to a halfway house where she was living, Reagan said, adding that an internal investigation will examine the extent of the relationship.

The two first met while Strong was incarcerated at the jail.

York helped detectives develop a plan that led to the arrests Monday of Strong, 28; and Douglas Ray Mobley, 29.

Sheriff’s detectives and federal agents watched York leave $5,000 at Dick’s Hamburgers on East Third Avenue about 3:50 p.m. Monday, then arrested Strong and Mobley as they tried to retrieve the money.

York told detectives Strong called him several weeks ago and the two “began a chit-chat relationship of phone calls and text messages,” Reagan said.

About two weeks ago, Strong asked York for a ride from her drug treatment program back to a halfway house where she and Mobley lived.

“One ride turned into a series of rides,” Reagan said.

York told detectives about the rides when he told them of the extortion plot Sunday.

Strong is under supervision for a federal mail theft and fraud conviction from 2007. Mobley is on federal probation for a gun conviction. Both remain in jail on new charges of felony extortion.

York, who has worked with the sheriff’s office for about five years, was placed on paid leave Monday.

Suspects in gang murder: 1 jailed, 3 to go

A man charged in connection with a fatal shooting in January was arrested on Sunday.

Christopher J. “Baby Boy” Route, 24, (left) is in jail on a probation hold and a felony charge of first-degree rendering criminal assistance after being booked into jail about noon.

He's accused of helping cover up the gang-related murder of John S. Williams on Jan. 17.

According to court documents, Route and other reputed gang members attended a birthday party at Casey's Restaurant and Lounge before taking a limousine to an after party at 5405 N. Crestline.

Route, who was charged with assault in connection with a gang murder in 2005, told police he stayed at the party for only about 30 minutes and left when a fight broke out. 

 Route said he didn't know anything about the shooting, but detectives say he was present when Williams punched out a car window, then was shot to death, allegedly by Edward “TD” Thomas (right).

Thomas then put the murder weapon, a Ruger mini 30, in a rental car driven by Eric “Smalls” Burton, according to court documents.

Burton's cousins, Cedric E. “Dirty” Burton and James C. Henderson, 33, on rendering criminal assistance charges. 

Thomas still is a fugitive wanted on first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder charge. Wanted on rendering criminal assistance charges are Route's cousin (and Cedric Burton's brother), John E. Burton, 27 (no picture available); and Marc A. “Bookie” Carter (left).

Anyone with information on the three is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS or submit tips online. Tipsters don't have to leave their name to collect a reward but should leave a code name or number.

Past coverage: June 3: Seven charged in January gang murder

Shooting suspect charged in Oct. stabbing

UPDATE: Court appearances were moved to Tuesday in District Court.

A suspect arrested in shooting at Hoopfest on Saturday already is charged in a gang-related stabbing outside a downtown Spokane night club last fall.

Adam Doe, 19, is due in Superior Court this afternoon on charges of unlawful possession of a firearm and third-degree assault on law enforcement.

Also set to appear is Miguel C. Garcia, 19, on two counts of first-degree assault. Garcia is accused of firing a gun about 6 p.m. Saturday near Spokane Falls Boulevard and Howard Street as thousands gathered downtown for the annual three-on-three basketball tournament.

The bullets hit two women and grazed a third victim. Both women were treated and released from Sacred Heart Medical Center within three hours, according to hospital records.

Also arrested in connection with the shooting were Marquis D. Johnson, 21, on a probation violation and Tyrone Carell, 21, and Kalen Bedford, 19, on disorderly conduct charges. Neither Carell nor Bedford remains in jail.

Doe is scheduled for trial Sept. 20 on assault and riot charges related to an Oct. 28 stabbing near Club Uno, 515 W. Sprague.

Five other men were charged; Parrish J. Johnson pleaded guilty to riot; charges against William Alexander-Durr were dismissed. Rashjel G. Cage, 24, and Rakee D. Cage, 23, have pleaded guilty to attempted second-degree assault. John D. Proctor, 24, is set for trial in September.

The stabbing injured Kenneth R. Budick and Charles L. Lucious, according to documents. Witnesses said one of defendants said, “There’s Kenny! Murder One Crips!” before the attack, according to court documents. Budik was a victim in a shooting in 2007 that killed gang member Adama Walton.

Police said Saturday's shooting occurred when two rival gangs squared off, but details of the confrontation haven't been released.

DUI inmate who fled Hoopfest still missing

An inmate serving time for a drunken driving conviction still is at large after walking away from a Hoopfest work crew Friday night.

Gary J. Todd, 29, hasn’t been seen since he asked to use a portable toilet near the INB Performing Arts Cente after his crew finished setting up equipment about 11:30 p.m., according to the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.

A guard found his discarded jumpsuit and goggles inside the portable. Geiger officials believe the escape was planned because Todd apparently had a change of clothes waiting for him.

Todd is not considered a threat to the community, but anyone with information about his whereabouts is urged to call 911.

Geiger sent five crews to help set up for Hoopfest in downtown. A Hoopfest official said crews are carefully screened before being assigned to work at the event.

Todd was to be released Oct. 11. He has a history of drunken driving convictions, including a conviction for operating a motor vehicle without an ignition interlock.

Encounter w/ police preludes 2 tragedies

Her friends remember Beverly Saruwatari as a model citizen – an honored public school teacher, a goodwill ambassador on Spokane’s Nishinomiya Sister City Committee and a devoted single mother.

She died suddenly one year ago today of a brain hemorrhage – 20 days after a confrontation with police in the doorway of her South Hill home.

Her arrest and unexpected death stunned her family, fellow teachers and friends.

They soon learned that – like the 2006 police encounter with Otto Zehm – it appeared officers with incomplete or inaccurate information about a criminal suspect confronted a law-abiding citizen, and the situation went sideways.

Read the rest of Bill Morlin’s story here.

Love triangle alleged in Grant Co. murder

The suspect in the shooting death of a Grant County man in December was secretly dating the victim’s girlfriend, court documents allege.

 David E. Nickels, 29, is in jail on $5 million bond for a first-degree murder in connection with the Dec. 29 slaying of Sage J. Munro at Munro’s home in Ephrata.

The six-month investigation took detectives to six states before Nickels was arrested this week in his hometown of Helena.

That’s where investigators say he met Munro’s girlfriend, 21-year-old Marita Messick, more than five years ago. Nickels and Messick had a child together when Messick was 15, according to court documents filed this week in Grant County Superior Court.

Read the rest of my story here.

Deputies get quota for Hoopfest DUI patrols

Spokane County sheriff’s deputies have been asked to contact at least three motorists per hour this weekend as part of extra impaired driving patrols.

The emphasis is part of a Hoopfest patrol effort that began Friday and includes aircraft.

A Washington State Patrol Cessna plane will be above the city today and Sunday to catch impaired reckless drivers.

When the plane isn’t up, the sheriff’s helicopter will be.

“Air One will be used for vehicle pursuits and searches, should the need arise, and will be available for call-out throughout the Hoopfest event,” according to a news release.

The sheriff’s office has scheduled extra patrols for impaired drivers and boaters deputies have been asked “to make at least three motorist contacts per hour and to have a zero tolerance for impaired drivers.” 

The marine unit will have two teams patroling county waterways today and Sunday.

Sgt. Dave Reagan said the sheriff’s helicopter typically is out on the weekend but this likely is the first Hoopfest in which it has worked with the WSP plane.

Hoopfest, the largest 3-on-3 street basketball tournament in the country, begins Saturday.

Officials: Knife-wielding man a public drunk

A transient suspected of threatening three people with a hunting knife in downtown Spokane late Thursday has been cited for consuming alcohol in public twice in the last eight days.

Now Wilfred Dale Corse, 48, is in jail on new misdemeanor charges after police say he took a fighting stance when confronted at 11:37 p.m. near South Maple Street and West Fourth Avenue.

Corse dropped the knife when the two officers pulled their guns, Officer Dave Daddato said in a news release.

Police had arrived to find Corse confronting a woman and two men with the knife, but Corse does not face assault charges because the victims fled before they were interviewed, Daddato said.

Corse said he confronted the three because he believed they stole his guitar or knew its location, police said.

Corse has been cited for consuming alcohol in public seven times since August 2006, including citations on May 26, June 17 and June 24, according to Spokane Municipal Court records. His drinks of choice include High Gravity, Busch and Natural Ice, records show.

Corse was booked into Spokane County Jail just after midnight today on $750 bond for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana and a misdemeanor weapons charge.

Tips sought on court skipper in wild crash

Crime Stoppers is offering a reward for tips that help arrest a man who skipped a scheduled plea in a drive-by shooting, then allegedly crashed a car into a northwest Spokane home early the next morning.

Abran L. Gibson, 19, was to plead guilty June 14 to rendering criminal assistance for his role in a shooting in Cheney last February, but he didn’t show up.

The next day, Washington State Patrol troopers say he was driving when a 2006 Hyundai Sonata crashed into a northwest Spokane home after he fled a traffic stop about 2 a.m.

A warrant was issued June 17 for Gibson’s arrest on charges that prosecutors said were to be dismissed had he taken the plea deal: drive-by shooting, riot and first-degree assault.

Gibson was arrested Feb. 21 after police say he was with a 17-year-old boy, Damon Morris, who shot a man’s hand.

Two other boys are charged as juveniles with rendering criminal assistance.

Gibson has been out of jail since April. Anyone with information is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS or submit tips online.

Tipsters don’t have to leave their name to collect a reward but should leave a code name or number.

Past coverage:

June 15: Fleeing driver crashes into north Spokane home

Feb. 25: 3 teens charges as adults in Cheney shooting

Driver in vintage car theft: I was duped

A Spokane tow truck driver is disputing police reports that he knowingly towed a stolen vintage car two weeks ago.

Richard D. Ziesmer, owner of Pacific Towing and Recovery, said he had “absolutely no idea” the woman who asked him to tow the 1954 Ford didn’t have permission to take the car. “I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said Thursday.

Read the rest of my story here.

Past coverage:

June 24: Truck theft suspects plead not guilty

Court ruling brings relief to court debtors

Offenders who owe court fees and fines are no longer being forced to agree to a pre-determined jail sentence if they fail to make scheduled payments.

The Washington state Supreme Court has ruled that people with court debts are entitled to a new hearing to gauge their ability to pay.

Someone who lost his or her job, for instance, or who was hospitalized might be given the chance to make a new payment arrangement and avoid automatic jail time, said Scott Mason, an assistant Spokane County public defender.

Read the rest of Jody Lawrence-Turner’s story here.

Past coverage:

May 24, 2009: Unpaid court fines land convicts back in jail

Tips sought on would-be pizza shop robber

Police still are looking for an armed robber who fled a north Spokane pizza place empty handed Thursday after a clerk pulled out a gun of his own.

Officers found part of what appeared to be a pellet gun in the parking lot of Pizza Pipeline, 1724 W. Wellesley, and believe the robber dropped it while fleeing.

A police dog and officer searched for the robber’s trail but were unable to locate the man, who was last seen running northbound from the store; a police dog couldn’t track a scent.

The clerk, who has a concealed handgun permit, ordered had ordered the man to drop the gun when he tried robbing the place about 9:45 p.m.

The culprit was described as white, 5-foot-9, “younger” and very thin. He wore jeans, a dark zip-up sweater, light-colored gloves and a green mask and was last seen running northbound from the store.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Check at (509) 456-2233.

The Pizza Pipeline was robbed last summer.

Lawyer disputes red-light program’s legality

Local attorney John Clark challenged Spokane’s system of issuing tickets from red light cameras, arguing Thursday in Spokane Municipal Court that the city is not following well-established law. 

Officers have long been required to sign infractions indicating that they reviewed the tickets and attested to their accuracy, said Clark (pictured in March).

But with the red light cameras, the officer pushes a computer button that tells a private company in Arizona to affix a digital photo of the officer’s signature.

“The bottom line on this issue is that these tickets do not follow the law,” Clark said. “We are just trying to get the city to do it right instead of just making money.”

Read the rest of Thomas Clouse’s story here.

Past coverage:

Jan. 6: Red-light cameras yet to signal safety

2 arrested after raids net drugs, 15 guns

An interagency drug team arrested two men in Grant County this week on gun and drug charges.

Illegal immigrant Manuel Alvarez-Meraz, 36, (right) was arrested early Tuesday with marijuana and 13 guns during a raid at 13497 Road B.8 SE, near Royal City.

Along with nine semi-auto handguns, investigators seized two shotguns and a .22 caliber rifle, police seized $29,850 in cash, a 2002 Cadillac Escalade and a 2004 Hyundai Accent.

Arrested in Othello that same time was Marco A. Hernandez-Herrera, 32, an illegal immigrant suspected of identity theft and forgery, according to a news release. Investigators seized a two handguns, a 2002 Avalanche SUV, $2,040 in cash during a raid at 515 Rose Drive #5.

Hernandez-Herrera faces two counts of alien in possession of a firearm, along with forgery, identity theft, marijuana and methamphetamine charges.

Witness in gang murder agrees to secret deal

A witness in a gang-related murder pleaded guilty to two charges this morning in a sealed agreement with prosecutors.

Antonio E. Cook, Jr., 28, (left) will remain in jail pending sentencing, which was not immediately scheduled.

The deal drops several charges, including robbery, gun and drug possession, but those charges can be refiled if Cook doesn’t comply with the deal, Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Mark Cipolla said in court.

Cook waived his right to a speedy sentencing; his public defender said it won’t happen for at least 40 days. Details of his sentencing recommendation have not been made public.

Cook first answered “no” when Superior Court Judge Neal Rielly asked if he was making the plea freely and voluntarily but then said otherwise.

“I wanna take advantage of what’s going on right now and get it over with,” Cook said.

Rielly questioned Cook repeatedly, saying “whether you like the system or respect the system” he wouldn’t accept the plea if Cook was being pressured. Cook pleaded guilty to tampering with a witness and third-degree assault.

He was arrested in February after police found his fingerprints on the stolen gun used to kill John S. Williams on Jan. 17, though he isn’t believed to have been present when Williams was killed. Cook later threatened a teen who was cooperating with police, leading to the tampering conviction. 

Cook’s assault charge was for an unrelated incident in September when Cook punched a woman after she fought with him and a friend over a sexually suggestive text message the friend had sent her, according to court documents. The woman’s boyfriend saw the messages, documents say.

Court documents show Cook is a key witness in the case against several reputed gang members charged in Williams’ death.

Police say he told them that accused triggerman Edward “TD” Thomas (right) admitted to shooting Williams six or seven times before firing a single round into his face at close range.

Thomas is a fugitive wanted for first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder. Anyone with information on his location is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.

Past coverage:

June 3: Seven charged in January gang murder

March 9: Homicide case ‘not a simple investigation’

Group honors jailer hurt by murder suspect

A sheriff’s deputy who fractured his neck in an encounter with one of Spokane County Jail’s most notorious inmates was honored today by a local civic group. 

Dan Leonetti received the Downtown Exchange Club’s Blue and Gold Award for law enforcement injured in the line of duty, the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office announced this morning.

Leonetti broke a bone in his neck and injured his shoulder when he and other members of the jail’s critical response team tried to remove mentally ill accused killer Cole K. Strandberg from his cell for a court hearing on Sept. 26, 2008.

The incident was shown on cable TV in February as part of the “Behind Bars” show. Watch the clip above.

On the video, Strandberg is seen waiting at his cell door when jailers approach. Jailers rush in and slam him down, but the struggle continues and Leonetti’s head strikes a concrete wall.

Leonetti recovered and is back working at the jail. Strandberg remains in jail on one count of aggravated first-degree murder of the January 2008 crossbow slaying of 22-year-old Jennifer Bergeron.

Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen ruled in January of this year that Strandberg was incompetent to stand trial; he’s been on medication since.

His next hearing is set for July 9.

Missing man with moon, sun tattoo found

Coeur d’Alene police are asking for help locating a 29-year-old man last seen Saturday. 

George R. Clowdus was last seen by his roommates, who reported him missing on Monday. 

Clowdus is described as 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds. He is bald, has blue eyes and has a tattoo of the sun and moon wrapped around his right eye.

UPDATE: Clowdus was located on Thursday.

Man in Helena arrested for Grant Co. murder

A man in Helena, Mont., has been arrested for the shooting death of a Grant County man last December.

David E. Nickels, 29, faces a first-degree murder charge for 35-year-old Sage Munro’s death on Dec. 29.

Munro was found shot to death on his living room floor in the 100 block of E Street NE in Ephrata. Nickels was arrested in Helena Wednesday on the murder charge and an unrelated warrant.

The six-month investigation was handled by the Columbia Basin Investigation Team, a collection of detectives from local law enforcement agencies. Munro had a large family and a young son.

Olson confirmed as U.S. attorney for Idaho

The U.S. Senate has unanimously confirmed Wendy J. Olson as the next U.S. Attorney for the District of Idaho.

U.S. District Court Judge Lynn Winmill will swear in Olson on Friday. Olson had been working as an assistant under U.S. Attorney Thomas Moss, who held the position since 2001.

Olson joined the office in March 1997 and tried numerous cases, including the capital murder case involving Joseph Duncan, who killed three members of the Groene family in 2005 in order to kidnap and molest the family’s two youngest children; only one, 8-year-old Shasta, survived. A jury sentenced Duncan to death in August 2008.

Olson earned her undergraduate degree from Drake University in 1986 and law degree from Stanford Law School in 1990. From 1992 to 1997, Olson worked for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. As Betsy Russell explains at Eye on Boise, Olson was confirmed quickly compared to other U.S. attorneys.

GOP group endorses both Bugbee, Tucker

The Republicans of Spokane County endorsed both incumbent Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker and challenger Chris Bugbee after an election forum this week.

That left out Republican challenger Dave Stevens, who earlier earned the endorsement of the Spokane County Republican Party.

Democrat Frank Malone and self-proclaimed “Law and Order” candidate Jim Reierson were not invited to the Monday forum sponsored by Republicans of Spokane County, which endorses candidates separate from the main party.

Tucker said he also received the endorsement of the Spokane Regional Labor Council, which includes several large unions.

Bugbee earlier received the endorsement of the Spokane Police Guild.

Separately, Tucker was elected Wednesday as the secretary of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. He said he’ll become president of that organization in two years if he is re-elected.

