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Sirens & Gavels

Posts tagged: death penalty

Court OK’s solitary for death row inmate

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — The state Supreme Court ruled today that it was OK for corrections officials to move a death row inmate to solitary confinement after a special housing unit 

that allowed him more privileges was closed due to budget cuts.

In a 7-2 ruling, the high court dismissed a petition by Jonathan Gentry (pictured), who argued that the move unlawfully changed the terms of his sentence. Gentry was sentenced to death in 1991 for killing a 12-year-old girl in Kitsap County.

Under Department of Corrections regulations, after a year in solitary confinement, qualified inmates can be transferred to another unit where they are allowed daily contact with other inmates and family contact visits.

However, that special housing unit was closed in 2009 due to budget cuts, and Gentry argued that his return to solitary confinement was a constitutionally impermissible increase in the severity of his punishment.

The majority, lead by Chief Justice Barbara Madsen, said neither the state nor U.S. constitutions create a “liberty interest in a particular form of prison housing, absent allegations of cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment, which Gentry does not assert.”

The majority wrote that that housing in the special unit is a privilege that can end through no fault of the prisoner, including budget cuts. And because all death row inmates start out in solitary confinement, being returned there does not create a harsher sentence than they first faced.

Also signing on to the majority opinion were Justices Susan Owens, Charles Johnson, Mary Fairhurst, Gerry Alexander, Jim Johnson, and Tom Chambers.

The dissent, written by Justice Debra Stephens, argued the petition should be heard in superior court to address some unanswered questions.

The state's claim that the closure of the unit was prompted by budget cuts “is arguably a valid administrative reason,” Stephens wrote. “However, budget cuts do not necessarily explain why the graduated system of prisoner benefits, most notably contact visits with family, had to be cut as well.”

Stephens also wrote that the question of whether moving prisoners back to solitary confinement is a violation of their sentencing terms is a question that affects all death row inmates. Gentry is among eight prisoners on death row at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. He has been on death row longer than any other current death row inmate. Since 1904, 78 men have been put to death in Washington.

“It is necessary to have a more complete factual record as to DOC's policies regarding conditions of confinement as they presently exist and as they existed at the time of Gentry's crime and sentence,” she wrote. Justice Richard Sanders signed on to the dissent.

Montana schedules Canadian’s execution

DEER LODGE, Mont. (AP) — A Montana judge today scheduled a Jan. 31 execution date for the only known Canadian on death row in the United States.

District Judge John Larson’s order for Ronald Allen Smith’s execution came two days after a Helena judge issued an order staying the execution.

Smith, 53, of Red Deer, Alberta, is seeking a court ruling on whether the state’s method of carrying out the death penalty is unconstitutional.

Larson said the Helena judge’s ruling on Monday “attempts, in my view, to render what I have just done annulled.”

The Missoulian newspaper reported that Larson will ask the state Supreme Court to look at the apparently conflicting orders and clear up the issue before January.

Smith was convicted in 1983 of fatally shooting Harvey Mad Man, 24, and Thomas Running Rabbit. At the time of the 1982 deaths, Smith was 25 and had crossed the Canadian border on foot the previous day with two friends and a sawed-off .22-caliber rifle.

Prosecutors alleged that he robbed the Browning cousins and shot them execution-style in the woods near East Glacier.

Smith pleaded guilty to two counts of deliberate homicide, as well as two counts of aggravated kidnapping. In February 1983, he was offered a plea agreement that called for a 110-year prison sentence, but he rejected that in favor of a death sentence.

Smith changed his mind in 1984 and has been fighting his death sentence ever since, arguing he had ineffective counsel.

His appeal took the case to the Montana Supreme Court in 1986, which upheld the death penalty. The U.S. Supreme Court declined last month to hear the case.

Convicted killer backs out of pro se plan

Convicted killer Joseph Edward Duncan, already condemned to die for a murderous North Idaho rampage in 2005 and about to stand trial in California for an earlier slaying, has reconsidered plans to represent himself in the new death penalty case.

Riverside County Superior Court Judge David Downing on Monday appointed Gail O’Rane, an attorney from the Riverside County public defender’s Capital Defense Unit, after Duncan said he had changed his mind about representing himself.

