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Sirens & Gavels

Posts tagged: appeals

Spokane tinfoil robber jailed for theft

A man allowed to remain free pending the appeal of his sentence for robbing a store of a piece of tin foil is back in jail.

David Lee Hickam, 26, was found to have violated the terms of his release when he was identified recently as a suspect in a Dec. 26 theft.

Hickam also was cited or diving with a suspended license Feb. 17. Prosecutors cited that incident as well as the alleged theft of a laptop computer from Huppins, 419 W. Main Ave., as a reason to jail him on $150,000 bond.

Judge Annette Plese agreed, and police arrested Hickam Tuesday. He appeared in Spokane County Superior Court Wednesday.

Hickam is appealing a 47-month prison sentence for robbery that began when he stole a piece of tinfoil from Rite Aid, 5520 N. Division St., then pepper sprayed an employee.

 A jury convicted him last July, but he was allowed to stay out of prison after he posted a $35,000 appeal bond.

Appeal denied in grisly Ferry Co. murder

A decision Tuesday by appellate judges most likely ended all legal recourse for a man convicted of killing his 19-year-old employee in a brutal slaying that will forever haunt a Ferry County man who witnessed it and barely escaped with his own life.

The Division III Court of Appeals denied an argument by Cory J. Monaghan, 38, of Maple Valley, Wash., that he was not guilty by reason of insanity of first-degree murder for killing Jeremy Karavias and first-degree arson for setting fire to his uncle’s Malo, Wash., home in 2008.

“He killed and butchered that kid,” Ron Wessel said of his nephew, Monaghan. Karavias “was just an innocent kid. I think about it every day.”

Read the rest of Tom Clouse's story here.

Past coverage:

Oct. 29, 2008: Slain man identified as Kent 19-year-old

Ruling delays 2nd Strine trial indefinitely

A appellate court will review a double-jeopardy claim by a Spokane stockbroker accused of killing a woman in a crash two years ago, leading to an indefinite delay in what was to be a November jury trial.

 A jury in February declared Jon Strine (pictured) not guilty of vehicular homicide, but jury polling revealed that jurors weren't unanimous and were instead split 6-6, which led to a mistrial.

Spokane County Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen denied a subsequent motion by Strine's lawyer, Carl Oreskovich, regarding double jeopardy for a second trial that argues Strine cannot be retried because he's already been declared not guilty.

Oreskovich filed a motion for discretionary review, and an appellate court commissioner ruled this week that “the issue presented involves an important constitutional right and thus appellate review must be immediate to avoid the trial Mr. Strine maintains is barred by the Fifth Amendment's guarantee,” according to the ruling.

Oreskovich said in an email Tuesday that Strine's Nov. 14 trial will not proceed.

“In fact, there will not be another trial until the Court of Appeals decides this issue and only in the event that it is decided against Mr. Strine,” Oreskovich wrote.

The appeal likely won't be heard until April.

 Strine admits to drinking before the June 2009 crash but disputes a state test that placed his blood-alcohol level at .20.

Strine was driving a Mercedes when he crashed into a motorcycle, paralyzing the driver, Gary Keller, and killing the passenger, Keller's wife, Lorri Keller (pictured.)

Past coverage:

Feb. 10: Mistrial declared in vehicular homicide case

Feb. 4: Strine says he wasn't drunk during fatal crash

Jan. 21: Husband recounts fatal crash

2nd vehicular homicide trial moved to Nov.

The second trial of a Spokane stockbroker accused of killing a woman in a crash two years ago has been postponed until Nov. 14.

Jury selection was set to begin Tuesday in the vehicular homicide trial of Jon Strine, but his lawyer, Carl Oreskovich, has appealed Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzens' rejection of his motion regarding double jeopardy.

Oreskovich contends Strine cannot be tried because a jury verdict of 'not guilty' already was read after his first trial in February.

But jurors weren't unanimous in their decision, which led to a mistrial.

Strine admits to drinking before the June 2009 crash but disputes a state test that placed his blood-alcohol level at .20.