Mom who snatched kids gets 1 year in jail

A woman who took her children from Spokane 12 years ago will spend six more months in jail.

 Jill D. Haugen, 48, was sentenced on Tuesday to a year in jail with credit for six months already served.

A jury convicted her earlier this month of two counts of custodial interference after she left Spokane with her two sons in 1998 despite a court order granting her estranged husband, Bill Connington, custody.

Connington didn’t hear from them until police Milton, Pa., located them with Haugen in December in an arrest that attracted national attention.

Haugen will be on probation for a year once she leaves jail. The boys are to move to Spokane this year to live with Connington.

A reader who wishes to remain an anonymous set up a donation account for Connington.

To donate, visit any U.S. Bank.

Past coverage:

June 20: Dad hopes today will be last Father’s Day alone

April 11: Rebuilding a fractured family

B.C. man w/ 80 lbs of coke gets 5 years

A Canadian man who smuggled cocaine into Eastern Washington will spend nearly five years in federal prison, a judge ruled today.

Michael B. Yuill, 37, received about three years less than federal prosecutor’s requested and two years more than his defense lawyer requested.

Yuill, of Salmon Arm, B.C., was arrested on Oct. 2 on the Colville Indian Reservation with 80 pounds of cocaine after Spokane International Airport police told federal agents that he’d rented several SUVs in the last four months and returned them with unusually high mileage.

Yuill said he was to trade the cocaine for marijuana in Omak, according to court documents. Prosecutors alleged he was actually responsible for distributing 10 times the amount of cocaine he had when arrested, which would have made him eligible for a sentence of 84 to 105 months. Yuill’s public defender, Kim Deater, called the claim “ridiculous” in court documents and asked for a 36-month sentence.

After about two hours of testimony this afternoon, Judge Wm. Fremming Nielsen sentenced Yuill to 57 months in prison, followed by five years probation, for one count of possession of five kilograms or more of cocaine.

Yuill, a father of two, pleaded guilty in February and had no previous criminal record. Yuill was described by Deater in court documents as “unsophisticated” and “a low-level mule” whose “simple yet full” life imploded when his marriage fell apart in 2007.

Still, he is a non-violent man described by his ex-wife “as a truly gentle soul,” loving father and valued member of his community.”

Yuill’s supporters, including White Lake, B.C., Fire Chief Bryan J. Griffin, wrote letters commending his character.

Yuill was a longtime volunteer with the White Lake Fire Department who helped with community parties and loved dressing up as Shrek for Halloween, according to a sentencing memorandum.

He bought a satellite business in 2003, but his poor business skills led to financial problems , and he moved to Salmon Arm to be closer to his children when his business was foreclosed upon. He took a job at an RV company and at a saloon, but he struggled financially.

After his arrest last October, Yuill told investigators he’d met a man named “Fugly” in Salmon Arm who gave him a BlackBerry device to use in drug running, according to prosecutors.

Yuill became Zebra and began communicating with “Nighthawker;” according to court documents. Yuill “surmised it could be Fugly, but he did not know for sure.” He was to receive $5,000 for the October trip.

Yuill said he’d been in the country three previous times but only to check construction work and cell coverage and, on one occasion, pick up marijuana.

Prosecutors said in court documents that Yuill claimed to have served as a decoy for a larger shipment of up to 300 kilograms of cocaine, and that such a shipment successfully reached Canada about the time of Yuill’s arrest. Yuill later denied making that claim.

Spokane duo arraigned in vintage car heist

Two convicted felons accused of a burglary in which an antique Ford car was stolen pleaded not guilty this week in Spokane County Superior Court.

The suspects, Susan Burke, 48, and Shane P. Venziano, 34, (pictured in 2006) were arrested June 7 after police found them inside a home at 2615 W. Dean. A neighbor had called to report a black 1954 Ford car missing from the garage.

“It hasn’t been driven since 1975,” said owner Benjamin L. Franklin, 59, who doesn’t live at the home. Franklin’s grandfather bought the car new in 1954. “It’s something I remember riding in when I was 5 years old.” 

Police connected the heist to a Spokane tow shop owner after Burke said the car had been stolen by her daughter and a man named Richard who owns tow shop. 

“They came prepared,” Franklin said. “They took it on a flat-bed truck.”

Police identified the man as Richard D. Ziesmer, who owns Pacific Towing, 4028 E. Central, and has talked to police on several occasions, according to court documents.

Detectives found the truck at Ziesmer’s shop.

“Ziesmer admitted that he bought the vehicle knowing that it was likely stolen,” according to court documents. “Ziesmer could not say who he bought it from.”

Ziesmer did not return a phone call seeking comment.

The antique car sustained damage on the front fender and driver door during the theft, Franklin said. Franklin got the car back after three days and plans to restore it and drive it again.

Venziano, who police say was arrested with a vintage White Chief tape measure and gold spoon stolen from the home, and Burke pleaded not guilty Tuesday to one count of residential burglary each and are out of jail on bond.

Both are convicted felons, including a manslaughter conviction against Venziano for the 2000 death of 17-year-old Carlosse Brown. Venziano was sentenced to 100 months in prison.

Ziesmer, 46, was arrested June 10 and left jail on $5,000 bond June 14. He was to be arraigned Tuesday on charges of second-degree burglary, theft of a motor vehicle and possession of a stolen motor vehicle, but no charges have been filed.

Ziesmer was involved in a dispute over a car trade last fall that police say ended with 28-year-old Merle W. Harvey shooting Jacob J. Potter and Jack Lamere to death in September.

Ziesmer worked with Lamere and told The Spokesman-Review that Harvey had left him a voice message threatening him and Lamere over a trade involving a Blazer and Cadillac. He offered a $1,500 reward for Harvey’s capture.

Heroin seller wanted after ditching deal

A heroin dealer who pleaded guilty in April but skipped out on an agreement with prosecutors has a warrant out for his arrest.

Eddie J. Combs, 62, was to reduce his prison sentence by at least three years if he complied with a sealed plea deal signed April 7 after he pleaded guilty to two counts of a delivery of a controlled substance (heroin).

But after he was released pending sentencing, Spokane County prosecutors say the convicted sex offender didn’t maintain contact with his lawyer, didn’t maintain an address and didn’t comply with the sealed deal, according to court documents filed May 14.

Now Crime Stoppers is offering a reward for information that leads to Combs’ capture.

Combs’ criminal history began in 1965 when he was convicted of burglary in Spokane County. He has other convictions for forgery, second-degree robbery and possession of a controlled substance in King County, as well as a conviction for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle in Multnomah County, Ore., in 2002.

Combs is a level 1 sex offender (the classification considered least likely to reoffend) for an indecent liberties conviction in 1990 in Clark County; online sex-offender records show he isn’t in compliance.

He was arrested in November after police searched a home at 1827 E. 4th avenue and found heroin and loaded syringes. A confidential informant bought drugs at the home three times in the weeks prior, according to court documents.

A co-defendant, 61-year-old Loretta J. Coleman, was sentenced to 20 months in prison in February. Combs’ criminal history gives him a standard sentencing range of 5 years to 10 years, but prosecutors were to recommend just two years confinement if he complied with the agreement.

Anyone with information on Combs’ location is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS or submit tips online. Tipsters don’t have to leave their name to collect a reward but should leave a code name or number.

Wanted: Man accused of threatening judge

UPDATE: Rory Schwanbeck was booked into jail on June 24.

A convicted felon accused of intimidating a Spokane County District Court judge is wanted by police after a raid at his home revealed several firearms.

 Rory M. Schwanbeck, 54, is out of jail awaiting trial on charges related o statements he allegedly made to Judge Patty Walker on Jan. 7, 2009. But he’s due to return after police found two guns in the felon’s room during a SWAT team search April 29 at 103 W. 39th, according to court documents.

A judge ruled the incident violated Schwanbeck’s release conditions for felony charges of intimidating a judge and resisting arrest; a warrant for Schwanbeck’s arrest was issued June 11.

Now Crime Stoppers is offering a reward for tips that lead to his arrest.

Schwanbeck “is frequently armed when contacted by police,” according to Crime Stoppers.

In 1990, he shot a man who was picking up his son at a north Spokane County daycare, leading to a second-degree assault charge, according to Crime Stoppers. He also has convictions for city assault, malicious mischief, possession of a dangerous weapon, drug possession and third-degree theft.

Schwanbeck was before Judge Walker on two cases when he allegedly threatened civilians and court officials, then lunged at Walker and said “You are not safe either, up there as a judge.”

Schwanbeck was restrained and removed from the courtroom. It’s unclear when he left jail, but he was out when a SWAT team raided his house April 29 in search of methamphetamine. He was arrested that day on gun charges, then posted $50,000 bond May 5.

Anyone with information on Schwankbeck’s location is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS or submit tips online. Tipsters don’t have to leave their name to collect a reward but should leave a code name or number.

Steele’s phone calls to wife, son released

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Edgar Steele’s call to his son
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Edgar Steele’s call to his wife

Federal murder-for-hire suspect Edgar Steele will stay in jail pending trial after a judge found he had attempted to intimidate potential witnesses in the case – his wife and son.

In a detention hearing Tuesday, federal prosecutors played two tapes of phone conversations Steele had with his wife, Cyndi, and his son, Rex, while being held at Kootenai County Jail on June 13.

On the tapes, Steele warns his wife that she will be contacted by government officials the following morning and will be asked to authenticate his voice on recordings that he tells her are doctored to sound as if he’s hiring a hit man to kill her. He pleads with her to say that it’s not his voice she hears on the tapes.

Listen to the recordings above.

Read Alison Boggs’s story on today’s hearing here.

Past coverage:

June 21: No bail for suspect in pipe bomb murder plot

June 20: Arrest puts Steele back in public eye

June 17: Pipe bomb suspect in federal custody

June 16: Steele: ‘This is a very emotional situation’

June 16: Bomb found on SUV registered to suspect

Tips sought on 3 Spokane Valley burglaries

Police are looking for tips on recent burglaries at two Spokane Valley child care centers and a coffee stand.

Someone stole a Dell laptop computer from Kindercare, 422 N. Mullan Road, between 6:30 p.m. Friday and 5 a.m. Monday.

About that same time, someone stole an HP Compaq laptop and two Dell laptops from Early Learning Center at 10304 E. Ninth Avenue.

Earlier, McVay Brothers, 11420 E. Montgomery, was burglarized between 5 p.m. June 11 and 6 a.m. June 14 when someone used a rock to smash out a window, the stole a 37-inch TV, a computer monitor and a Direct TV receiver box.

Police do not know if the burglaries are related.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Check at (509) 456-2233.

CdA tribesman jailed for deadly car crash

A man who has survived three one-car crashes on the same road near Plummer, Idaho, is in federal custody on a manslaughter charge for a crash last summer. 

Joseph Michael Matt, Jr., a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, was charged in connection with an Aug. 18 crash on Lovell Valley Road in Benewah County that killed William “Sonny” A. Davison, 22, of Desmet.

Davison died after the 1997 Jeep Cherokee Matt, now 25, was driving left the road and vaulted nearly 250 feet, taking off the tops of two trees.

Investigators couldn’t immediately determine who was driving the Jeep but now say Matt was driving too fast and was drunk and high on methamphetamine, according to a grand jury indictment unsealed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Coeur d’Alene.

Matt is to be arraigned today on one count of involuntary manslaughter. The charge carries a maximum eight years in prison. 

Matt has been in two other crashes on Lovell Valley Road but was not driving in either.

In March 2009, Matt’s sister, Veronica J. Matt, and mother, Juanita A. Garcia, 42, died after the 2003 Chevy Blazer Veronica Matt was driving veered off the road.

Joseph Matt was in the car, along with 25-year-old Dianna Matheson, of Worley, niece of former tribal councilman David Matheson, tribal officials and Idaho State Police said.

Joseph Matt and Diana Matheson also were injured on the road in a crash on Lovell Valley Road in October 2000. The two were passengers in a 1987 Chevy Cavalier that went off the road.

Duo eying ‘fresh start’ accused of robbery

A Texas couple who reportedly moved to Spokane to kick their heroin addictions are in jail after police say they attacked a cell phone clerk and threatened to tie her up, then stole a phone and nearly $700.

Derrick D. Saldana, 27, and Jennifer R. Martinez, 29, are to be arraigned Wednesday on first-degree robbery and unlawful imprisonment charges related to an alleged assault April 10 at the Cricket cell phone store, 21 S. Thierman.

A woman working at the store said the couple asked if she should give them a new phone number with a San Antonio, Texas, area code, then attacked her after she opened the register to get change for $5. Saldana grabbed $672 from the register, then struggled with the clerk before Martinez threw her down and punched her in the head, according to court documents. Saldana then sat on the clerk’s back and tried to steal her wedding ring before the two fled.

The clerk suffered minor scrapes.

Two people told police that Saldana and Martinez were staying with them at 6321 E. Fourth in Spokane Valley after leaving Texas “to get a fresh start,” according to court documents.

But the couple began asking where to get drugs shortly after arriving in Spokane and said that morning that they were going to go shoplifting to get money for drugs, the witnesses told police. When Martinez returned with cash later that day, she said she’d stolen three purses and sold them for cash.

The couple was going to the Greyhound bus station to buy tickets back to Texas. Charges were filed April 28; they were arrested June 16.

Martinez and Saldana were booked into Spokane County Jail, where they remain on $60,000 and $50,000 bond, respectively.

Has the Barefoot Bandit hit the Midwest?

SEATTLE (AP) — Police in the Midwest are investigating whether an infamous teen burglar from Washington state is behind a string of break-ins and car thefts, officials said Monday. Colton Harris-Moore, a 6-foot-5 19-year-old from Camano Island, Wash., escaped from a halfway house south of Seattle in April 2008.

Since then, authorities believe he’s been responsible for numerous burglaries at vacation homes and businesses around the Northwest, and that he’s stolen boats, cars and even a few small airplanes, including one from the Boundary County Airport in North Idaho.

A family in Yankton, S.D., found a tall man in their home last Friday, Assistant Police Chief Jerry Hisek said. They didn’t get a good look at him because the house was dark, and the family couldn’t identify Harris-Moore in photos. But the suspect did shave or cut his hair at the home, and investigators have sent that evidence to a state crime lab for DNA analysis, Hisek said.

A car stolen from Yankton turned up 60 miles south at Ta-Ha-Zouka Park in Norfolk, Neb., on Sunday, said Norfolk Police Capt. Steven Hecker. Another car — a Cadillac Escalade — was taken from Karl Stefan Memorial Airport nearby and turned up 240 miles east, in Pella, Iowa, on Monday.

Another car was taken from a small airport near Pella, Hecker said.

The Pella Police Department declined to comment on Monday, and Hecker said authorities don’t know whether the suspect is Harris-Moore.

“We weren’t familiar with this guy, but we certainly are now,” Hecker said.

The last trace of Harris-Moore in Washington state was over Memorial Day weekend, when he left $100 at a veterinary clinic in the southwestern town of Raymond along with a note that said: “Drove by, had some extra cash. Please use this money for the care of animals Colton Harris-Moore (AKA: ‘The Barefoot Bandit’) Camano Island, WA.”

Harris-Moore, who has more than 41,000 Facebook fans, earned the moniker by committing some of his crimes barefoot. Police confirmed his fingerprints were on the note.

Police in Oregon are investigating whether Harris-Moore is to blame for a series of crimes on June 1, when a stolen boat from southwestern Washington turned up in Warrenton, Ore.

A car was stolen from a nearby airport later that day.

“Seems like he’s always a day or two ahead of us,” Warrenton Police Chief Mathew Workman said Monday. “His luck’ll run out.”

Past coverage:

June 3: $50,000 for Barefoot Bandit’s surrender

Feb. 11: Stolen plane, chalk drawn feet: Teen burglar back?

Oct. 7: Teen bandit becoming national sensation

Suspect in murder plot held without bail

A suspected hitman-turned-informant who federal investigators say didn’t tell them he’d already planted a bomb on the car of a murder-plot target was ordered held without bail on Monday.

U.S. Magistrate Candy Dale called her decision to keep Larry A. Fairfax, 49, behind bars “very difficult” but said he was a danger to the community.

Fairfax has been in jail since June 11 after auto shop employees found a pipe bomb attached to a car brought in by Steele’s wife Cyndi Steele for an oil change. The Sagle man told investigators the week before that he’d been hired by Steele to murder Steele’s wife and mother-in-law but didn’t tell them about the pipe bomb, federal agents testified on Monday.

The two-hour hearing included testimony from Fairfax’s 26-year-old son, wife of 31 years and a retired judge and lawyer, Jim Michaud, who called Fairfax “about the hardest working guy I know.”

Read the rest of my story here.

Past coverage:

June 20: Arrest puts Steele back in public eye

June 17: Pipe bomb suspect in federal custody

June 16: Steele: ‘This is a very emotional situation’

June 16: Bomb found on SUV registered to suspect

2 arrested after knife, hammer assaults

Two 21-year-old men were arrested Monday after a man was stabbed in the shoulder and a teen girl was hit in the neck with the handle of a hammer.

Police say Cousteau C. Wright started a fight with a 20-year-old man at a home in the 4700 block of North Progress Road about 4 p.m. before calling John P. Ledoux for help.

Wright stabbed the man in the upper left shoulder with a large knife; Ledoux hit a 17-year-old girl in the throat with the handle of a hammer, Spokane Valley police said.

Wright and Ledoux led in separate cars, but a school resource officer spotted them on Upriver Drive, drew his gun on them and held them until backup arrived. Wright faces a charge of first-degree assault, Ledoux was booked on a second-degree assault charge.

The men are due in Superior Court this afternoon via video feed from the jail.

Tips sought on highway safety sign thefts

Crime Stoppers is offering a reward for tips that identify the thieves who stole batteries from construction zone signs in the Highway 395 and North Spokane Corridor.

The thefts, which occurred between 9 p.m. Tuesday and 6 a.m. Wednesday, rendered the two reader boards useless until a construction company paid $1,200 to replace them.

The reader boards, one located at Hastings Road and the other at Dartford Road, alert motorists to lane restrictions and other roadway hazards created by the construction.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS or submit tips online. Tipsters don’t have to leave their name to collect a reward but should leave a code name or number.

Sex offender wanted for failing to register

A sex offender who has been arrested twice since January for failing to register with authorities is wanted by police again.