Neither Duncan nor his newly appointed attorney gave a reason for why he wanted an attorney. He requested to represent himself last year after a jury ruled he was fit to stand trial and capable of assisting an attorney. (Duncan is pictured at right, photo by Stan Lim of The Press-Enterprise)

Duncan was brought to Indio, Calif., in January 2009 to face murder and torture charges in the 1997 death of Anthony Martinez, a 10-year-old boy from Beaumont, Calif., who was taken at knifepoint and discovered 10 days later beaten to death with a rock and bound in duct tape.

Duncan was extradited to Southern California after being given nine life terms and three death sentences for the murder of an Idaho family and the kidnapping, torture and murder of a little boy. Brenda Groene, Slade Groene and Mark McKenzie were beat to death at the family’s Wolf Lodge Bay home; and 9-year-old Dylan Groene, who was abducted along with his 8-year-old sister, Shasta Groene, was shot and killed at a Montana campground after being tortured in a cabin. Shasta was rescued at a Coeur d’Alene restaurant, where Duncan was apprehended.

Read the full story by John Asbury at the Riverside Press-Enterprise by clicking the link below

1st woman in 5 years executed in U.S.

JARRATT, Va. (AP) — The first woman executed in the United States in five years was put to death in Virginia on Thursday for arranging the killings of her husband and a stepson over a $250,000 insurance payment.

Teresa Lewis, 41, died by injection at 9:13 p.m. Thursday, authorities said. She became the first woman executed in Virginia in nearly a century. Supporters and relatives of the victims watched her execution at Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt.

Lewis enticed two men through sex, cash and a promised cut in an insurance policy to shoot her husband, Julian Clifton Lewis Jr., and his son, Charles, as they slept in October 2002. Both triggermen were sentenced to life in prison and one committed suicide in 2006.

Lewis appeared fearful, her jaw clenched, as she was escorted into the death chamber. She glanced tensely around at 14 assembled corrections officials before being bound to a gurney with heavy leather straps.

Moments before her execution, Lewis asked if her husband’s daughter was near.

Kathy Clifton, Lewis’ stepdaughter, was in an adjacent witness room blocked from the inmate’s view by a two-way mirror.

“I want Kathy to know that I love her and I’m very sorry,” Lewis said.

Then, as the drugs flowed into her body, her feet bobbed but she otherwise remained motionless. A guard lightly tapped her on the shoulder reassuringly as she slipped into death. (A medical examiners truck is pictured above leaving the prison.)

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

GU professor protests at killer’s execution

(AP) A law professor at Gonzaga University who drove to Walla Walla from Spokane to protest the execution of Cal Coburn Brown told the Associated Press she was embarrassed by Brown’s mandated fate. 

“I want to make a very strong statement to the citizens of Washington and to Gov. Gregoire that many of us are opposed to killing people in our names,” said Mary Pat Treuthart, 57. “And I’m angry, saddened, and embarrassed that the U.S. is still using the death penalty to punish anyone for their crimes.”

Treuthart joined about two dozen people opposed to capital punishment inside a gated area outside the prison where Brown was executed early today. (Treuhart is pictured, with Nancy Nelson, also of Spokane, at the protest Thursday night in Walla Walla. Trehart is at the left, Nelson is at the right.)

A separate gated area for death penalty supporters drew three people. Construction worker Mark Clark, 36, of Kennewick, said he thought for several days about coming to the execution. 

“My thought is you’ve got to pay for what you’ve done,” Clark said. “You’ve got to be accountable for your actions.”

Brown (right) was executed for 1991 rape, torture and murder of 21-year-old Holly Washa. Brown confessed to killing Washa during an interrogation in California for an alleged assault on a woman there. He later led authorities to Washa’s battered body, which was inside the trunk of a car.

 Brown met Washa near Sea-Tac airport in Washington when he helpfully pointed to Washa’s rear tire, indicating a problem. When she stopped to check it out, he carjacked her at knifepoint.

For the next 36 hours, Brown robbed, raped and tortured Washa, before stabbing and strangling her.

University Ministry and Catholic Charities sponsored a vigil against the death penalty Thursday night at Gonzaga University’s Crosby Center. The Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane organized a nondenominational ceremony followed by another vigil on the steps of the Spokane County Courthouse.

Brown was the first Washington inmate to die by a one-drug lethal injection.

Brown spent much of Thursday talking on the telephone with his attorneys and family members, said Belinda Stewart, communications and outreach director for the state Department of Corrections.

His last meal included meat pizza and apple pie.