Strine was driving a Mercedes when he crashed into a motorcycle, paralyzing the driver, Gary Keller, and killing the passenger, Keller's wife, Lorri Keller.

Past coverage:

Feb. 10: Mistrial declared in vehicular homicide case

Feb. 4: Strine says he wasn't drunk during fatal crash

Jan. 21: Husband recounts fatal crash

Court: Mayor can keep age private

WARREN, Mich. (AP) — The mayor of Michigan's third-largest city doesn't have to reveal his age.

The state appeals court entered the strange dispute Thursday by overturning a judge's ruling that had required Jim Fouts to disclose his birthdate as he seeks re-election as Warren mayor in August.

The appeals court says it's not required under Michigan law. Fouts says the decision means age cannot be used as a “weapon of mass destruction.” He says his age is irrelevant. Some records show he's 66.

Three rivals have been trying to keep Fouts off the ballot over his failure to include his age on his candidacy form.

Killer’s request for change of plea denied

A man who admitted to killing a woman over $20 more than two years ago tried unsuccessfully to withdraw his guilty plea recently.

 Michael A. Quinones said he was under pressure and wasn't fully informed when he pleaded guilty to first-degree murder last March.

Quinones was transported from prison to the Spokane County Jail to participate in hearings before Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno, but Moreno denied his request last week.

Quinones is serving 25 years in prison for the Oct. 6, 2008, strangulation death of 28-year-old Jennifer L. Siria.

Codefendant Matthew T. Shope is serving 11 years for second-degree murder.

Appeal denied in Summer Phelps case

An appeal by a man sentenced to 75 years in prison for the torture death of his young daughter has been denied.

 Attorneys on behalf Jonathan D. Lytle appealed Superior Court Judge Michael Price’s decision that Lytle was able to understand and assist in his own defense.

But appellate judges from the Division III Court of Appeals ruled today that Price had legal justification for his ruling and affirmed Lytle's conviction of homicide by abuse.

A jury convicted Lytle in late 2008 of killing his 4-year-old daughter, Summer Phelps, on March 10, 2007.

Adriana L. Lytle, the girl’s stepmother, pleaded guilty and received a sentence of about 62 years.

Over six months in 2006 and 2007, Summer was beaten, bitten, shocked with a dog collar, burned with cigarettes, denied food and dunked in cold water after being forced to stand in a bathtub for hours washing urine-soaked clothes.

Doctors later testified that it was the worst case of child abuse they had ever seen. The girl’s death caused state officials to revamp the system that tracks abuse cases.

Murder conviction tossed in ‘06 road rage

BOISE – State Supreme Court justices have thrown out the second-degree murder conviction of a North Idaho man, citing prosecutorial misconduct and the likelihood that an Idaho State Police officer committed perjury during the 2006 trial.

Jonathan Wade Ellington, of Hayden, was sentenced to 25 years for second-degree murder and 15 years each on two counts of aggravated battery charges for running over a woman during what was described as a road-rage encounter on New Year’s Day 2006.

But Friday, Idaho’s high court unanimously ruled Ellington should get a new trial. In the 32-page ruling, the justices wrote the Kootenai County prosecutor engaged in misconduct during the trial, in part by engaging in improper questioning meant to turn the jury against Ellington.

Read the rest of the Associated Press story here.

When Ellington was sentenced in December 2006, his girlfriend, Ann Thomas, vowed to appeal. “Eventually, it’ll get to a real court,” Thomas said.  Ellington called the case against him “mind-boggling.” “I don’t understand this – I never will,” he said. Read that story here.

Other past coverage:

Sept. 8, 2006: Ellington found guilty

Aug. 25, 2006: Daughter describes mother's death

Edgar Steele requests new trial

A North Idaho attorney convicted last week of hiring his handyman to kill his wife and mother-in-law has requested a new trial.

 Lawyers for Edgar J. Steele, 65, filed a motion for a new trial Thursday in U.S. District Court in Coeur d'Alene.