Crime Stoppers is offering a reward for tips that help arrest Tyrone L. Gardipee, 25, who is charged with failing to register as a sex offender.

Gardipee was convicted in 1999 of indecent liberties with a 7-year-old girl in Spokane County. He was convicted of failing to register as a sex offender in 2005, then arrested in January for not checking in, then arrested again in April.

Gardipee was released from custody April 30 but never checked in with authorities as required. Detectives say he’s been in and out of jail in Washington and Montana since January 2006.

He was first arrested when he was 9 years old, according to Crime Stoppers, and has previous convictions for hit and run and attempting to elude a police vehicle.

Gardipee is considered to be a gang member, which means the reward for tips on his location is larger than usual.

Anyone with information on his location is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS or submit tips online. Tipsters don’t have to leave their name to collect a reward but should leave a code name or number.

Suspect in murder admits to crack charge

A Spokane man accused of lying to police his knowledge of a fatal shooting in January faces at least 20 months in prison for a crack cocaine conviction when he’s sentenced later this summer.

Eric “Smalls” Burton, Jr., recently pleaded guilty to one count of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. He’s to be sentenced Aug. 9. 

Burton had 26 baggies of crack cocaine when Spokane police stopped him last August. The officers knew Burton had a Department of Corrections warrant for his arrest, said Burton’s lawyer, Chris Phelps.

Phelps said the arrest was “ripe for pretrial suppression” because of issues with the police search, but “we have voluntarily declined to pursue those.” Phelps said the case had been sent to federal prosecutors, but they declined to pursue it unless Burton didn’t plead guilty as charged.

Burton’s standard sentencing range calls for 20 to 60 months; Deputy Prosecutor Eugene Cruz said last week he’ll recommending the low end.

Burton also is charged with first-degree rendering criminal assistance for allegedly lying to police about what he knew about the murder of John S. Williams on Jan. 17.

Burton was arrested the day of the murder after police found the Ruger mini-rifle used to kill Williams in a rental car Burton drove to the scene, but the first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm charge was dismissed in April because Deputy Prosecutor Mark Cipolla said “there is insufficient evidence to proceed with the prosecution of this case until further investigation,” according to court documents.

The new rendering criminal assistance charge was filed against Burton early this month. He was arrested June 2 and posted $50,000 bail the next day.

His cousins, Cedric E. “Dirty” Burton and James C. Henderson, remain in jail on charges connected to the murder.

The accused triggerman, Edward “TD” Thomas, remains a fugitive, as do Marc A. “Bookie” Carter, John E. Burton, 27, and Christopher J. Route, 23.

Past coverage: June 3: Seven charged in January gang murder

Pasco man w/ 32 lbs. of meth gets 17 years

A man arrested as he drove away from his Pasco home with nearly 32 pounds of methamphetamine that was to be partly distributed in Spokane recently was sentenced to 17 years in prison.

Mexican national Jesus Guillermo Bueno-Martinez, 34, will be deported after he serves 210 months in federal prison under a sentence imposed last week.

He pleaded guilty in January to possession with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of meth after being arrested on Oct. 2, 2009 as part of a sweeping drug bust that targeted meth distribution in Eastern Washington.

Along with the meth, Bueno-Martinez had $190,000 in cash, which has been seized by the U.S. A local partner in the business, Daniel A. Flaherty of Spokane Valley, was sentenced in to 23 years in prison last October. Federal agents found more than four pounds of meth in Flaherty’s storage unit in Spokane Valley during a series of raids at more than a dozen sites in the Tri-Cities and Spokane.

The family-based drug trafficking organization operated out of the Tri-Cities and led investigators to more than 40 pounds of meth and $700,000.

The ring was connected to a family from the Quilar Village area of Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexcio and has been distributing meth and cocaine in Spokane since the late 1990s, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. Known as the Zazueta-Bueno/Vaal-Lopez organization, it also distributed drugs in North Idaho, Portland, Montana, Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado.

The drug dealing spanned three generations of family, many of whom were in the United States illegally.

“They have utilized multiple false identities and fraudulent social security numbers in attempts to conceal and further their illegal operations,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “The organization regularly put illegal aliens to work as drug couriers and threatened them and their families with harm if they cooperate with law enforcement when they were arrested.”

Of the 46 people charged, 14 are believed to have fled to Mexico. Six people still are awaiting sentencing.

For a list of everyone who’s been sentenced, click the link below.

Charges filed in gravesite flower thefts

Felony charges have been filed against a Spokane man accused of stealing Memorial Day flowers from gravesites and selling them outside his home.

Robert P. Sullivan, 45, is due in court this month after prosecutors filed second-degree theft and first-degree trafficking in stolen property charges against him last week.

Sullivan is suspected of stealing at least 150 plants from the Holy Cross Cemetery, 7200 N.Wall, between June 4 and June 6. The flowers had been sold for $25 to families of the deceased in honor of Memorial Day.

A cemetery employee spotted a woman who lives with Sullivan, Deborah Decicio, selling the flowers outside their home at 2630 N. Stevens on June 7. Decicio has not been charged. Stevens reportedly admitted the theft to Officer Traci Douglas on June 8, according to an affidavit. A witness told police his daughter had seen someone loading potted plants into a green van at the cemetery; Sullivan owns a green van.

Past coverage:

June 9: Suspect identified in gravesite flower heists

June 8: Dozens of planters stolen from graves

2 Valley teens accused of home burglary

Two teenagers were arrested Saturday after a Spokane County sheriff’s deputy said he saw them walking away from a burglarized Spokane Valley home.

The boys, ages 16 and 15, were found with two gold rings each that had been stolen from the home in the 2400 block of South Windsor. The 15-year-old had a stun gun; the 16-year-old had a folding knife, according to police.

A deputy spotted the boys after responding to a burglary alarm. The boys said they were hanging out at Central Valley High School, where they are students, and walked to the home and stole the jewelry, then climbed a fence when an alarm sounded, police said.

A girl who lives at the home said she knew the boys and had told them her family would be away that night. The boys were booked in Spokane County Juvenile Detention Center on residential burglary charges.

Suspect in Steele’s murder plot due in court

 The man accused of planting a pipe bomb under Edgar Steele’s wife’s SUV is due in federal court in Coeur d’Alene this afternoon for a bail hearing.

Larry A. Fairfax, 49, has been in custody since last Monday night.

The Sagle man apparently told federal agents about an alleged murder plot hatched by Steele against his wife, Cyndi Steele, and his mother-in-law but didn’t tell them about the pipe bomb. He was arrested after employees at an auto shop found it when Cyndi Steele came in for an oil change about 12:30 p.m. lat Tuesday. Her son picked her up, and the two were at Edgar Steele’s first court appearance at 4:30 p.m.

Steele is being housed at the Spokane County Jail. He’s due in court tomorrow morning for a bail hearing. He has a public defender but said last week that he hopes to hire Coeur d’Alene attorney Glen Walker, former Kootenia County prosecutor.

As I explain in this Sunday story, Steele (pictured right in 2000) calls himself “the attorney for the damned,” has gained national attention for his work with high-profile clients and was a coveted speaker in the national racist movement for years.

Check out photos of Steele over the years here.

Past coverage:

June 17: Pipe bomb suspect in federal custody

June 16: Steele: ‘This is a very emotional situation’

June 16: Bomb found on SUV registered to suspect

SPD ombudsman wants investigatory power

The Spokane City Council is scheduled tonight to consider allowing police Ombudsman Tim Burns to gather information on his own, separately from the Police Department’s Internal Affairs division, when Burns disagrees with the police chief’s decision that no further investigation into alleged misconduct is needed.

Last week, Burns said he now believes that the ability to gather his own information and conduct interviews would help give his office needed credibility.

Read Jonathan Brunt’s story here.

GOP prosecutor forum set for tonight

A forum for three of the five candidates seeking the Spokane County prosecutor’s spot is set for tonight..

The forum, sponsored by the Republicans of Spokane County, will be moderated by Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, who has not endorsed a candidate. It starts at 6:30 p.m. at the Quality Inn Valley Suites, 8923 E. Mission Ave., in Millwood, and will include incumbent Steve Tucker, Chris Bugbee and Dave Stevens, who all list themselves as Republicans.

Not invited are Democratic candidate Frank Malone and “Law and Order” candidate Jim Reierson, who works as a deputy prosecutor in Kootenai County.

Read a story on the debate here.

Burning rodent blamed for $1m blaze

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) — Yakima fire officials say a rat that chewed through the electrical wiring of a jukebox is responsible for a $1 million fire that gutted the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 379.

Investigators believe the rodent caught fire Wednesday morning and fled to its nest inside an old piano, where it ignited combustible material in the nest. The rat was found dead near the fire’s point of origin.

Deputy Fire Marshal Ron Melcher says it’s uncommon for rodents to cause fires. He says investigators had to study the building carefully to decide what happened because there was so much damage.

Barefoot Bandit donates to veterinary clinic

 RAYMOND, Wash. (AP) — Police have confirmed that a note left at a Raymond, Wash., veterinary clinic along with money totaling $100 was written by teen fugitive Colton Harris-Moore.

Raymond Police Chief Ken Boyes says the State Patrol crime lab confirmed Harris-Moore’s fingerprints were on the note.

The note asks the clinic to use the money to care for animals.

Boyes says it’s easy to be generous with other’s people’s money.

No recent crimes connected with Harris-Moore have been reported in Raymond. Recently, police in the northwest Oregon town of Warrenton are investigating a boat theft, an attempted plane theft and a car theft that happened within hours of each other on June 1.

Officials are analyzing fingerprints taken from a boat stolen from Ilwaco, Wash., and found tied up to a pier in Warrenton.

Harris-Moore has been on the run since April 2008, when he escaped from a group home south of Seattle. He has been suspected of breaking into homes and business in Washington, British Columbia, North Idaho and Oregon, including a plane theft in Boundary County.

Past coverage:

June 3: $50,000 for Barefoot Bandit’s surrender

Feb. 11: Stolen plane, chalk drawn feet: Teen burglar back?

Oct. 7: Teen bandit becoming national sensation

Oct. 2: Stolen plane may be the work of teen bandit

Heroin suspect surrenders to SWAT team

A suspected heroin dealer surrendered to a Spokane police SWAT team after a standoff on Thursday.

Jacob E. Snizik, 25, tried to run from a home in the 6800 block of North Napa Street when a SWAT team showed up about 5 p.m., but “the scene was so well secure” that he retreated back inside, Officer Brian Eckersley said.

Snizik (pictured left in 2007) armed himself with a handgun but surrendered without incident a short while later after a SWAT sergeant talked to him over the phone, Eckersley said.

Police say they seized five firearms and found heroin and drug sale supplies in Snizik’s home. Snizik is a convicted felon, which means he’s prohibited from possession firearms. He was booked into Spokane County Jail on five counts of first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm and possession of a controlled substance (heroin).

Snizik was sentenced to 22 months in prison in June 2008 after pleading guilty to second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm, two counts of possession of a controlled substance, and residential burglary and first-degree theft, according to news archives. He also has convictions for second-degree theft and possession of a controlled substance.

Cop leaving work bags burglary suspect

A teenager was arrested Thursday after a police detective leaving work spotted him prowling a business near the Spokane Valley police precinct on East Sprague, then found a burglary victim’s bank cards and driver’s license in his back pack.

Tyler J. Keiper, 19, is accused of stealing the items from a garbage in the 12800 block of East Fourth Avenue.

Valley police Detective-Cpl. Jeff Welton called the woman after confronting Keiper and searching his backpack, and they determined the burglar had moved a car blocking the garage, then moved the woman’s Harley Davidson motorcycle outside. The burglar then ransacked boxes, stealing the bank cards, identification and jewelry, according to a news release.

Keiper gave the jewelry to his mother, police said, “telling her not to worry about where it came from.”

At Welton’s request, the mother drove to the scene and returned the bag of jewelry,” according to a news release.

Keiper was booked into jail on charges of second-degree burglary, attempted theft of a motor vehicle and three counts of second-degree theft.

He already was wanted on a warrant for possession of a controlled substance, according to Crime Stoppers. He’s due in Superior Court today.

Man dies in hail of gov.-sanctioned gunfire

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah executed a condemned killer by firing squad shortly after midnight Thursday, reviving a style of justice that hasn’t been used for at least 14 years and that many criticize as archaic.

Ronnie Lee Gardner, 49, was shot by a team of five anonymous marksmen with a matched set of .30-caliber rifles early Friday. Gardner, who had a white target pinned to his chest and was strapped to a chair, was pronounced dead at 12:20 a.m.

Gardner is the first person to be executed by a firing squad in the United States in 14 years.

Gardner was sentenced to death for a 1985 capital murder conviction stemming from the fatal courthouse shooting of attorney Michael Burdell during a failed escape attempt. He was at the Salt Lake City court facing a 1984 murder charge in the shooting death of a bartender.

A flurry of last-minute appeals and requests for stays were rejected Thursday by the U.S. Supreme Court, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Gov. Gary Herbert.

On Thursday, prison officials said Gardner spent time sleeping, reading the novel “Divine Justice,” watching the “Lord of the Rings” film trilogy and meeting with his attorneys and a bishop from the Mormon church. Gehrke said officers described his mood as relaxed.

Although officials had said he planned to fast after having his last requested meal Tuesday, Gardner drank a Coke and a Mountain Dew on Thursday night. His Tuesday meal consisted of steak, lobster tail, apple pie, vanilla ice cream and 7UP.

Read the rest of the Associated Press story by clicking the link below.

Past coverage:

June 14: Clemency denied for killer facing firing squad

June 11: Man set to die by firing squad pleads for life

April 23: Utah killer will be executed by firing squad

Tip on text in arson fire gets teens $1,500

Two teenagers will receive $750 each today for tipping fire investigators to a text message that helped arrest five people, including a man now accused of murdering his pregnant girlfriend, for an arson fire at a Spokane Valley elementary school last June.

The fire, which began in a garbage can under a play area at Adams Elementary School, 14707 E. Eighth Ave., caused $1,500 in damage, according to the Spokane Valley Fire Department. 

Robbie W. Bishop, 20, is charged with second-degree arson; four girls also were arrested.

The NW Insurance Council and Arson Alarm Foundation are providing the rewards. Adams Elementary Principal Jeff Dufresne will be receiving the money on their behalf at a ceremony today at 9:30 a.m.

Bishop remains in jail on the arson charge as well as two counts of second-degree murder for the July 22, 2009, stabbing death of 33-year-old Robin M. Anderson, who was pregnant with Bishop’s child.

Bishop has mental health problems and was released from jail before the murder because Eastern State Hospital officials said they didn’t have room for him.

Four-time armed robber gets 14 years

A 20-year-old Spokane man was ordered to spend 14 years in prison for a robbery spree last summer.

Daniel I. Neace was sentenced this week in Spokane County Superior Court after pleading guilty to four counts of first-degree robbery, three counts of second-degree assault, attempted first-degree robbery, and three counts of unlawful imprisonment. The plea deal dismissed two counts of delivery of a controlled substance (Ecstasy).

Neace was arrested July 27 after police say his roommate, Michael J. Anderson, 21, posed as a customer at Check into Cash, 555 E. Francis, and Neace wore a fake beard to rob the place at gunpoint.

Police found Neace with glue, then seized a fake beard, business floor plans, Pizza Pipeline deposit bags and shotgun shells at the Lincoln Street apartment he shared with Anderson, according to a search warrant.

Police found Nathan J. Molina, 22, sitting in a parked car registered to Neace’s father a few blocks from the cash store. Molina and Neace had portable talk radios tuned to the same channel, according to police.

After his arrest, “Neace stated that he was behind in payments on his car that his father had co-signed for,” according to court documents.

The crime spree began July 11 when two men robbed Domino’s Pizza, 726 W. 3rd Ave., and continued July 15 with three men robbing the Domino’s at 2901 N. Argonne Road in Spokane Valley. Four days later, two men robbed Pizza Pipeline at 1724 W. Wellesley Ave.

In addition to 171 months in prison, Neace will be on probation for 18 months after prison and is to pay $3,926 restitution.

Past coverage:

July 30: Three men suspected in robbery spree

Informant forgets to tell FBI about pipe bomb

A man who approached federal agents last week about an alleged murder-for-hire plot hatched by a former lawyer for the Aryan Nations may have left out a key detail: He’d already rigged an explosive to the intended victim’s car.

 Larry Andrew Fairfax, 49, remains in federal custody after appearing in U.S. District Court in Coeur d’Alene on Wednesday on firearms charges related to a pipe bomb attached to the bottom of Edgar Steele’s wife’s SUV Tuesday. Auto shop employees found the explosive Tuesday during an oil change.

Although federal agents won’t confirm whether it was Fairfax who tipped them last week to the alleged murder plot, citing rules for protecting the identity of confidential informants, they said Wednesday they are not looking for any additional suspects in the case.

“There’s no pending public safety threat,” said Don Robinson, supervisory agent for the FBI’s Coeur d’Alene office.

Fairfax was arrested Tuesday at Coeur d’Alene police headquarters after he told investigators he made the bomb at his home on Ponderosa Road near Sagle, about six miles from Steele’s Talache Road home, which was raided by federal agents Friday.

Read the rest of my story here.

Past coverage:

June 16: Steele: ‘This is a very emotional situation’

June 16: Bomb found on SUV registered to suspect

Killer’s death by firing squad set for tonight

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah is set to execute a condemned killer by firing squad shortly after midnight tonight, reviving a style of justice that hasn’t been used for at least 14 years and that many criticize as archaic.

Barring the success of any final appeals, Ronnie Lee Gardner will be strapped into a chair, have a target pinned over his heart and die in a hail of bullets from five anonymous marksmen armed with .30-caliber rifles and firing from behind a ported wall.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver denied Gardner’s petition for a stay Thursday, saying allegations of a conflict of interest by the Utah attorney general’s office were without merit.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert also denied Gardner’s request for a temporary stay, saying Gardner has had “a full and fair opportunity” to have his case considered.

Gardner’s final appeals are still pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

For the rest of the Associated Press story, including more photos, click the link below.

Past coverage:

June 14: Clemency denied for killer facing firing squad

June 11: Man set to die by firing squad pleads for life

April 23: Utah killer will be executed by firing squad

Trio of child molesters registers in Spokane

Three sex offenders considered likely to re-offend recently registered in Spokane County. 