  “He is resigned to what is going to happen tonight,” Stewart said Thursday. “He’s aware, he knows and he’s resigned.”

Washa’s father, brother and two sisters of witnessed the execution, as did King County prosecutor Dan Satterberg (left).

Just before his execution, Brown protested sentencing disparities, saying that criminals who had killed many more people, such as Green River killer Gary Ridgway, were serving life sentences while he received a death sentence. 

“I only killed one victim,” he said. “I cannot really see that there is true justice. Hopefully, sometime in the future that gets straightened out.”

Brown did not apologize to the family of the victim, but said he understood their emnity for him. He said he forgave that hatred, held no emnity toward them and hoped the execution would give them closure. He also said the prison staff had been most professional and that he had no complaints about his treatment there in 17 years.

After his comments, Brown, who was lying on his back strapped to a gurney, looked up at the tubes sticking out of the wall and connected to his body. When the drug was administered, his chest heaved three times and his lips shuddered, then there was no movement.

The Washa family showed little emotion during the execution. Both sisters sat in the front row holding unopened tissue boxes, while brother Roger sat in the back with his father, his arms folded across his chest.

“Closure has finally come to the family,” said John Washa, Holly’s father, of Ogallala, Neb. “Why he did what he did to my daughter Holly I guess I’ll never understand.” (Holly’s mother is pictured left in 2009)

“Now it’s finally over, I don’t have to think about him anymore,” said sister Becky Washa of Sioux Falls, S.D., as family members held a picture of the victim.

Brown’s attorney and members of his family were not present at the execution, though he spoke with them by phone on Thursday.

Brown was the first Washington inmate to die by a one-drug lethal injection. His was the fifth execution since 1993, and the third in a row by lethal injection. All the others were by hanging.

Read an Associated Press story about the executions by clicking the link below.

State prepares for 1st execution since ‘01

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) — In a state where executions are uncommon, Cal Coburn Brown’s lethal injection on Friday will be the first time since 2001 that Washington has carried out its capital punishment. 

Barring a last-minute stay of execution from the state or U.S. Supreme Court, the 52-year-old will become the first death row inmate in the state to die by a one-drug method of execution, a recently changed protocol from a three-drug cocktail. Washington is the second state in the nation, after Ohio, to change to the one-drug method.

Gov. Chris Gregoire on Wednesday denied clemency for Brown, who had petitioned for his death sentence to be commuted to a life sentence.

The governor said she found “no basis to change the death sentence that was imposed by the jury in accordance with the laws of our state.”

The state Supreme Court also denied a stay, though Brown’s attorneys immediately asked for an emergency stay and another review. An appeal challenging the qualifications of the state’s execution team is before the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Eighteen months ago, Brown, who was convicted in the 1991 murder of Seattle-area woman Holly Washa was just hours from a lethal injection when he received a stay of execution. (Washa’s sister, Becky Washa, of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is pictured outside the Washington State Penitentiary in March 2009 with a picture of her slain daughter)

The state Supreme Court granted the stay because another inmate had been granted a hearing on the constitutionality of the state’s lethal injection policy. Since then, Washington’s execution method has changed, as has the four-member team assigned to carry out the injection.

The previous team resigned, fearing its members might be identified after several inmates challenged the state’s previous method and questioned the qualifications of the execution team.

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

Past coverage:

July 29, 2010: Wash. Supreme Court lifts stay of execution for Brown

March 12, 2009: Wash. Supreme Court stays Brown execution

June 5, 2007: U.S. Supreme Court reinstates killer’s death sentence

Attorney seeks stay for death row inmate

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Attorneys for a death row inmate who is scheduled to be executed this month have filed a request for an emergency stay with the Washington state Supreme Court. 

Cal Coburn Brown argues that his death sentence should be reversed because information related to his mental illness was not adequately considered during sentencing.

Brown reportedly suffers from bipolar disorder. He is scheduled to be executed on Sept. 10 for the 1991 torture and murder of 22-year-old Holly Washa, a Burien woman.

Brown also has filed an appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He is challenging, among other things, the state’s new one-drug system for lethal injection.

Brown is incarcerated at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.

Past coverage:

July 29, 2010: Wash. Supreme Court lifts stay of execution for Brown

March 12, 2009: Wash. Supreme Court stays Brown execution

June 5, 2007: U.S. Supreme Court reinstates killer’s death sentence

Cable show to feature Yates serial killer case

The case of a Spokane serial killer who stalked prostitutes in the 1990s will be featured on a cable TV show next week. 