The motion is sealed. Lawyer Robert McAllister, of Colorado, declined to discuss its contents, and Gary Amendola did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Steele faces at least 30 years in prison when he's sentenced in August.

A jury convicted him May 5 of use of interstate commerce to commission murder for hire, use of explosive material to commit a federal felony and tampering with a victim after a week-long trial in Boise.

The hitman-turned FBI informant, Larry Fairfax, was sentenced to 27 months in prison Wednesday for a pipe bomb he attached to Cyndi Steele's SUV.

Cyndi Steele believes her husband was framed because of his defense of clients like the late Richard Butler, founder of the Aryan Nations.

Complex case came down to 15 cows


For some of the best legal minds in Washington state, a complicated Spokane divorce that spanned two continents and a bloody civil war came down to this: 15 cows.

The missing herd was part of several legal arguments before the Division III Court of Appeals as justices contemplated custody of two children. In the end their mother, who relocated to Spokane from Sudan, retained custody.

“This saga spans southern Sudan to Spokane, and features a civil war, refugees seeking to escape Africa and a failure of consideration because the war prevented payment of the remaining cows owed the bride’s father,” Judge Kevin Korsmo wrote in an opinion released last week. “Against this chaotic backdrop, the facts and law are often unclear and in some dispute.”

Read the rest of Tom Clouse's story here.

Court says killer can withdraw guilty plea

A Spokane man who pleaded guilty to a 2007 murder has been allowed to withdraw his guilty plea because prosecutors failed to tell him he had to spend a minimum of 20 years in prison before he would be eligible for early release.

The Division III Court of Appeals issued its decision Thursday to allow Michael D. Coombes to withdraw the plea because he was not “informed of a direct consequence of his plea.

” Coombes, 30, pleaded guilty to killing 53-year-old William R. Nichols sometime between Aug. 30 and Sept. 2, 2007.

Coombes pleaded guilty in June 2008 and received a 27-year prison sentence.

However, he appealed his sentence because he had the mistaken belief that he was eligible to begin early release credit during the entire sentence, according to court documents.

The portion of his plea that explained the minimum 20-year sentence was left blank in the court file. The case now returns to Superior Court Judge Michael Price to allow Coombes to withdraw his plea.

Court OKs evidence review for Knox

PERUGIA, Italy (AP) — Amanda Knox won an important victory in her appeals trial of her murder conviction in Italy on Saturday, when a court ruled that it will allow an independent review of crucial DNA evidence after defense claims that samples were inconclusive and possibly contaminated.

The lower court trial, which convicted the American student a year ago and sentenced her to 26 years in Italian prison, had rejected a similar defense request for an outside review of DNA found on the bra clasp of the victim, her British roommate Meredith Kercher, and on a knife the prosecution alleged was used in the fatal stabbing attack.

Kercher’s body was found in a pool of blood on Nov. 2, 2007, her throat slit in the apartment she shared with Knox. Forensic experts said she was killed the night before.

Knox burst into tears, in a sign of a release of tension, said her stepfather Chris Mellas. “She’s a happy mess,” he said, smiling.

She was convicted of sexually assaulting and murdering Kercher in the rented house they shared in the university town of Perugia, where both were studying. The co-defendant in the appeals trial is her ex-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito (left), an Italian who was convicted of the same charges and sentenced to 25 years. Both deny any wrongdoing.

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

Amanda Knox makes emotional appeal

PERUGIA, Italy – Convicted murderer Amanda Knox broke into tears Saturday as she made an emotional address to an appeals court in Italy, saying she was the innocent victim of an “enormous mistake” and that her life had been “broken” by three years in jail.

In her address to the court, the 23-year-old American reached out for the first time to the family of Meredith Kercher, the British girl she was convicted of sexually assaulting and killing in 2007 when they were roommates on a student exchange program in Perugia.

Knox, from Seattle, denied being the “dangerous, diabolical, jealous, uncaring, violent” person described by the prosecution.