Joe Louis Barton, 47, (right) is living in the 1100 block of West York after serving 216 months in prison for raping a 7-year-old girl in 1986. He’s no longer on probation. 

Delores M. Hegge, 31, (left) is living in the 1300 block of North Foothills Drive. She was sentenced to 21 months in prison in 1995 for first-degree child molestation. Her victim was a 10-year-old boy. She is not on probation. 

Jeffrey W. Naftel, 52, (right) is living as a transient in Spokane County. He was convicted of first-degree child rape and first-degree child molestation in 1991 in Chelan County. His victims were 5- and 7-year-old boys. He’s not on probation.

Barton, Hegge and Naftel are level 3 sex offenders, the classification considered most likely to reoffend. None is wanted by law enforcement, but authorities want the public to be aware of their presence.

Police: Man had 166 pot plants too many

A hunter led investigators this week to a man they say “interprets the medical marijuana law a little differently than we do.”

Benjamin A. Rice-Erso, 26, was released from Spokane County Jail on his own recognizance today after appearing in Superior Court on a felony charge of manufacturing a controlled substance.

Investigators raided his mother’s home at 15100 block of South Valley Chapel Road Wednesday after a tipster said he saw marijuana plants on the 10-acre parcel while hunting with a GPS unit, according to a search warrant filed today.

A detective flew over the site in a helicopter, leading to a raid that seized 181 marijuana plants and 5 pounds of harvested bud. Detectives also seized $3,200 found in a gun safe, according to the search warrant.

Spokane County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Dave Reagan said Rice-Erso, who has a medical marijuana license, equipped two trucks with reservoirs so he could drive water to the outdoor grow site.

State law allows medical marijuana patients to keep 15 plants and 24 ounces of the harvested drug. Local police and prosecutors consider anyone distributing marijuana to more than one authorized patient to be violating the law, which allows for distribution to one person “at any one time.”

Past coverage:

Oct. 19: New federal orders have no effect on Spokane pot raids

Sept. 14: Protesters ask to keep medical marijuana dispensaries open

Sept. 10: Police arrest medical pot dispensary owners

Aug. 26: Medical marijuana seller busted during buying trip

June 28: Pot’s legal ambiguity clouds law enforcement

Jury acquits ex-survival instructor of rape

A former survival instructor smiled Wednesday as a Spokane jury read its decision to exonerate him of three counts of first-degree rape.

Michael W. Fassbender, 32, asked his attorney, Christian Phelps, if he was free to go and left with his friends and family.

Fassbender declined comment, but Phelps said, “The evidence wasn’t there for a conviction. From the beginning, Mr. Fassbender denied these allegations and chose to go to trial despite the enormous penalties he would have received if convicted.”

Most of the 11-man, one-woman jury also declined comment, but one of them said in passing, “It was a difficult decision.”

Read the rest of Thomas Clouse’s story here.

Past coverage:

June 15: ‘I know I never raped her,’ suspect testifies

June 10: National security issues in rape trial

June 9: Hostage specialist’s trial begins

Dec. 4: Rape suspect faces more charges

Nov. 3: Out on bail, accused rapist pleads not guilty

Oct. 21: Man accused of rape at Fairchild Air Force Base

Speed cited as factor in deputy’s fatal crash

MOSES LAKE, Wash. (AP) — The Washington State Patrol says speeding was a factor in a crash that killed a Grant County deputy sheriff in  January.

KEPR News reports that the State Patrol estimates that 52-year-old Deputy John Bernard was driving between 77 and 79 mph on a road near Ephrata with a posted limit of 55 mph. The road was wet as well.

Bernard’s vehicle skidded off a curve and went airborne for than 20 feet, and then rolled. The deputy was not responding to call at the time when he crashed. Bernard was wearing his seatbelt.

Gov. Chris Gregoire and law enforcement officers honored Bernard in a large memorial following his death. He had been with the Grant County Sheriff’s office for four years.

Past coverage: Jan. 5: Cause of deputy’s crash may be medical

Developer pleads not guilty to theft

A once-prominent Spokane land developer pleaded not guilty to several felonies related to an alleged drug and stolen property ring investigators believe he ran from his Long Lake home.

Joseph G. Ward, 62, founder of Pinnacle Realty, is charged with two counts of first-degree theft, seven counts of first-degree possession of stolen property and one count of possession of a stolen motor vehicle connected to a SWAT team raid at his Long Lake home on Jan. 7, 2009.

Ward was arrested that day and spent the night in jail. Washington State Patrol spent months on an investigation into alleged criminal activity ranging from insurance fraud and stolen property possession to major methamphetamine trafficking and videotaped orgies with prostitutes.

After his arrest, Ward thanked the State Patrol for stopping “something that I couldn’t stop myself,” according to court documents, and said he’d be taking daily drug tests to help stay clean.

Ward and his lawyer, Richard Bechtolt, declined comment after the arraignment.Ward is at right, Bechtolt is at left.

Past coverage

March 22, 2010: Police seek developer’s associate

Oct. 12, 2009: Shooting at Ward’s home gets man 4 months

Sept. 30, 2009: Details emerge in probe of developer

June 26, 2009: Felon suspected of WSP lot break-in

Jan. 18, 2009: Realtor’s arrest highlights perils of meth

Man accused of threatening police, jail staff

A Spokane man is accused of threatening and attempting to assault Spokane County sheriff’s deputies and a hospital security guard on Wednesday.

Robert Allen Howley, 47, was taken into protective custody about 7 p.m. at his home in the 4200 block of North Locust after he made “suicidal statements” but demanded to be taken to jail instead of a hospital according to a news release.

Howley threatened to kill Deputy Darrell Rohde and his family, then tried to headbutt him and threatened to break a hospital security guard’s leg, police said.

Howley later threatened to shoot and kill jail Deputy Marilyn VanTassell as he was booked on harassment and intimation of a public servant charges, polie said. He also faces a charge of third-degree assault on law enforcement.

Howley was to appear in Superior Court today.

Tips sought on Wal-Mart wallet snatchers

Police are looking for tips on two women caught on tape using a food stamp card from a wallet lost in the Wal-Mart parking lot earlier this month.

The victim dropped the wallet about 2 a.m. June 6 in the lot at 9212 North Colton Ave., then reported it to Wal-Mart employees.

The next day, the victim’s food stamp card was used at the nearby Winco.

Surveillance video captured images of two women using the card at Winco, 9257 N. Nevada St.

Anyone with information on their identities is asked to call Crime Check at (509) 456-2233.

Elton to get court-ordered mental evaluation

The mental state of a Spokane County commission candidate is in question.

 A week before filing for office Friday, civic gadfly David H. Elton was ordered by Spokane County Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno to undergo mental evaluations to determine whether he’s competent to stand trial on harassment charges related to threatening e-mails sent last year to Spokane City Council President Joe Shogan and to Betsy Cowles, chairwoman of the Cowles Co., which owns The Spokesman-Review.

Elton’s trial, previously set to begin June 28, is on hold pending his mandatory mental health evaluation, Deputy Prosecutor Dale Nagy said.

Read the rest of my story here.

Previous coverage:

April 15: Elton avoids jail after violating court orders

April 3: Elton’s wife donated to Stevens’ campaign

Jan. 21: Trial set for Elton on threat charges

Feb. 12, 2009: ‘Murder’ email meant as joke, suspect says

Steele: ‘This is a very emotional situation’

Appearing for the first time on federal charges related to an alleged murder-for-hire plot, Edgar Steele described himself Tuesday as a “frail” and “elderly” man who’s undergone four surgeries in the past six months, including open heart surgery. He also blasted the federal agents for seizing what he said were attorney-client files regarding federal cases with pending appeals.

The 64-year-old attorney, known for his unsuccessful defense of the Aryan Nations in the landmark 2000 case that bankrupted the racist group, represented himself during the hearing and pleaded “absolutely, completely not guilty” to a charge that he hired a man to kill his wife and mother-in-law.

The charge, use of interstate commerce for the commission of murder for hire, carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Steele is reportedly on voice record telling an FBI informant “to make sure that they were dead after the accident because Edgar Steele did not want to take care of a paraplegic” and promising to compensate the informant’s family if he got caught, according to a probable cause affidavit prepared by the FBI.

In court Tuesday, Steele said he’s not a flight risk and dispute an apparent claim from the government in confidential records that his writings show he would flee prosecution. He said his writings show just the opposite, that he will stand for what he believes in and respects “the American way.”

Steele appeared most passionate when arguing against the no contact order between him and the alleged victims. At one point, Assistant U.S Attorney Traci Whelan asked Judge Candy Dale to order Steele to address the judge instead of her. Dale did.

After the no contact order was issued, Steele pointed in the direction of his wife and son, prompting Whelan to say to Dale: “Your honor I just ask that the record reflect that Mr. Steele just pointed at his wife and directed her to get up and talk to me.”

Steele said he pointed at his son - not his wife. “I know better than that, your honor,” he said. He added, “Understand that this is a very emotional situation for me.”

Steele has been in custody since Friday after a raid at his home at 1569 Talache Road, about 10 miles south of Sandpoint and just east of Shepherd Lake.

On Tuesday, just hours after a grand jury indicted him, Steele said federal authorities seized “our life savings” during the raid and that he hopes to hire private counsel but isn’t sure he’ll be able to. A public defender will be assigned for his bail hearing, set for next Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. in Coeur d’Alene.

His court appearance yesterday came just hours after a bomb was discovered on his wife’s SUV.

Read the full story: Bomb found on wife’s car just before Steele appears in court

Past coverage:

June 14: North Idaho attorney charged in murder-for-hire plot

Jury clears man of vehicular homicide

A motorist who ran over a Spokane man near Finch Arboretum two years ago was acquitted of vehicular homicide on Tuesday.

William L. Hagy, 31, argued he never saw the victim, 51-year-old Robert Kenyon, who was crossing an unmarked crosswalk on Nov. 20, 2007, and suggested it could have been because the man suffers from Parkinson’s disease and may have fallen into the road. It was foggy at the time of the collision.

“I’m very happy and relieved for Mr. Hagy,” said defense attorney Bevan Maxey. “It’s been a horrible experience, first discovering this gentleman under his vehicle, then having to stand trial … for an accident.”

The trial in Spokane County Superior Court lasted about a week.

Court skipper wanted in car-house crash

A man accused of crashing his car into a northwest Spokane home early today was scheduled to plead guilty Monday to a charge related to a Cheney shooting, but he didn’t show up.

Now Abran L. Gibson, 19, is wanted on new charges after Washington State Patrol troopers say he crashed a 2006 Hyundai Sonata into a northwest Spokane home in a police chase early Tuesday.

Gibson allegedly fled troopers after they tried to stop him for a suspected traffic violation about 2 a.m.

Read the rest of my story here.

Yakima teacher acquitted of sex abuse

(AP) A Yakima teacher and Eastern Washington University graduate accused of having sex with one of her students was acquitted today of all charges.

After listening to almost two full weeks of testimony, jurors took less than two hours to acquit Michele Taylor of one count of sexual misconduct and two counts of communicating with a minor for immoral purposes.

The 31-year-old physical education teacher was accused of having sex with the 16-year-old in her husband’s truck in a parking lot. Phone records show she sent more than 400 text messages to him and another boy, who was 15 at the time.

Taylor, who earned her teaching certificate at Eastern, testified Monday that she did not have sex with the teen. She said the messages were part of a mentoring relationship. She has been on paid leave from her job at East Valley High School.

Read an in-depth story from the Yakima Herald-Republic by clicking the link below.

Past coverage:

June 11: Gym teacher’s husband testifies in sex trial

June 9: EWU grad on trial in teacher sex scandal

Man in wife’s murder is competent for trial

A Stevens County man accused of killing his wife has been declared competent to stand trial after undergoing mental evaluations at Eastern State Hospital.

Craig R. Cosby pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder last week. Trial is set for August.

Cosby was 68 when called 911 on Oct. 3 and said he killed his wife.

He was arrested in the front yard of his home in the 1200 block of Overlook Boulevard in Marcus, a small town along the Columbia River in northern Stevens County.

Susan May Cosby, 53, was found dead of gunshot wounds in the home, and her husband was soon ordered to under mental evaluations.

In his weekly column to media, Stevens County Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen said “a large number of items of physical evidence” still are being examined at the sate crime lab.

Past coverage: Oct. 20: Man held in wife’s murder taken to Eastern

‘I know I never raped her,’ suspect testifies

When a survival instructor accused of rape broke military policy by bringing a woman into a secure compound, he was in the midst of a “great evening” with a flirtatious date who seemed interested in everything he did, he testified Monday.

“Everything about her was saying she was excited to be here, and she wanted to be here,” Michael W. Fassbender, told jurors in his Spokane County Superior Court trial.

Fassbender, 32, will continue testifying today in what is expected to be the last day of his trial on three counts of aggravated first-degree rape and second-degree assault in connection with an Oct. 19 encounter at a restricted Fairchild Air Force Base facility.

“I know I never raped her. I know that in my heart,” he said. “But it’s pretty apparent from sitting over there watching her that she believes it.”

Read the rest of my story here.

Past coverage:

June 10: National security issues in rape trial

June 9: Hostage specialist’s trial begins

Dec. 4: Rape suspect faces more charges

Nov. 3: Out on bail, accused rapist pleads not guilty

Oct. 21: Man accused of rape at Fairchild Air Force Base

Attempted-murder charge filed in shooting

A 36-year-old Los Angeles man accused of a shooting in Spokane has been charged with attempted murder.

Andrew T. Burns is to be arraigned on the charge this afternoon in Superior Court. He was arrested on a first-degree assault charge June 3 after allegedly shooting Kenneth R. Grooms, 40, in a confrontation down the block from Grooms’ home near East Mallon Avenue and North Madelia Street.

Burns is a suspect in ongoing crack cocaine investigation. He was arrested in February in connection with the probe but has not been charged.

Past coverage:

June 5: Man held in shooting also suspect in ongoing drug case

Feb. 11: Cocaine bust targets gang members

Woman arrested in condiment crime spree

(AP) — Police in Boise think they may have solved a yearlong condiment crime spree.

Authorities say a 74-year-old woman arrested after pouring mayonnaise in the Ada County library’s book drop box is a person of interest in at least 10 other condiment-related crimes.

Joy L. Cassidy was picked up Sunday at the library, moments after police say she pulled through the outside drive-through and dumped a jar of mayo in the box designated for reading materials.

Cassidy was released from jail and faces a misdemeanor charge of malicious injury to property.

Boise police say Cassidy is under investigation for other cases of vandalism that started in May 2009.

Library employees have reported finding books in the drop box covered in corn syrup and ketchup.

Teens in deadly Feb. crash plead not guilty

Two teenagers were arraigned Monday on vehicular homicide charges connected to a Feb. 14 crash that killed a Lewis and Clark High graduate and Eastern Washington University student.

Brooke A. Reese and Taylor D. Marean, both 18, pleaded not guilty in brief, back-to-back hearings before Superior Court Judge Ellen Kalama Clark.

The teens were said to be racing when their cars collided on southbound Hatch Road near 54th Avenue early Feb. 14, killing Jacoby N. Bryant, 19.

Bryant, a 2009 graduate of Lewis and Clark High graduate and student at Eastern Washington University, was a passenger in Reese’s 1999 Pontiac Grand Am when it collided with Marean’s 2005 BMW, then struck a tree, according to the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.

Reese reportedly admitted to drinking four shots of Vodka at a party near 25th and Grand before the deadly crash. The two are to be booked and released from the Spokane County Jail by Friday. Trials were scheduled for Sept. 7, though Marean’s attorney indicated it likely would be delayed.

Past coverage:

May 28: Documents give new details on deadly crash

April 27: Charges in deadly crash on hold for school

April 5: Charges recommended in crash that killed teen

Polygraph clears robbery suspect’s driver

No charges will be filed against a Spokane man arrested on suspicion of driving the getaway truck in an OxyContin robbery at a North Side Walgreens last week.

Although David L. Ratener, 55, was driving the truck, he passed two lie detector tests that showed he knew nothing of the alleged robbery by a young man whom he was driving from a downtown bar May 22. Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Larry Steinmetz notified Ratener’s attorney, Tim Note, of the decision last week. 

Ratener got his truck back the next day. He also “got crash course in the justice system,” Ratener said today. 

Ratener was arrested with Robert K. Morris on May 22 after police said Morris robbed the Walgreens at Division Street and Empire Avenue of OxyContin, then fled in Ratener’s truck.

Morris, 26, is to be arraigned on a first-degree robbery charge June 21, but Ratener passed a police-administered polygraph that cleared him of wrongdoing, according to a letter by Steinmetz.

Today, Ratener said that Morris had told him he needed a ride to the Walgreens area to pick up money from a friend. Ratener parked his truck about a block from the store, and Morris returned a few minutes later and said they could leave. Nothing seemed suspicious. Minutes later, police were behind Ratener’s truck. He pulled over and their lights flashed; he looked over and saw Morris swallowing pills, he said.

“I didn’t know the Walgreens had been robbed until the police told me,” Ratener said. “Once they told me what happened it was like ‘how the hell did I get involved in this?’”

Between the robbery and the police stop, Ratener drove back by the pharmacy – another fact that helped his defense, Note said.

Still, “I don’t believe there’s anything Mr. Ratener could have said to avoid getting arrested,” Note said. “It looked bad.”

Ratener spent two days in jail before he was released on his own recognize after appearing in Spokane County Superior Court. He said he used skills learned in survival training in the military to get by.

Note said Ratener case was one of the most bizarre he’s seen.

He learned of the robbery in the news and “pictured some scraggly haired doper looking” man when he arrived at the jail to interview Ratener.

But the senior sound engineer for several Spokane radio stations hardly matched Note’s image of him.

Ratener’s upper middle-class lifestyle, Note said, affords him “no motive for a robbery.”

Past coverage: May 25: Driver was victim of circumstance, lawyer says

1st on Sirens: Edgar Steele’s mugshot

 Edgar J. Steele, the lawyer who represented the Aryan Nations, is due in U.S. District Court in Coeur d’Alene at 3:30 p.m. today on a felony charge of using interstate commerce to commission murder for hire.

Steele was arrested Friday at his Sagle home, accused of trying to hire someone to kill his wife and mother-in-law. He was booked into the Kootenai County Jail.

Read the story here.

Gamblers plead not guilty in $540,000 theft

A Spokane couple who described themselves to police as successful gamblers are accused of stealing nearly $540,000 from a Spokane rental agency.

George L. and Kathy A. Bagwell pleaded not guilty to three counts of first-degree theft today.

The couple had worked for real estate owner Rex Williams since 2001; they took over management of his Spokane assets after after his parachute failed to open and he fell to his death during a skydiving excursion in Texas in March 2008.

But the charges recently filed in Superior Court allege the theft began while Williams was still alive. The couple is accused of stealing $151,945 in 2007. Further charges allege they stole $242,642 in 2008 and $151,672 in 2009.

The Bagwells are described as heavy gamblers who frequented Northern Quest Casino at least twice a week. Both have extensive tattoo work court documents imply may have been paid for with stolen cash. Williams’ son-in-law Adams Pospychala, told police George Bagwell, 43, bragged about his gambling.

“George bragged about expenditures including a Jet Ski, fighting show tickets and tattoo conventions in Las Vegas,” according to a probable cause affidavit filed in May. The affidavit says the couple withdrew nearly $25,000 from casino ATMs between February 2008 and June 2009. George Bagwell dropped $334,031 in Northern Quest slot machines between January 2007 and July 2009;l Kathy Bagwell, 37, placed $104,216, court documents say.

They claimed $20,000 in winnings on 2008 tax forms, and $10,000 on 2007 taxes.

The Williams family owns three apartment complexes in northeast Spokane with 304 apartments: the Lyons Crest, the Lyons Glenn and the Lyons Ridge apartments. In summer 2009, Williams’ daughter Chaundra Williams-Pospychala noticed a sharp drop in cash flow from the properties — $30,000 to $50,000 a month since at least April 2009. She then noticed the Bagwells accepting rent payments in cash without depositing the money. Police began searching the Bagwells’ bank records shortly after.

A civil suit against the Bagwells is set for trial in September.

Kathy Bagwell described herself to police as “a very successful gambler.”

In an interview with police, George Bagwell “appeared tearful” and “expressed their great fondness of Rex Williams,” according to court documents.

He reportedly said Rex allowed them to take $6,000 from rent money “in order to qualify for their home mortgage.”

“George claimed the owners demanded they manipulate the rent rolls in order to look good for the bank,” according to the affidavit. “George said money has been very tight since the kids took over the company. Staffing and maintenance has been cut.”

Past coverage:

July 21, 2009: Couple accused of fraud to fund gambling habit

Clemency denied for killer facing firing squad

DRAPER, Utah (AP) — A state parole board today unanimously denied clemency to a condemned Utah man scheduled to be executed by firing squad.

Curt Garner, chairman of the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole, said the board determined that the jury’s verdict imposing a death sentence was not inappropriate and that no sufficient reason exists to grant clemency or to commute convicted killer Ronnie Lee Gardner’s death sentence.

“Gardner makes no claim of innocence and admits that he is guilty of each of the crimes of which he has been convicted,” Garner said Monday.

Family members of several of Gardner’s victims sat holding hands as Garner read the board’s decision.

“I really thought they would change it over to life,” said a relieved Tami Stewart, whose father, George “Nick” Kirk, was shot and wounded by Gardner in 1985. “I don’t feel happy, but it needed to be done. That’s hard for me to say, because I feel sorry for him, but the jury made their decision.”

Read the rest of the AP story by clicking the link below.

Past coverage:

June 11: Man set to die by firing squad pleads for life

April 23: Utah killer to be executed by firing squad

Ex-Aryans lawyer arrested in murder plot

A North Idaho attorney who defended the Aryan Nations and its founder, Richard Butler, is scheduled to appear in federal court today on charges he arranged to have his wife and mother-in-law killed.

Edgar J. Steele, 64, (left, in 2001) was arrested Friday at his Sagle home and charged in the murder-for-hire plot.

That was the day the women were to be killed in a car crash meant to look like an accident, according to a probable-cause affidavit.

Read the rest of the story here.

Convict facing prison gets Disneyland trip

A Spokane man busted in a federal marijuana sting and looking at a prison sentence had one request: He wanted to go to Disneyland.

He got his wish.

Scott Nicholas Cassell, 29, left over the weekend for Southern California, two weeks before a judge will be asked to approve a plea deal that calls for him to spend five years behind bars.

U.S. Magistrate Cynthia Imbrogno granted a motion late last month for Cassell to travel to the Magic Kingdom for a week with his mother, wife and 6-year-old daughter.

Read the rest of my story  here.

Past coverage:

Jan. 23: Businessman led pot ring; restaurant was a front

Feb 27, 2009: 20 suspects arrested in marijuana ring

Major heroin bust includes E. Wash. arrest

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — Federal authorities say 23 people have been arrested in Washington as part of a national crackdown on Mexican drug trafficking organizations operating in the U.S. The dragnet included at least one arrest in Eastern Washington near Yakima.

Agents arrested the 23 and seized 65 pounds of black tar heroin on Wednesday while serving search warrants in the Tacoma area. Over the past 13 months, $400,000 has been seized.

The group ran a heroin delivery service, with customers from around the region calling up and placing orders, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. A dispatcher would direct them to wait at certain intersections within a 6-square-mile area south of Tacoma, where they’d be met by a drug runner.

“In just one residence, agents found 58 pounds of black tar heroin – a stunning indication of the massive amounts of poison this group was spreading,” said Jenny A. Durkan, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington. They operated almost like a pizza delivery business, using runners and dispatchers to get drugs out into multiple south Puget Sound communities.”

Arrested in Sunnyside was Alicia Alvarez, according to documents filed in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Washington. She was indicted on charges of conspiracy to distribute heroin. She and 12 other defendants were ordered to pay a total of $500,000, as well as forfeit $49,9000 “seized from Calypso Mares on or about March 25, 2010 at Medford, Oregon,” according to the indictment. Mares also is charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin.

The indictment alleges the conspiracy began within the last give years and included Pierce, Thurston and Grays Harbor counties.

The arrests were part of a dragnet that arrested more than 2,200 and seized $5.8 million in cash, 2,951 pounds of marijuana, 112 kilograms of cocaine, 17 pounds of methamphetamine, 141 weapons and 85 vehicles.

Read a full story on the bust, called Project Deliverance, by clicking the link below.

911 call on boy in fire: ‘He’s going to die’

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911 call from house fire

The aunt of a boy rescued from a burning Spokane home early today told a 911 dispatcher the boy was trapped in the house and she feared for his life.

“The house is on fire and there’s a baby in it,” the woman exclaimed in a short 911 call released by the Spokane Fire Department. “…Oh my God. He’s going to die. He’s going to die!”

But the boy was saved. He’s now recovering at Sacred Heart Medical Center.

Read the full story by Mike Prager here.

Man still in jail after wild ride, 2 crashes

A 22-year-old Worley, Idaho, man with a history of drunken driving remains in the Spokane County Jail today after a wild ride that involved at least two accidents in southeast Spokane County.

Toma N. Moses was arrested Wednesday night near 17th Avenue and Freya Street after a front wheel on his car collapsed.

That was after one woman swerved to avoid a head-on collision, allegedly with Moses, at Palouse Highway at Jamieson Road and a man hauling a boat was rear-ended on the highway just west of Highway 27.

He remains in jail on $1,000 bond for charges of driving under the influence, hit and run and driving with a suspended license. More charges are expected.

Read Mike Prager’s story here.

Man in closed probe jailed on meth charge

Police aren't investigating an allegation he stabbed someone in Spokane Valley on Memorial Day, but a traffic stop involving Matthias Piggot led to the suspect being jailed on a drug charge two nights ago.

Piggot, 28, posted bond after appearing in Superior Court Thursday on one count of possession of a controlled substance. He was arrested with suspected methamphetamine after Spokane police saw him driving on Stevens near Francis on Wednesday and learned his driver's license was suspended.

On May 31, Spokane Valley police searched Piggot's home at 2923 N. Maple Road in Millwood and retrieved the knife believe to have been used in a stabbing. But the investigation ended when the victim refused to cooperate.

The same home was searched in a drug investigation last December. A Spokane police officer recognized Piggot from that search when he saw him in traffic Wednesday, according to an affidavit supporting the meth possession charge.

Piggot is to be arraigned June 23.

Past coverage:

June 8: Uncooperative victim halts stabbing probe

Gym teacher’s husband testifies in sex trial

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) — The husband of a Yakima teacher and Eastern Washington University graduate accused of having sex with one of her students testified in her defense in Yakima County Superior Court.

The Yakima Herald-Republic reports Kevin Taylor said Thursday he’s sure Michele Taylor was home with him and their triplets the night of May 9,2009, when she’s accused of having sex with a 16-year-old in a pickup truck in a parking lot.

Michele Taylor, who earned her teaching certificate at Eastern, is charged with sexual misconduct and immoral communication with a minor.

She is on paid leave from her job as a physical education teacher at East Valley High School. Kevin Taylor also is a physical education teacher in the district.

Read an in-depth story from the Yakima Herald-Republic on Thursday’s testimony by clicking the link below.

Past coverage:

June 9: EWU grad on trial in teacher sex scandal

Crime Stoppers targets fugitive birthday girl

The Inland Northwest’s fugitive apprehension organization is offering a reward for a woman celebrating her 26th birthday today - nearly a month after she missed a drug court hearing.

A news release called it “a reward offered to enhance a birthday bash.”

“Crime Stoppers wants to make it special by putting Breanna Lebar behind le bars,” wrote Spokane County Sheriff’s Sgt. Dave Reagan.

Lebar is wanted on eight counts of second-degree possession of stolen property and single counts of possession of a controlled substance (methamphetamine) and theft of a motor vehicle.

Lebar has no criminal convictions, but Crime Stoppers described her arrest record as “horrendous.”

Her current charges come from three cases filed since January. She entered into drug court April 29 but didn’t show up for a hearing May 13.

Lebar last gave 514 N. Barker Road in Spokane Valley as her address.

Anyone with information on her location is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS or submit tips online.

Tipsters don’t have to leave their name to collect a reward but should leave a code name or number.

Man set to die by firing squad pleads for life

DRAPER, Utah (AP) — A Utah killer set to be executed by firing squad next week said Thursday he is remorseful and wants a state parole board to spare his life so he can help troubled kids avoid the kind of problems that landed him on death row.

Ronnie Lee Gardner, who chose a firing squad instead of lethal injection, told the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole he and his brother are trying to develop 160 acres in northern Utah for an organic farm and residential program for children. He said he’s earned about $1,300 selling prison artwork and crafts — handmade baby booties and handkerchiefs — to start the project. He even tried to enlist Oprah Winfrey in the cause two years ago.

Gardner, 49, said he had been working quietly on his idea for the “Back to Basics” program for about 10 years. He said he is a changed person and wants to help prevent kids from traveling down a path to violence and criminal activity.

“I think I’m the perfect example of what you shouldn’t do,” Gardner said, testifying for about two hours as part of his effort to persuade the board to reduce his sentence for murder to life in prison.

Read the reset of the Associated Press story by clicking the link below.

Past coverage:

April 23: Utah killer to be executed by firing squad

Bust targets drugs, guns, illegal immigrants

A two-day gang sweep in Grant County that authorities said arrested violent criminals targeted mostly illegal immigrants and felons wanted for probation violations.

Law enforcement seized Ecstasy, methamphetamine and marijuana and suspected stolen property, including guns, and arrested 32 people, 11 of whom had previously been deported but returned to the country illegally, said John Turley, Grant County undersheriff. 

In light of a news release from the U.S. Marshals Office, Turley clarified that none of the warrants involved homicide charges, and that gang members wanted for attempted murder in Grant County have not been arrested.

Among those arrested was a teenage gang member injured in a fatal shooting in March between Mattawa and Beverly. Carlos D. Leyva, 17, was killed; the boy was shot in the ankle. He was arrested this week with an illegal shotgun, marijuana and ammo, Turley said.

The sweep arrested members of rival gangs, including a suspected leader, Arthur Frank Cardenas, 31, on a probation violation. Cardenas is pictured at left.

Pictured above, left to right and top to bottom:

Juan R. Baeza, Josue E. Trinidad, Jose Ruvio Lopez. Edgar A. Sanchez, Santiago Gonzalez Herrejon, Alfredo Garay.

Read my full story on the bust here.

Report: Kirkpatrick still hoping for Seattle

Spokane police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick has asked to be reconsidered for the top Seattle police job after a finalist withdrew, a Seattle TV station reports.

According to a web posting by Q13Fox in Seattle, Kirkpatrick e-mailed Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn Wednesday after Sacramento Police Chief Rick Braziel withdrew from the running. Kirkpatrick was one of 11 semi-finalists but was not one of three finalists.

Spokane police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer DeRuwe said today that Kirkpatrick’s status has not changed.

“Chief Kirkpatrick is committed to her role as chief of police for Spokane,” DeRuwe said. She declined further comment.


Past coverage:

Feb. 10: Kirkpatrick watching Seattle search but quiet on plans

Video shows Spokane grocery store robbery

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Video released today shows a masked gunman robbing a north Spokane grocery store Tuesday night.

Police hope someone can provide tips about the robbery, which occurred about 10 p.m. at Empire Foods, 5434 N. Nevada St., and terrified the clerk, police said.

The gunman is shown throwing a bag to the woman then waving the weapon in her face as she and another woman give him cash from the register.

The gunman fled on foot; a witness who thought the man stole beer chased him for several blocks, losing sight in the 1200 block of East Rowan Avenue, police said. A K-9 tracked the robber’s scent into the street, where police believe he may have hopped in a getaway car.

The robber is described as a white man, 6-feet tall with a thin build and wearing a black coat, black hooded sweatshirt, black mask and dark pants.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Check at (509) 456-2233.

Career criminal in denial gets 15 years

A career criminal was ordered to spend 15 years behind bars recently, but not before he argued that he wasn’t actually a career criminal.

Casey D. Beckham felt his burglary convictions didn’t qualify as violent felonies under the federal Armed Career Criminal Act, which mandates a minimum 15-year prison term for career criminals charged with unlawful firearm possession. Federal prosecutors cited his three second-degree burglary convictions and one first-degree burglary conviction.

Beckham argued that because he drove the burglar away from the scene instead of entering the building, his first-degree burglary conviction didn’t qualify. He also said he didn’t know about the 15-year mandatory minimum until more than a month after his plea agreement.

But, prosecutors argued, “the issue is not whether [the] actual conduct constituted an aggravated felony, but whether the full range of conduct encompassed by [the state statute] constitutes an aggravated felony,” according to court documents filed this week.

U.S. District Court Judge Lonny Suko apparently agreed. He sentenced Beckham to 188 months last week, followed by 10 years probation.

Beckham was arrested in May 2009 after a day-long SWAT team standoff at a north Spokane apartment complex. He broke through an apartment ceiling and hid in the rafters, where police found him with a pound and a half of methamphetamine and $8,500.

About a dozen stolen firearms were found nearby with a felon, David L. “Cowboy Dave” Harwood, who said he was to sell the guns to Beckham to clear a $600 meth debt. Harwood, 40, was sentenced to 10 years in prison on gun charges in Superior Court last month.

Beckham’s also suspected of breaking into a state evidence room in April 2009 and prowling vehicles, including one seized during the Joe Ward investigation. He posted about $250,000 bond on several state charges last fall before he rearrested two weeks later on the federal indictment.

Past coverage:

Feb. 24: Felon’s plea deal calls for 15 years

May 28, 2009: Man arrested after seven-hour standoff

Jury convicts mom who took kids years ago

A jury has convicted a woman of custodial interference for taking her children from Spokane 12 years ago.

Jill D. Haugen, 48, was found guilty after a short trial before Judge Neal Reilly this week.

She has not yet been sentenced. Custodial interference carries a sentence of up to a year in jail; Haugen has been in custody since December and has no previous criminal record.

Haugen took her two sons from Spokane 12 years ago, despite a court order granting her estranged husband, Bill Connington, custody. Connington didn’t hear from them again until police Milton, Pa., located them in December in an arrest that attracted national attention.

The boys are to move to Spokane this year to live with Connington. 

During trial, Haugen testified about alleged abuse she and her sons experience from Connington, but police have found no merit to her claims.

A jury apparently didn’t, either. Haugen remains in jail awaiting sentencing.

A reader who wishes to remain an anonymous set up a donation account for Connington.

To donate, visit any U.S. Bank.

Past coverage: April 11: Rebuilding a fractured family

Rape trial’s crime scene is military facility

National security questions have been raised during the Spokane rape trial of a civilian contractor who, according to court testimony, took a woman he just met over the Internet into one of the military’s most secure facilities.

Asked outside the courtroom Wednesday if the U.S. Air Force had requested that she refrain from talking about features inside the facility, Deputy Prosecutor Sharon Hedlund said: “They are working with us.”

Read Tom Clouse’s story here.

Past coverage:

June 8: Fairchild survival center rape trial begins

Dec. 4: Rape suspect faces more charges

Nov. 3: Out on bail, accused rapist pleads not guilty

Oct. 21: Man accused of rape at Fairchild Air Force Base

Dealer w/ ‘mental demons’ gets 15 years

A Shoshone County, Idaho man involved in a methamphetamine ring that obtained the drug in Spokane will spend more than 15 years in prison.

 Michael R. Opland, 52, was sentenced Tuesday to 188 months in prison for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and for failing to show up for a court hearing.

Opland’s co-defendent, Paul D. Hartman, received the same sentence in January. Another defendant, Teri L. Stoddard, was sentenced to five years probation after pleading guilty to the same charge last summer. Stoddard had stopped selling meth prior to her arrest and rehabilitated well, the U.S attorney’s office said.

Investigators say Opland and Hartman sold between 500 grams and 5 kilograms of meth in Idaho and Montana. One witness told investigators Opland had sold more than 3,000 grams.

Severely abused by his father as a boy, Opland earned his GED and worked in construction for 22 years but eventually “become a victim of the system,” according to a sentencing memorandum. He went back to drugs after being convicted of vehicular manslaughter in December 1996.

“He used drugs to dull the pain of the grief and depression associated with the death and the recurring flashbacks,” according to the memo.