Last year, Knox was convicted and sentenced to 26 years in prison. Also convicted of the same charges was Raffaele Sollecito, an Italian who is Knox’s former boyfriend. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Both deny wrongdoing and have appealed the verdict.

Read the rest of the AP story here.

Convicted teen killer claims innocence

TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) — A woman was unfairly convicted of killing her parents in 2003 because police investigators failed to consider other suspects and a previous defense attorney who was unprepared, her attorney says.

Hailey attorney Christopher Simms made the argument Tuesday in 5th District Court during a hearing to determine whether Sarah Johnson should get a new trial.

Johnson was convicted in 2005 of pulling the trigger on a .264-caliber rifle, first killing her mother as she lay in bed in the early morning hours, then turning the weapon on her father as he exited the shower in their Bellevue home. Prosecutors said Johnson killed her parents on Sept. 3, 2003, after fighting with them over her boyfriend, Bruno Santos, a 19-year-old undocumented Mexican immigrant who was living in the region.

Johnson, who is now 23, was sentenced to two life terms for the murders, plus 15 years for using a rifle. Her sentence does not have the possibility of parole.

Simms, appointed as Johnson’s attorney in 2008, argued Tuesday that new fingerprint evidence on the murder weapon suggests Johnson wasn’t the killer.

He also said Johnson’s attorney at her trial, Bob Pangburn, wasn’t prepared, and failed to act on important information. Simms also noted Pangburn’s suspensions from practicing law in Oregon and Idaho.

“There is no question that on Sept. 2, 2003, there was a terrible tragedy that happened in Blaine County,” Simms said. “But another person has had her life taken away from her, and she’s sitting right here, a shadow of what she used to be. I submit to this court that there were two tragedies in this case and the second was the most terrible. This was a failure of the system.”

Pangburn defended his work during testimony Tuesday.

“I’ve thought about this case many, many times, and I thought we did a good job defending her given what we had to work with,” Pangburn said.

Simms said investigators didn’t adequately investigate other suspects, including Santos, who is currently jailed in Blaine County on three felony drug charges. Santos, now 26, is expected to testify at the hearing.

“They simply thought they had the answer and they never deviated from that,” Simms said.

The hearing is scheduled to go through Friday.

Court ruling upholds online sex sting

The Washington Supreme Court, in a three-way opinion, has upheld the conviction of a man who tried to have sex with a 13-year-old girl he’d met online who really was a Spokane police detective.

All justices agreed with the ruling that upheld the attempted second-degree child rape conviction against Mitel H. Patel, (pictured) rejecting the man’s claim that the case should be thrown out because there was no actual underage victim.

Two sets of judges that agreed with the overall ruling but disagreed with the majority opinion submitted separate concurring opinions. “It’s really helpful to have some degree of clarification,” said Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Ed Hay, who supervises the sex offender unit. “It’s great to have some clarity and certainly will help investigators feel comfortable being proactive in their investigations.”

Read Tom Clouse’s story here.

Past coverage:

Dec. 2, 2004: Man charged with online sex solicitation

Poison maker contests prison sentence

A Spokane Valley man serving 10 years in federal prison for making a deadly poison is asking to have his sentence and conviction overturned because one of the government’s expert witnesses was later fired for misconduct in other criminal cases.

Kenneth Olsen, a former computer programmer and part-time massage therapist, is scheduled for a hearing early next year on his request to set aside his 2003 jury conviction for making ricin, one of the deadliest chemical poisons known.

The conviction has already been upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, although his original sentence was remanded and reduced. After ricin was found at Olsen’s work station at Agilent Technologies in Liberty Lake, federal prosecutors accused him of researching various toxins and making ricin from castor beans as part of a plan to poison his wife.

But his defense attorneys argued Olsen was merely curious about chemistry and was using the beans to make castor oil for massage oils. His wife said she didn’t believe he would ever try to harm her.

Read the rest of Jim Camden’s story here.

Read a story on Olsen’s sentencing in 2003 here.

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