“Mr. Opland has all but begged for effective drug treatment and counseling on a massive scale,” the memo continues. “Mr. Opland’s struggle with his mental demons and against years of addiction is best deal with by society by critical, inpatient, intensive counseling and rehabilitation, both within and outside of the prison setting - with lengthy probation for corrective monitoring of efforts.”

Opland is in the Bonner County Jail awaiting transport to federal prison.

Jailer fired after inmate lies dead for hours

A Spokane County Jail corrections deputy is challenging his dismissal in March for alleged failure to discover an inmate’s death and then lying about it.

The deputy, Kenneth Downey, is one of four who were implicated in the Nov. 11 incident, in which an inmate lay dead in his cell for eight hours before his death from natural causes was discovered.

Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said an autopsy revealed that 59-year-old Fredrick James Juhnke had been dead about 8 hours before deputies discovered his death when they came to serve his dinner about 5 p.m.

Read the rest of John Craig’s story here.

SPD Guild endorses Bugbee for prosecutor

The Spokane Police Guild has endorsed Chris Bugbee for Spokane County prosecutor. Guild President Ernie Wuthrich told Bugbee of the endorsement in a letter sent to his campaign headquarters.

“Through your many years of service to the Spokane community you have developed a reputation as someone who is willing to fight regardless of the consequences,” Wuthrich wrote. “Many of our members have worked with you in a professional capacity and believe you to be fair and trustworthy and the best candidate to serve in this very important position.”

Here’s how the union described the candidates:

  • Bugbee, a former Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor now criminal defense attorney in both Washington and Idaho, has handled all crimes as a prosecuting and defense attorney.
  • David Stevens has only handled property, drug crimes and misdemeanors.
  • Republican Incumbent Steve Tucker- historically has settled crimes at all levels and his tenure likely appears to be over based on an absence of support from law enforcement and his own party.
  • Democratic candidate Frank Malone has spent the overwhelming majority of his career handling misdemeanor level crimes.

N. Idaho prosecutor joins Spokane Co. race

A Kootenai County deputy prosecutor joined the race for Spokane County’s top prosecutor today.

Jim Reierson, who lives in Spokane, said he prefers “The Law and Order Party,” Jim Camden reports at Spin Control.

Reierson, 59, ran for the job four years ago as a Democrat, and ran twice for Spokane County District judge, which is a nonpartisan position.

He wrote letters to the editor in April and in February blasting Prosecutor Steve Tucker. Check them out here.

Reierson joins David Stevens, Chris Bugbee and Frank Malone as Tucker’s challengers.

5 CdA meth dealers sent to federal prison

Four associates of an ex-Coeur d’Alene methamphetamine dealer serving 13 years in federal prison were sentenced to their own prison terms this week.

Brenda Barron, 46, is at the Sea Tac federal prison in Western Washington.

Now her daughter, 25-year-old Amber Larsen, is set to join her in the federal system, along with Coeur d’Alene residents Harold R. “Hank” Dillon, 41 (bottom left);  Daniel Napier, 46 (bottom right);  and Paige M. Rathburn, 24. 

The four were sentenced Monday in U.S. District Court in Coeur d’Alene after pleading guilty earlier this year to conspiracy to possess methamphetamine with intent to distribute. A grand jury indictment in November accused them of selling meth: Barron, Larsen and Napier from June 2008 to November 2009 and Dillon and Rathburn from December 2008 to November. 

Dillon, Napier and Rathburn were sentenced to 70 months in prison followed by five years probation.

Larsen received 32 months in prison, five years probation and 100 hours of community service. Larsen’s rehabilitation after her arrest helped lessen her sentence, the U.S. attorney’s office said. Barron was sentenced to 151 months in prison on May 10.

The only defendant with a sentencing memorandum detailing her situation was Rathburn, who moved to Alaska to live with her mother when she was 15 but set out on her own when her mom left her for a Hells Angel.

Her mother and boyfriend returned six months later, “and she started stripping and selling kilograms of cocaine supplied by her Hells Angel father-in-law,” according to the memorandum.

Her mom died of cancer, and Rathburn moved to Washington and learned to cook methamphetamine with her boyfriend. Rathburn cooperated with authorities, which led to a reduction in her sentence.

EWU grad on trial in teacher sex scandal

An Eastern Washington University graduate is accused of having sex with a teenage student while a gym teacher in Yakima. 

The 17-year-old student testified Tuesday that he had sex with Michele Leingang Taylor, 31, in the back seat of her pickup truck in a Kmart parking lot.

The teen said he had received a text message from Taylor, a physical education teacher at East Valley High School in Yakima and a married mother of triplets, to meet him in May of last year and that she pulled him into the back seat.

Taylor is on trial in Yakima County Superior Court, charged with sexual misconduct and immoral communication with a minor.

She earned her teaching certificate from Eastern Washington and is in the Centralia College sports hall of fame for softball.

For an in-depth story from the Yakima Herald-Republic on the case, click the link below.

Driver on trial for disabled man’s death

A 37-year-old Spokane man is on trial for vehicular homicide after he ran over a man with Parkinson’s disease in 2007.

William L. Hagy struck and killed 51-year-old Robert Kenyon, who was crossing at an unmarked crosswalk on Nov. 20, 2007, at the intersection of 10th Avenue and Rosamond St.

“The state will show you the reason this happened is because the defendant was driving with disregard for the safety of others,” Deputy Prosecutor Mary Ann Brady said in opening statements Tuesday.

But defense attorney Bevan Maxey told the jury that it was foggy that day and suggested Kenyon fell in the roadway.

Hagy “did not see Mr. Kenyon come up on the hood … or anything to indicate he was standing,” Maxey said. “Despite the fact we have had a sad and horrible loss, we will ask you to find him not guilty.”

Judge upholds Hells Angel’s jail release

A federal judge has rejected a prosecutor’s request to hold a Canadian Hells Angel without bail on drug and money laundering charges.

Brian L. Hall, 43, will be allowed to leave the Spokane County Jail and return to British Columbia if he posts a $400,000 cash bond, Judge Wm. Fremming Nielsen ruled Tuesday.

Nielsen’s ruling upholds an early decision by Magistrate Cynthia Imbrogno to grant Hall, a member of the notorious biker gang who fought extradition for nearly two years, bail under the condition he stay in contact with court officials and not contact biker gangs.

Federal prosecutors wanted Nielsen to reverse Imbrogno’s decision, arguing Hall is a flight risk, and that the cash bond is too low for a member of organized crime accused of laundering at least $180,000.

But Nielsen, like Imbrogno, ruled that Hall’s strong family ties, stable living situation, lack of a criminal history and work with two businesses outweigh concerns about his release.

Though a member of the Hells Angel, “there is insufficient evidence of substance abuse or dependency at this time,” Nielsen wrote. “Despite the nature of the charges, there is insufficient evidence that Mr. Hall presents a likely danger to the community should he be released.” Nielsen changed Hall’s release conditions to require $400,000 cash bond instead of $300,000 and to nix Imbrogno’s requirement that Hall’s grandparents post $100,000.

Hall’s charges are connected to $184,750 in U.S. currency seized by the Border Patrol in February 2003, as well as 1,200 pounds of marijuana seized by the DEA in April 2004.

A co-conspirator, David Sidwell, pleaded guilty in May 2009 to two marijuana charges and one count of attempting bulk cashing smuggling. He’s serving a 40-month prison sentence.

In court last week, Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell Smoot described the Canadian branch of the Hells Angels as “more business oriented than necessarily violence oriented.” “I think in fairness that needs to be said,” Smoot said.

Smoot questioned Hall’s offer to waive extradition, saying the waiver might not be acceptable because he signed it with the idea of release in mind.

Hall’s lawyer, Phillip Wetzel, said Hall was a highly paid mechanic who worked on big-rig trucks before getting injured and opening a motorcycle shop, Nitro Motion, and an excavation business.

There’s “not a suggestion or hint that he’s ever been involved in any intimidation or violence,” Wetzel said.

Hall remained in jail Tuesday night.

Past coverage:

June 2: Feds fight to keep Hells Angel in custody

3-strikes suspect backs out of pro se plan

Here’s one to cross off your list of upcoming spectacles: the Timothy “Stoney Boy” Lucious attempted-murder trial.

Lucious, who faces life in prison under the three-strikes law, recently backed out on a plan to act as his own attorney after representing himself for about two weeks.

Lucious’ pro se request was approved May 20 after he described himself as “the only one with an undivided loyalty to the defense of these charges.”

Superior Court Judge Ellen Kalama Clark reappointed Lucious’ his public defender, Steven Reich, on Friday at Lucious’s request, and the trial was pushed back from June 24 to Aug. 2 to allow Reich to make up for lost time.

Lucious, 39, is charged with six counts of attempted murder for a a July 24 shooting that injured two women after a cross-town melee.

Traffic camera critic remakes PD website

BLUFF CITY, Tenn. (AP) — After a Tennessee police department let its website expire, the site was snatched up by a new owner — a man who uses it to gripe about traffic cameras that issue speeding tickets.

Computer network designer Brian McCrary says he discovered the Bluff City Police Department site was up for grabs, so he paid domain provider Go Daddy for the rights to

McCrary, who says he received a $90 speeding citation earlier this year, took over the site May 22.

His site now shows a smiling cartoon police badge clutching green currency. It also posts gripes from others who’ve been cited.

Police Chief David Nelson said the officer who managed the site had been on medical leave and the expiration slipped up on the department.

Geiger to help inmates define right, wrong

The Geiger Corrections Center will soon become an interim version of the treatment-focused “community corrections center” that is to be part of a jail-construction bond measure next April.

Although Geiger will be available for overflow from the Spokane County Jail, its new mission will be to provide 144 beds for offenders who are nearing release. Jail officials already have started rearranging inmate populations to conform to Geiger’s revised role.

Inmates who are considered suitable candidates will receive a formal regimen of classes, substance-abuse treatment and other help in turning their lives around.

Read the rest of John Craig’s story here.

Still no arrests in gravesite flower thefts

A woman who sold Memorial Day flowers stolen from Catholic cemeteries told Spokane police she didn’t know the items were stolen.

The woman, who has not been arrested, said she got the flower pots from a relative, police said today. But police determined the flowers were stolen from gavestires at tree cemeatries.

Nearly 760 planters had been purchased for $25 by Memorial Day. Most disappeared that weekend; a cemetery employee spotted them being sold for $5 at the corner of Stevens and Buckeye Monday morning.

Police on Tuesday released photos of the planters in hopes more people will come forward. Anyone who bought one of the stolen planters is asked to return them to the cemeteries office at the Holy Cross Cementary, 7200 N. Wall.

Anyone who sees the flowers still being sold should call Crime Check at (509) 456-2233.

Read more about the thefts in this story: Memorial Day planters stolen from graves

Judge rejects murder suspect’s booze test

A murder defendant facing life in prison asked a judge today to let him undergo a test in which he gets drunk and experts analyze how violent he becomes.

Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen declined Justin W. Crenshaw’s request and ordered him to take the test he’d refused to take at the Spokane County Jail late last month.

Crenshaw, charged with two counts of aggravated murder for the brutal slayings of Mead High School senior Sarah Clark and 20-year-old Tanner E. Pehl on Feb. 28, 2008, still is set for trial this month, with jury selection beginning June 28. Testimony cannot begin until July 12 because of scheduling conflicts with investigators.

Crenshaw, 22, requested the alcohol test himself and indicated possible concerns with his defense lawyer, Chris Bugbee, running for Spokane County prosecutor.

Crenshaw apparently plans to present the ‘diminished capacity’ defense at trial - meaning Bugbee will argue Crenshaw was incapable of intentionally causing death because of his mental capacity. The prosecution is to prove two aggravating factors: deliberate cruelty and multiple victims, one motive.

Eitzen told Crenshaw this morning that he has until Thursday to undergo a test by an Eastern State Hospital doctor or the diminished capacity defense won’t be admissible at trial. (Crenshaw had refused to answer questions when Dr. William Grant met with him at the jail May 27.) The test is the prosecution’s response to a test Crenshaw underwent in Western Washington that supports the diminished capacity defense.

Past coverage:

April 26: Crenshaw double-murder trial delayed, again

Nov. 6, 2009: Judge rules on evidence in Crenshaw trial

Oct. 16, 2009: Motion to suppress filed in Elm Street homicides

Sept. 9, 2009: Crenshaw double-murder trial delayed

Sept. 4, 2009: Detectives just now examining Crenshaw’s cell phone

July 9, 2008: Murder defendant will get new attorney

March 5, 2008: Murder suspect trying to better life, friend says

March 1, 2008: Friends remember slain Mead High senior

Trial begins today in Fairchild rape case

Opening statements are set for this afternoon in the trial of a man accused of raping a woman in a Fairchild Air Force Base interrogation room.

Michael W. Fassbender, 32, is charged with three counts of aggravated first-degree rape and one count of second-degree assault with sexual motivation.

Prosecutors say the alleged Oct. 20 attack was “committed with deliberate cruelty,” and Fassbender “demonstrated an extreme lack of remorse,” according to court documents. Fassbender is accused of raping a woman after meeting her though an online dating service and dining at an Airway Heights restaurant.

The two reportedly drank a bottle of wine before Fassbender showed her torture devices and took her into a room, “where he told her he was such a good interrogator, that he could get information out of anybody,” documents allege. Fassbender is accused of choking the woman into unconsciousness and slapping her during separate sexual assaults in the interrogation room that lasted for “an extended period of time,” according to court documents.

Fassbender is on leave from his job as a civilian instructor at Fairchild’s survival school, where he is employed through SERE Solutions, a Spokane-based company that provides contracted instructors.

Spokane County Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen is presiding over the trial, which is expected to last five days.

Past coverage:

Dec. 4: Rape suspect faces more charges

Nov. 3: Out on bail, accused rapist pleads not guilty

Oct. 21: Man accused of rape at Fairchild Air Force Base

2 level 3 sex offenders register locally

Another day, another level 3 sex offender registers as a transient in Spokane County.

For the fourth time since May 27, the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office has announced that a sex offender considered likely to reoffend will be living a transient lifestyle.

The latest is James D. McMurtrey, 21, (left) who was convicted of incident liberties with a 5-year-old girl in 2003 in Spokane County. He’s under supervision by the state Department of Corrections.

Also announced today is a level 3 sex offender who moved to the 2200 block of North Calispel St. in the Emerson Garfield Neighborhood in Spokane.

Jeffrey R. Evans, 22, (right) was convicted of second-degree child rape in 2001 and of indecent liberties with forcible compulsion in 2004. His victims were a 6-year-old male relative and a 12-year-old female family friend, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Evans is being supervised by the state Department of Corrections.

McMurtrey and Evans are level 3 sex offenders, the classification considered most likely to reoffend.

Neither is wanted by law enforcement, but authorities want the public to be aware of their presence.

Uncooperative victim halts stabbing probe

A stabbing in Spokane Valley injured a man and led to a raid at a suspect’s apartment last week, but police say they aren’t pursuing the investigation because the victim isn’t cooperating.

“The truth of the matter is we have victims who want us to help them, so that’s where we tend to focus our effort,” said Sgt. Dave Reagan of the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.

Police searched 2923 N. Maple Road in Millwood May 31 and retrieved the knife believe to have been used to stab Joshua Vandouris, as well as bloody clothes and gang-related drawings.

The same home was searched in December in a drug investigation targeting Matthias “Payback” Piggot, 28. Vandouris first told police Piggot stabbed him but then recanted the story, according to a search warrant.

Tara Rader told police she’d driven Vanouris to the home to collect money from Piggot and watched the two argue before Piggot wielded a knife.

“She said that Vandouris told her he didn’t want to go to the hospital but he said he was afraid he was going to die,” according to the warrant.

Another witness told police Piggot had hosed off the porch at the Maple Road home shortly after the stabbing.

Detectives have retrieved the weapon, but “as far as I know, nothing beyond that,” Reagan said. “Again, nobody wants our assistance.”

Holloway suspect confesses to Peru murder

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Dutchman Joran van der Sloot, long the prime suspect in U.S. teen Natalee Holloway’s 2005 disappearance in Aruba, has confessed to killing a young woman in his Lima hotel room last week, a police spokesman said.

Police Col. Abel Gamarra, head of the Information Directorate of Police, told The Associated Press late Monday that Van der Sloot admitted under questioning by police that he killed 21-year-old Stephany Flores (pictured).

Gamarra said the case will be turned over to prosecutors who will present formal charges against Van der Sloot. The National Prison Institute will determine which prison he will be held in while awaiting trial.

Police planned to take Van der Sloot to the hotel today to participate in a reconstruction of the events leading to Flores’ slaying, Gamarra said.

Gamarra did not provide further details about the confession.

A Peruvian television station, Channel 4, said it had obtained details about Van der Sloot’s confession in which he reportedly told police that he killed Flores because he got angry when he found out that she had looked up information about his past on his laptop.

Flores, a university student studying business administration, was found beaten to death in the hotel room where the Dutchman had stayed while participating in a poker tournament. Flores is thought to have met Van der Sloot at the casino.

She was last seen alive on a hotel video the night of May 30 entering Van der Sloot’s room (left). The Dutchman is seen on the video leaving the room several hours later with his baggage and walking out of the hotel.

Police said he took a bus to Chile, where he was captured several days later and returned to Peru.

Van der Sloot has long been considered the main suspect in the 2005 disappearance of Alabama teenager Holloway on the Caribbean resort island of Aruba. He was arrested twice, but freed both times for lack of evidence.

To read an Associated Press story chronicling van der Sloot’s bizarre and shameless rise to fame, click the link below.

Appeal to 9th Circuit delays Otto Zehm trial

With a jury pool waiting in another room, a federal judge Monday postponed the criminal trial against Karl F. Thompson Jr. after prosecutors announced their intention to appeal his ruling that barred evidence showing Otto Zehm had not committed a crime before Thompson confronted him.

U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle ruled that attorneys for both sides could not introduce evidence about Zehm’s mental illness, or items found in Zehm’s pockets, or essentially anything that Thompson didn’t know before the confrontation on March 18, 2006.

Read the rest of Thomas Clouse’s story here.

Charge: Man voted twice in ‘08 election

A Stevens County man has been charged with a felony after investigators say he voted twice in the 2008 election.

Handwriting experts believe Alan Dennis Christensen, 34, filled out paperwork allowing him to vote in Stevens County and in Oregon, according to documents filed in Stevens County Superior Court.

Voter records show Christensen, of Nine Mile Falls, voted by mail in Oregon Sept. 22, then in Washington Sept. 30. Christensen is charged with making a false declaration as to qualifications as a voter, a class C felony.

“It’s certainly not very common,” Deputy Prosecutor Matt Enzler said of the charge.

Voting more than once also is a class C felony; Enzler said making a false declaration is easier to prove.

“It’s all based on signatures and document as opposed to showing that he actually did vote,” Enzler said. “We have the fact that he signed documents in an election in two separate counties.”

Christensen is to be arraigned July 13.

2 felons nabbed after South Hill gunfire

Gunfire on the South Hill Sunday didn’t injure anyone but shot out the back window of a car. How the gun discharged is a point of dispute.

Spokane police say one suspect, Andrey Y. Fedin, 22, told them a friend accidentally shot the gun while they were passing the gun back and forth in his car outside 3218 E. 34th Ave. Fedin also told police the friend and another man, Aleksandr N. Shingarey, 22, were following them with the gun as he tried to get away, according to court documents filed today in Superior Court.

But Fedin’s friend Slava Reznikov said outside Fedin’s court appearance that Fedin said Shingarey and another man shot out the window after he refused to buy them alcohol.

Reznikov said he was with Fedin just before the shooting and heard the gunshot from his home a few blocks away.

“Andrey took the gun from them, put the safety on and called police,” he said.

Court documents say Fedin told officers that he confronted the shooter, which led to Shingarey taking the shooter’s side and Fedin calling police.

Police found a Ruger .22 handgun with a silencer in tall grass near the home. They said Shingarey denied knowing anything about a gun and said the window had been shot out three days ago.

Police haven’t arrested the third man, who allegedly fired the weapon. The men are convicted felons, which means they’re prohibited from possessing firearms.

Fedin and Shingarey were booked into Spokane County Jail for unlawful possession of a firearm.

Child rapist, molester living as transient

A child rapist considered likely to reoffend is living as a transient in Spokane County, the sheriff’s office announce today.

 Edwin L. Kedish, 54, served 80 months in prison after being convicted of third-degree rape of a child and first-degree child molestation in Pend Oreille County in 1996.

His victims were girls ages 9 and 15. He recently registered as a transient and is not under supervision, the sheriff’s office said.

Kedish is a level 3 sex offender, the group considered most likely to reoffend. He is not wanted by law enforcement, but the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office wants people to be aware of his presence.

Corvette, motor home seized in Ponzi probe

The president of a Spokane-based company under investigation for an alleged $50 million-plus Ponzi scheme is to give up a motor home and Corvette, according to a legal notice published last week.

An Internal Revenue Service official declined comment on the probe involving Doris Nelson, president of Little Loan Shoppe LLC, and affiliates, saying any underlying civil or criminal complaints — if any — are under seal.

Bert Caldwell wrote about this and several other financial and business-related frauds in a story you can read here.

Past coverage:

May 20: LLC in Ponzi probe in the black, report says

Feb 24: State outlines Ponzi charges

July 23: Loan shop files for bankruptcy

City to buy warehouse for police evidence

Fifteen months after voters rejected a tax to pay for a new police evidence building, city officials say they can open an improved facility without new taxes.

The city announced this week plans to buy a warehouse in East Central Spokane and convert it to store police evidence by borrowing from the city’s main reserve and investment fund.

Last year, voters turned down an $18.5 million bond for a new $11.5 million police evidence building, among other projects.

Read the rest of Jonathan Brunt’s story here.

Ex-jail deputy charged with assaulting inmate

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A former Spokane County Jail deputy fighting his dismissal over use of force has been charged with misdemeanor assault in the same incident.

Wayne S. Green (right) is accused of grabbing inmate Daniel Clinger, son of a now former Spokane Fire Department captain Ron Clinger (left), by the throat and pushing him in a Nov. 4, 2008, dispute that jail officials said Green provoked because of perceived disrespect.  Green was fired last summer; an arbitrator is reviewing his dismissal.

Read the rest of my story here.

Past coverage:

May 26: Jail deputy fights firing over use of force

Shooting suspect part of crack investigation

Although a shooting in northeast Spokane on Thursday likely wasn’t gang-related, the Los Angeles man accused in the incident was arrested earlier this year in a crack cocaine investigation targeting several gangs.

Members of one of the gangs, the Atlantic Drive Compton Crips, were allegedly involved in a January fatal shooting – the only homicide in the city of Spokane so far this year.

Andrew T. Burns, 36, is in jail on an assault charge after witnesses told police he fired at least three shots at Kenneth R. Grooms, 40.

Read the rest of my story here.

Police still looking for carjacked Buick

Police still are looking for car stolen at gunpoint in north Spokane May 27.

Brian E. Gorder, 32, is accused of carjacking the 2008 Buick Lucerene in the K-Mart parking lot, 6606 N. Division, then using it in a robbery at Washington Trust Bank, 3810 N. Maple.

U.S marshals found Gorder in a tree May 28, but the Lucerene hasn’t been found. Its owner told police she and a friend were in the parking lot when a man later identified as Gorder ordered her to move to the passenger’s seat.

When she said she couldn’t because of the car’s center console, he ordered her out of the car and drove off after grabbing her purse, police said. Gorder is charged with two counts of robbery and one count of attempted first-degree kidnapping.

Gorder had recently escaped from a work release center after leaving prison.

Anyone with information on the Lucerene, Washington license plate 330YNF, is asked to call Crime Check at (509) 456-2233.

Past coverage:

June 1: Carjacking suspect has history with ‘Cops’

Husband gets 30 years in Valentine’s murder

LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — A judge has handed a 30-year prison sentence to a Lewiston man convicted of murdering his wife on Valentine’s Day last year.

A Nez Perce County jury had convicted Gary Mallory II of strangling Charlene Mabie Mallory, a 48-year-old who married him three months before her death.

Prosecutors recommended life in prison without parole; District Judge Carl Kerrick instead sentenced Mallory to 30 years - three times the minimum term required by statute. Mallory will serve two years for felony domestic battery, followed by an additional 28 years to life on the first-degree murder charge. If he is released, Mallory will be under state supervision for the rest of his life.

Killer’s lover admits to weapons charges

The boyfriend of a Spokane prostitute who murdered her husband has pleaded guilty to two federal weapons charges in California.

Brian L. Moore, 43, is expected to be sentenced to about two years in prison - but he’ll be credited for time already served. He’s been in custody since April 2009; his sentencing is reportedly at least a couple months away.

In a plea agreement filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in the Central District of California, Moore admits to possessing an unregistered rifle and a firearms silencer found in his Orange County, Calif., warehouse by Spokane police on April 27, 2009. Police found diagrams in the building “showing the design and construction of a firearm silencer,” according to the agreement.

Investigators say they still hope to refile murder charges against Moore for his alleged role in the Dec. 9, 2007, shooting death of Dale Robert Stark in Spokane. Shellye Stark is serving 50 years in prison after a jury convicted her of first-degree murder in March 2008.

Moore was arrested on murder and conspiracy to commit murder charges during the raid in California, but Spokane County prosecutors moved to dismiss the charges after a judge threw out key evidence from a private investigator hired by Moore and Stark. The dismissal came just before Moore’s public defenders were gong to ask a judge to permanently dismiss the charges because of lack of evidence.

Still charged in the case is Shellye Stark’s father, Curtis A. Johnson.

Johnson is set to go to trial June 14 on one count of first-degree identity theft after police say he cashed two checks with signatures forged to look like Dale Stark’s.

Read past coverage of the Stark/Moore case here.

Murder charges filed in gang slaying

Seven people have been charged in connection to a Jan. 17 gang-related slaying in Hillyard.

Edward L. “TD” Thomas (right) is wanted on charges of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder after police say he shot John S. Williams in the face with a Ruger mini 30 rifle and fired shots at another man.

Wanted on conspiracy and rendering criminal assistance charges are Marc A. “Bookie” Carter, John E. Burton, 27; and Christopher J. Route, 23.

Already in jail on the charges are cousins Cedric E. “Dirty” Burton, 23; Eric “Smalls” Burton, Jr., 25; James C. Henderson, 33. The three appeared in District Court today via video feed from the jail today.

Cedric Burton has been in jail since early May, when detectives arrested him in Los Angeles. His public defender said he had traveled south to attend the funeral of his cousin, Aaron D. Bascomb, a Long Beach 22-year-old who was shot and killed in Inglewood, Calif. April 9.

Lingering hostility between two gangsters who have a child with the same woman may have been what sparked the most recent fatal shooting.

Read my full story on the murder investigation here.

Pictured above, from left to right, first row: Thomas, Carter and Route. Second row: Cedric Burton, Eric Burton and Antonio Cook, who is charged with illegally posessing the murder weapon. Pictures of John Burton and James Henderson were not available.

Past coverage:

March 9: Homicide case ‘not a simple investigation’

‘Excited delirium’ axed from Zehm defense

After years of Spokane Police officials claiming that Otto Zehm suffered from “excited delirium,” a defense attorney said Thursday that he will avoid offering any evidence or expert testimony about the disputed medical condition often cited by police agencies to explain controversial in-custody deaths. 

Defense attorney Carl Oreskovich said he could no longer include testimony about excited delirium following rulings by U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle barring the defense from using medical records showing Zehm suffered from paranoid schizophrenia or that he’d had a physical confrontation with a Spokane County deputy sheriff in 1990.

Read the rest of Thomas Clouse’s story here.

School PTO thief must repay $22,000

A former elementary school PTO treasurer is to repay $22,000 in stolen donations after pleading guilty to two felony theft charges this week.

Theresa L. Dewitt also was sentenced to a year probation in a plea deal approved Tuesday in Superior Court.

The longtime Whitman Elementary School volunteer, beginning in September 2006, bilked the PTO of money raised through sales of cookie dough and fine chocolate in what authorities described as an attempt to fund a gambling habit.

Dewitt apologized after her arrest and said she always intended to repay the money.

Her scheme unraveled just before school began in fall 2008, when the Whitman PTO president opened an overdraft statement from the bank. She and Dewitt were in the Whitman principals office when the president exclaimed: “We have no money. It’s all gone.”

Past coverage: Nov. 10: PTO theft charges filed

$50,000 for Barefoot Bandit’s surrender

SEATTLE (AP) — An anonymous donor is offering to pay a notorious Washington state teen burglar $50,000 if he turns himself in by next Tuesday.

Everett bounty hunter Mike Rocha announced the offer on Thursday. He says it’s genuine: The money’s been placed in the trust account of Edmonds criminal defense attorney James Johanson.

Nineteen-year-old Colton Harris-Moore has been on the run since April 2008, when he escaped from a group home south of Seattle. He has been suspected of breaking into homes and business in five Washington counties, British Columbia and North Idaho, where the teen is suspected of stealing an airplane from the Boundary County airport.

Police also believe he’s taken four planes, luxury cars and power boats.

Johanson says the offer isn’t a trick and ethical rules for lawyers would prevent him from engaging in such a ruse. He says he’ll represent Harris-Moore for free if the teen wants, and Harris-Moore can keep the $50,000.

Feb. 11: Stolen plane, chalk drawn feet: Teen burglar back?

Oct. 7: Teen bandit becoming national sensation

Oct. 2: Stolen plane may be the work of teen bandit

DEA: Tri-Cities man supplied CdA cocaine

A Coeur d’Alene man accused of leading a cocaine distribution ring for at least 10 years is believed to have obtained the drugs from a Kennewick man.

New documents filed in U.S. District Court allege Manuel Rivera supplied James Roy “Slim” O’Neill (left) with cocaine that O’Neill then sold out of Coeur d’Alene.

Both men remain in federal custody - Rivera in Bonner County and O’Neill in Kootenai County - after their lawyers waived bail hearings on Monday.

A third suspect, Chillers bar owner Chris McFarland, was released on several conditions, including that he not work at Chillers. McFarland was convicted in 1994 of possessing several ounces of cocaine in Utah.

The new documents show a confidential informant arrested in connection with the case had a GPS unit on his car as early as November 2009. Investigators said the GPS device showed he traveled to Pasco to meet with Rivera shortly before he was stopped with nearly 70 grams of cocaine in Idaho. That informant told investigators Rivera was O’Neill’s cocaine supplier and had recently provided black tar heroin to O’Neill.

Investigators put a GPS tracker on O’Neill’s Ford scape and pulled his phone records. Idaho State Police detectives even sent O’Neill’s trash to a forensic lab for resting - traces of cocaine often was detected.

The informant bought cocaine from Rivera on several occasions, according to court documents. Meanwhile, detectives were watching O’Neill and McFarland and observing what they believed were drug deals at Chillers.

O’Neill was arrested May 25 with his wife, Lecia O’Neill, after a raid at their home at 2202 N. 9th. Also arrested were Rivera, McFarland, Gary Votava, Steve McCabe and Debra Margraff.

Three other Coeur d’Alene residents face state charges in connection with the case: James Lunceford, Kelli Lunceford and Michael G. Wachholz, 36.

Wachholz’s charge relates to cocaine found at his home during a search by probation officers in March, according to documents filed in Kootenai County District Court. The Luncefords were arrested May 25 after a search at their home at 2200 Monte Vista Drive. Investigators found less than a gram of cocaine. All three are out of jail on bond.

Past coverage:

May 26: DEA raid shuts down alleged CdA coke ring

Cash smuggling suspect held without bail

A Canadian man arrested at the U.S. border with $520,000 in unreported cash will remain in federal custody without bail.

Richard Paul Neumeyer, 66, of Kelowna, B.C., pleaded not guilty Wednesday to a grand jury indictment charging him with bulk cash smuggling - a felony that carries a maximum five years in prison but isn’t an extraditable offense in Canada.

That, coupled with Neumeyer’s admitted marijuana use and lack of ties to the area, led Magistrate Cynthia Imbrogno late Wednesday to order him held at the Spokane County Jail pending trial. Neumeyer was arrested May 21 at the border crossing in Laurier, Ferry County.

“This is a case of overwhelming guilt,”  Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Lister said in court Wednesday. “He was caught red-handed with half a million dollars.”

Federal agents say they found the cash - $510,000 in U.S. currency and $10,000 Canadian - in two hidden compartments in the floor of his 2006 Volvo after Neumeyer said he had only $1,600 in cash. Documents say he confessed to transporting cash - for a 2 percent cut - to Wickenburg, Ariz., about 60 miles northwest of Phoenix. Records show it was his fifth visit to the United States this year.

Neumeyer, whose criminal history includes a conviction for theft in 1961, is retired, and his only income source an $800 monthly pension. But he’s living in a $1,200 a month apartment, Lister said.

“This defendant is clearly living beyond his means,” she said.

Neumeyer’s lawyer, Frank Cikutovich, said Neumeyer’s brothers were willing to put up their homes in exchange for his release.

Past coverage:

May 24: Man arrested at U.S border w. $520,000

Killer gets life in prison under 3 strikes law

Convicted killer and career burglar David K. Brewzcynski received Wednesday the only sentence available to him — life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Brewczynski, 44, was convicted of bludgeoning and shooting 80-year-old Kenneth Cross on Sept. 20, 2008. The April murder conviction was Brewczynski’s third strike, meaning his only available sentence was life in prison under state law. He read from a brief statement and said he did not kill Cross.

He also intends to appeal, according to court testimony before Superior Court Judge Annette Plese.

  Cross was found beaten and shot in his Boone Avenue home in Spokane Valley on Sept. 20, 2008. The autopsy showed he had been struck with a blunt object 24 times in the head, about the same number of times in the torso and shot three times in the head.

Past coverage:

Past coverage:

April 21: Jury convicts career burglar of murder

April 8: Trial starts in death of 80-year-old man

Nov. 19, 2008: Accused killer pleads not guilty

Oct. 10, 2008: Murder victim may have been targeted

Oct. 2, 2008: Burglar’s storage unit yields dead man’s ID

Rapist who drugged woman faces 6 months

A 20-year-old man pleaded guilty Wednesday to raping a woman he met at a church function.

Adric T. Watson (right) was charged with second-degree rape but instead pleaded guilty to third-degree rape and is expected to receive a six-month prison sentence.

Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Ed Hay said Watson made several advances to a 19-year-old woman he met at a Nov. 14 event organized by Lighthouse Ministries.

Watson told detectives that he gave the woman sleeping pills after she repeatedly denied his advances at a home in the 300 block of East Crown. She realized she’d been raped when she awoke the next day.

Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno set Watson’s sentencing for July 7 at 10 a.m. If she follows the recommended six-month sentence, Watson will only have one month left to serve in prison because of time he’s already spent in jail.

Past coverage:

Feb. 8: Police: Man drugged woman before rape

Pics show vehicle in McDonald’s carjacking

Police today released surveillance photos of a car believed to belong to two men who stole a car at gunpoint in a fast food drive-through early Monday.

The photos show a white, four-door sedan at McDonald’s, 909 W. Indiana Ave., about 3 a.m., just before two men carjacked a Mitsubishi Lancer in a dispute over loud music.

The men were in the white car when the Lancer pulled up and a confrontation ensued over the Lancer’s stereo volume.

Police found the Lancer - sans the stereo - about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday n a vacant lot in the area of 1800 West Boone.

Anyone with information on the white call or the men, described as white, bald and large, should call Crime Check at (509) 456-2233.

Holloway suspect sought in Peru murder

LIMA, Peru (AP) — A young Dutchman previously arrested in the 2005 disappearance of Alabama teen Natalee Holloway is the prime suspect in a weekend murder of a Peruvian woman, police said Wednesday.

Joran van der Sloot is being sought in the Sunday killing of 21-year-old Stephany Flores in a Lima hotel, Criminal police chief Gen. Cesar Guardia told a news conference. He said the suspect fled the country the next day by land to Chile.

The Dutch government said Interpol has issued an international arrest warrant for Van der Sloot. Guardia said the 22-year-old Dutchman, who was in the country for a poker tournament, appears with the young woman in a video taken at a Lima casino early Sunday.

The victim’s father, Ricardo Flores, told reporters she was killed about 8 a.m. in a hotel room in the upscale Miraflores neighborhood that was splattered with blood, indicating a struggle.

The killing occurred exactly five years after the May 30, 2005, disappearance of Holloway in Aruba, a Dutch Caribbean island.

Read the rest of the AP story by clicking the link below.

Jury: Ex-Spokanite should die for murder

 A 1999 West Valley High graduate convicted of rape and murder in Reno, Nevada should die for his crimes, a jury ruled today. 

James Michael Biela, whose mother lives in Spokane Valley and sister works for the Spokane Police Department, will be sentenced to death for the murder of 19-year-old Brianna Denison instead of life in prison as the defense asked.

The same jury convicted Biela last week of Denison’s death and of sexually assaulting two other young women in a string of attacks from October 2007 to January 2008.

One piece of evidence in the case was a Toyota truck seized from a Coeur d’Alene resident shortly after Biela’s arrest. Police believe Biela used the truck in the crimes, then sold it to a car dealership up here while working in Moses Lake.

His family was in Reno for the trial, including his mother, Kathy Lovell, who testified about abuse endured at the hands of her ex-husband and Biela’s father, and a sister, Kristi Jackson, who works in the records division of the Spokane Police Department.

Past coverage:

Today: Victim’s grandma embraces killer’s mother

May 28: WV grad guilty of rape, murder

May 25: Defense rests in ex-Spokanite’s murder trial

May 25: Prosecution rests in WV grad’s murder trial

May 14: Ex-Valley man on trial for murder in Reno

Nov. 27, 2008: WV grad held in Reno killing

Feds fight to keep Hells Angel in custody

A member of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang who fought extradition to the United States for two years was granted bail by a U.S. magistrate in Spokane, but federal prosecutors are appealing the decision.

Brian Lee Hall, 43, has been in the Spokane County Jail since May 7, more than four years after a grand jury indicted him on marijuana and money laundering charges.

Hall, described in court documents as a full-patch member of the notorious biker gang, was arrested in British Columbia in 2008 and was in jail and on home-monitoring before consenting to extradition earlier this year.

Federal prosecutors want him held without bail, but his attorney successfully argued last week that he should be allowed to return to Canada before the charges are resolved.

A motion asking to reconsider Magistrate Cynthia Imbrogno’s decision is to be argued on Thursday. Imbrogno cited Hall’s lack of criminal history and his strong family support when allowing him to post $400,000 bond - $300,000 from Hall and $100,000 from his grandparents, Howard and Lorna Bell - and leave the country. He’s required to check in with authorities and not contact motorcycle gangs.

A 19-page memorandum filed Monday by federal prosecutors says the letters from Hall’s friends and family presented to Imbrogno didn’t prove Hall isn’t a flight risk. It details several reasons to keep Hall behind bars, including the propensity of foreigners in drug cases to flee and the dangers associated with the Hells Angels.

“Rather than assert that the Defendant’s association with the Hells Angels should have no bearing on his request for release, defense counsel suggested that conditions of release could include no contacts with any Hells Angels members,” prosecutors wrote. “At the least, defense counsel’s suggestion presupposes the negative connotation associated with the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club. At the most, it concedes the gang’s propensity for dangerous association.”

Hall’s charges are connected to $184,750 in U.S. currency seized by the Border Patrol in February 2003, as well as 1,200 pounds of marijuana seized by the DEA in April 2004. A co-conspirator, David Sidwell, pleaded guilty in May 2009 to two marijuana charges and one count of attempting bulk cashing smuggling. He’s serving a 40-month prison sentence.

Hall’s defense lawyer, Todd Maybrown of Seattle, filed a memorandum opposing the government’s request for detention today, calling the government’s request “self-serving.”

According to the document, Hall does not have a passport, worked in landscaping and lived in Abbotsford, B.C with his fiancee, Kristina Keiler, and her two young daughters before his arrest. Hall was a successful professional motorcycle rider when he joined the Hells Angels, his lawyer said.

“There is simply no basis to believe Mr. Hall represents any danger to the community,” according to the memo. “…Without any real evidence to supports its Motion for Detention, the Government is left to make wild and unsupported accusations.”

The motion is to be argued Thursday at 8:30 a.m.

Victim’s grandma embraces killer’s mother

RENO, Nev. (AP) — It was a single act of compassion in a courtroom chamber of horrors for the families of a convicted rapist and killer, his victims and their families.

Minutes after the guilty verdict was read, Brianna Denison’s grandmother extended her hands to the mother of the man convicted of kidnapping the petite 19-year-old, raping her, strangling her, then — as prosecutors said — dumping her naked body in a field “like garbage.”

A jury returned to Washoe District Court today to hear more testimony as it decides whether James Biela should be sentenced to death for Denison’s murder and the sexual assault of two other women.

Denison’s grandmother, Barbara Zunino, slowly walked across the courtroom aisle to come face-to-face with Biela’s mother, Kathy Lovell (right), of Spokane Valley, after the verdict was announced Thursday.

Lovell grasped Zunino’s outstretched hands, and they looked at each other through tear-filled eyes.

While their words were inaudible from a few steps away, their body language suggested an expression of sorrow and sympathy.

“I’m a mom, she’s a mom,” Zunino told The Associated Press later, declining to comment further.

That Lovell deserved some sympathy became clear the next day as she and Biela’s siblings, including a sister who works for the Spokane Police Department, described the torment Biela’s abusive father put them through growing up in poverty in the Chicago area and later Reno.

Read the rest of the AP story by clicking the link below.

On-the-run lawyer freed after sentencing

It took more than 10 years for a Spokane lawyer to face charges that he stole from a client to fund a failed resort development on Lake Coeur d’Alene. 

Under a sentence imposed today, it will take him just as long to repay even a fraction of what he owes his victims.

Claude K. Irwin Jr., the fugitive arrested in an international ruse arranged by federal agents in January, left the Spokane County Jail Tuesday night after pleading guilty to first-degree theft that afternoon in Spokane County Superior Court.

He was credited for about five months already served in jail – about two weeks of which was spent in Los Angeles County after his arrest in Mexico.

Past coverage:

Feb. 17: On-the-run lawyer back in Spokane

Jan. 28: Fugitive developer captured in international ruse

July 30, 2000: To catch Koyote Karlos, you’ll have to move fast

News story linked to robbery, extortion claim

A Spokane man is accused of threatening another man at gunpoint after he was refused service because of a newspaper article linking him to car theft, documents say.

Jon R. Fischer, 37, is in jail on first-degree robbery and first-degree extortion charges after a man who operates a car stereo installation business out of his home in the area of 4000 N. Cannon said Fischer stole his car at gunpoint and demanded money on April 21.

According to a probable cause affidavit, Fischer asked a man identified in documents as K. Aiken to install car stereo equipment, then became irate when Aiken told him to leave because he “recognized Fischer from a newspaper article as being involved with stolen vehicles and property.”

“You think you’re better than me?” Fischer said before returning wo hours later with a gun and demanding $5,000, according to the affidavit.

“Aiken was fearful for his safety and for the safety of his son,” the affidavit says. “He believed Fischer was high on drugs.”

Aiken gave Fischer his keys, then called friends and learned Fischer’s name and discovered his car was at the Lyon’s Crest apartments.

Police found it there and checked it for fingerprints. Aiken identified Fischer from a police montage.

Fischer was picked up on unrelated warrants about a week later and appeared on the robbery and extortion charges Friday. A felon with car theft convictions in at least five Washington counties, Fischer’s bond is at $50,000.

Developer charged in drugs, sex, theft probe

A once-prominent Spokane land developer has been charged with several felonies related to an alleged drug and stolen property ring investigators believe he ran from his Long Lake home. 

Joseph G. Ward, 62, is due in Spokane County Superior Court within the next two weeks after prosecutors filed charges May 26.

The theft and stolen property charges are related to an investigation conducted by the Washington State Patrol.

A SWAT team raided Ward’s home at 15102 N. Tormey Road on Jan. 7, 2009 and seized suspected stolen property and methamphetamine.

The investigation sent to prosecutors detailed alleged criminal activity ranging from insurance fraud and stolen property possession to major methamphetamine trafficking and videotaped orgies with prostitutes.

After his arrest, Ward thanked the State Patrol for stopping “something that I couldn’t stop myself,” according to court documents, and said he’d be taking daily drug tests to help stay clean.

“We’re happy he’s getting charged with something,” said Sgt. Dave Bolton. “There’s a whole bunch of victims out there that are happy too I imagine.”

Ward, founder of Pinnacle Realty, developed malls and other properties throughout Eastern Washington, including the Spokane Valley Mall.

Past coverage:

March 22, 2010: Police seek developer’s associate

Oct. 12, 2009: Shooting at Ward’s home gets man 4 months

Sept. 30, 2009: Details emerge in probe of developer

June 26, 2009: Felon suspected of WSP lot break-in

Jan. 18, 2009: Realtor’s arrest highlights perils of meth

Biela shows emotion at death penalty trial

RENO, Nev. (AP) — James Biela gave a short but emotional statement today to jurors who will decide whether he gets the death penalty for the murder of a college coed and the sexual assault of two others near the University of Nevada, Reno.

“First off, I’m sorry. This is very difficult for me,” Biela said while standing at the defense table. “I just wanted to say I’m sorry that this incident has destroyed several families. “I regret that no matter what you decide is my fate that I will never be able to see my son grow up and be a father to him.” 

Biela, a 1999 graduate of West Valley High School whose sister works for the Spokane Police Department, said he was sorry if he failed his son, but he wanted him to know, “this might not be the time or place, but I love you. That’s it. I don’t know what else to say. I’m sorry.”

Before he spoke, Biela was asked by Washoe County District Judge Robert Perry if he understood he would be subjected to cross-examination by prosecutors if he denied his guilt or disputed the facts of his case. 

“Yes,” Biela replied. 

The judge said Biela had a right to address the jury on limited subjects without being sworn in and subjected to cross-examination. Biela chose to limit the scope of his statement.

The same jury that will decide Biela’s penalty convicted him last week of the murder of 19-year-old Brianna Denison and the sexual assault of two other women.

Perry said he expects the jury to begin deliberations on the sentence later today. Denison’s mother was expected to address the jury before then.

Prosecutors said the 28-year-old pipe fitter from Sparks, whose mother and sister live in the Spokane area, deserves to be executed. His public defenders said he should be sentenced to prison with no chance for parole.

The sexual assaults began in the fall of 2007 around the UNR campus just north of the downtown casino district and culminated in Denison’s strangulation in January 2008.

Detectives said it was the work of a serial rapist who stalked petite women and had a fetish for thong underwear.They believe Biela lived in the Moses Lake area for a few months after the attacks and sold the truck used in the crimes to a car dealership, where a Coeur d’Alene resident bought it.

Jurors also heard Thursday morning from Biela’s sister Kristi Jackson, a records specialist with the Spokane Police Department, who testified how Biela’s abusive father terrorized the family.

“We pretty much spent our whole childhood afraid of the men in our lives,” she said, adding that her brother was a good father to his son.

Past coverage:

May 28: WV grad guilty of rape, murder

May 25: Defense rests in ex-Spokanite’s murder trial

May 25: Prosecution rests in WV grad’s murder trial

May 14: Ex-Valley man on trial for murder in Reno

Nov. 27, 2008: WV grad held in Reno killing

Sex offender wanted for failing to register

A sex offender with a history of not registering with authorities is wanted on a felony warrant again.

Eric P. Alger, 22, was convicted of indecent liberties in Spokane County in 2005.

Crime Stoppers is offering a reward for tips that lead to his arrest after he failed to register as required.

He has at least two past convictions for failing to register, including a conviction in August 2009 when he was sent to prison. He was released on April 19.

Alger, a level 2 sex offender, also has a conviction for misdemeanor theft. He claims to be a transient, according to Crime Stoppers.

Anyone with information on his location is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS, or submit tips online here.

Carjacking suspect has history with ‘Cops’

A felon who escaped from a work release center is accused of a gunpoint carjacking and armed bank robbery Friday in Spokane. 

Brian E. Gorder, 32, already is well known to police. In 2007, he led officers and a “Cops” camera crew on a high-speed chase that saw a police cruiser catch fire.

Now Gorder is due in Superior Court today on charges related to an alleged crime spree that ended with his arrest by U.S. marshals on Saturday. Gorder is believed to have stolen a 2008 Buick Lucerene at gunpoint Thursday in the K-Mart parking lot on North Division, then robbed a bank and shoplifted from several stores.

U.S marshals arrested his girlfriend, Meagen P. Meyers, 29, that day after she escaped from the Eleanor Chase House on April 29, then learned on Friday Gorder was allegedly responsible for the carjacking.

Gorder also was identified as a suspect in an armed robbery Friday at Washington Trust Bank, 3810 N. Maple, in which the stolen Lucerene was used as the getaway vehicle.

Federal agents spotted Gorder driving southbound on Division near the Northtown Mall at 12:45 a.m., but Gorder fled a traffic stop.

A Spokane police K-9, Duke, found him hiding in a maple tree. Gorder’s past convictions include theft of a motor vehicle, attempting to elude, residential burglary, obstructing police and possession of a controlled substance.

He was sentenced to 37 months in prison for charges related to the September 2007 “Cops” chase and was at the Brownstone Work Release Center when he allegedly absconded on Tuesday.

In 2004, Gorder was involved in a chase that included an officer firing rounds at his vehicle’s tires. He told the newspaper he needed help overcoming his addiction to methamphetamine.

“I’m not a bad person,” he said at the time. “The issue is I have a drug problem. Once I get going on this stuff, I do things I normally wouldn’t do.”

Read the story from January 2004 here.

Boy shot in head recovering in Spokane

A 10-year-old Grant County boy is recovering at Spokane hospital after being shot in the head in a drive-by shooting.

A bullet struck Malcolm Sanchez as he slept in his bed in a mobile home in the 8000 block of Road 10.5, three miles northwest of Royal City.

Sanchez’s mother, Alice Sanchez, called 911 frantic that her trailer had been shot up and her son struck, the Grant County Sheriff’s Office said Saturday.

The boy was stabilized by medics, then flown from a Yakima hospital to Providence Sacred Heart in Spokane, where he remains in serious condition today.

A Grant County Sheriff’s Office news release called the shooting, “Another cowardly attack by delusional emotionally deficient individuals whose parentage is in question and who knowingly take advantage of the cover of darkness to accomplish sadistic retribution on an innocent child.”

Car theft suspect arrested after police chase

A 24-year-old man was arrested Monday after Spokane Valley police say he tried fleeing them in a stolen Honda.

Daniel Allen Wessels, of 19900 E. Maxwell in Greenacres, was spotted in the Honda after a resident in the 1100 block of South Herald reported to Crime Check that a man had pulled up in a car and transported items to another car, then drove away.

The second car’s license plates came back to a stolen Honda, and Officer Chan Erdman spotted the car on Dishman-Mica Road about 11:15 a.m.

Wessels led Erdman on a high-speed chase, then jumped out of the moving Honda in a parking lot between Argonne and Mullan roads. Edrman chased him down and handcuffed him “with little resistance,” police said.

In the Honda, police found property believed to have been stolen from other cars. The first car Wessels drove to South Herald turned out to be a stolen car. Another stolen car was nearby; police still are investigating its origins.

Wessels was booked into jail on charges of possession of a stolen motor vehicle, attempting to elude a police vehicle and a warrant for escape from community custody.

Wessels has convictions for second degree possession of stolen property, second degree burglary, and second degree theft. He was arrested in 2004 with a man who told the newspaper he stole to “make ends meet.” Read the story here.

Drunken wrestling turns deadly in Grant Co.

A wrestling match between two fishing buddies turned deadly this weekend in Grant County. 

The Auburn, Wash., men were drunk Sunday at Banks Lake, just off milepost 2 at state Route 155 near Coulee City, when one challenged the other to a wrestling match, officials said.

“Sometime during the altercation between the two one of them stopped breathing,” according to the Grant County Sheriff’s Office.

The survivor, Valeriy Blinkov, 46, called 911at 3:59 a.m. with a third companion.

Blinkov cooperated with investigators, and he was released to his family pending further investigation.

He told detectives he’d tried to persuade the victim, Anatoliy P. Mitskavich (pictured), to wait “until they were more sober,” the sheriff’s office said.

An autopsy on Mitskavich, 41, will take place today at the Forensic Institute of Samaritan Hospital in Moses Lake

Child rapist living as transient in Spokane

A child rapist who recently served nine months in jail for violating his probation is now living as a transient in Spokane County.

 Donald A. Radecker, 39, served 140 months in prison after being convicted in 1995 of raping a 5-year-girl in Ferry County.

He’s lived in Spokane before but returned to jail for nine months beginning in September. He’s being supervised by the Washington Department of Corrections.

Radecker is a level 3 sex offender, the group considered most likely to reoffend.

He is not wanted by law enforcement, but the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office wants people to be aware of his presence.

Spokanite’s Calif. murder trial delayed, again

The second murder trial for a former Spokane photographer accused of killing his wife in California more than 25 years ago has been postponed again.


William G. Mordick, 64, is now scheduled to stand trial in September for the 1983 killing of his wife, Katherine Mordick.

Mordick was arrested in Spokane on Feb. 11, 2008, and has been in custody in Orange County, Calif., since. His wife was found dead with her throat slashed in the couple’s Anaheim Hills home on Jan. 22, 1983.

A jury couldn’t reach a verdict after his first trial last fall.

Mordick’s second trial was to begin last week after being delayed at least once, but his next court appearance is now set for Sept. 1.

Mordick owned and operated Photography by Gregory in Spokane beginning in the early 1990s. He remains in the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange County.

Feb. 12, 2008: Spokane photographer held in wife’s 1983 slaying

Search continues for McDonald’s carjackers

Spokane police still are looking for two men who carjacked a Mitsubishi Lancer at gunpoint during a fight over loud music in a McDonald’s drive-through early Monday.

The men, described as large, white and bald, were waiting at the McDonald’s at 909 W. Indiana Ave. in a white, four-door sedan at 2:58 a.m. when the Mitsubishi occupied by two other men pulled in behind playing loud music, police said.

When one of the men yelled to turn the music down, the men in the Mitsubishi got out of the car and confronted them but retreated when one displayed a handgun, according to police.

The men ordered the victims out of the car before driving off – one in the car they arrived in and one in the victim’s vehicle.

The stolen car, which is a gray 2002, four-door sedan, has a Washington license plate number 318TDF. Anyone who sees the Lancer is asked to call 911.

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