Death row inmate Robert Lee Yates, Jr., a former Army helicopter pilot and state prison guard, will be the subject of an hour-long episode of “Unusual Suspects” on Investigation Discovery, a sister channel to the Discovery Channel.

Yates (pictured) was a married father of five children when police detectives identified him as a serial killer who killed 10 women in Spokane between 1996 and 1998.

Yates confessed to 13 murders and was sentenced in 2000 to 408 years after Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker declined to seek the death penalty.

But the Pierce County prosecutor charged Yates with two murders there, and Yates was sentenced to death in 2002. He remains on death row at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.

The cable TV show calls Yates the “monster in Spokane.”

A news release reads: “A multi-agency task force follows every possible lead, and they gather the murder weapon, a sketch of the killer, and even his DNA, but investigators still have no suspect. Finally, the reexamination of an old clue helps investigators zero in on the culprit. Can they discover the identity of this unlikely murderer before he strikes again?” Sorry to spoil it for you.

The episode airs Monday at 10 p.m. and includes interviews with retired Spokane County sheriff’s detectives Rick Grabenstein and Fred Ruetsch, as well as Detective John Miller of the Spokane Police Department, Lynn Everson of the Spokane Regional Health District, and retired sheriff’s Capt. Doug Silver.

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

Killer’s Spokane family to testify in Reno

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Convicted murderer and rapist James Biela grew up in a poor and abusive household where his father routinely beat his mother and the children cowered in fear, sometimes using a bucket in their bedroom as a toilet.

A jury in Reno trying to decide whether to sentence the 1999 West Valley High graduate to death heard about his traumatic childhood Friday in testimony from a psychiatrist and one of his two sisters.

Dr. Melissa Piasecki says Biela’s mother, Kathy Lovell, who lives in Spokane Valley, suffered broken teeth and ribs. Earrings were ripped from her ears and she had wrist surgery because she was bound so many times.

The doctor says Lovell sometimes sought shelter by hiding under the kids’ beds. But they would end up watching as he dragged her out and beat her again.

The jury deliberated for just over six hours before finding Biela, who police believe worked in the Moses Lake area after the crimes, guilty on Thursday of all five counts tied to the 2008 killing of the 19-year-old Denison and assault of the others.

District Attorney Dick Gammick says it is cases like this that always strengthen his faith and belief in the jury system.

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

Ex-Spokane man convicted of murder, rape

RENO, Nev. (AP) — A former Spokane man was convicted today of raping and strangling a 19-year-old college coed during a string of attacks that had the city of Reno on edge two years ago.

A Washoe County District Court jury found James Michael Biela guilty of all five counts tied to the murder of Brianna Denison and sexual assault of two other young women.

Biela (left, on May 18) showed little emotion, standing with his hands crossed in front of his waist as the verdict was read.

“It’s a good verdict, well deserved,” District Attorney Dick Gammick said. “Cases like this always strengthen my faith and belief in the jury system.”

The same jury that took about six hours to reach a verdict now must decide whether the 1999 West Valley graduate whose mother lives in Spokane Valley and attended his trial, should be sentenced to death.

Police believe Biela lived and worked in the Moses Lake area for several months after the attacks.

He sold the truck believed to have been used in the crimes to a car dealership that then sold it to a Coeur d’Alene resident. The truck was seized shortly after Biela’s arrest.

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

Past coverage:

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

Defense rests in ex-Spokanite’s murder trial

RENO, Nev. (AP) — The jury is expected to begin deliberations in James Biela’s rape and murder trial on Wednesday after his public defenders abruptly ended presentation of their case with the calling of only one expert witness about DNA evidence.

The judge said he anticipates the case going to the jury sometime Wednesday afternoon following closing arguments from both sides in the trial that began 12 days ago.

  “Sooner than I thought we are done with the evidence in the first part of this case,” Washoe District Judge Robert Perry said before sending the jury home for the day about 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday.

Biela, a 1999 West Valley High graduate whose mother lives in Spokane Valley, told the judge earlier Tuesday he wanted to testify but decided against it on the advice of his attorneys.

The 28-year-old accused of raping and murdering 19-year-old Brianna Denison and sexually assaulting two other young women in a string of attacks from October 2007 to January 2008 on the edge of the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno. He also faces a kidnapping charge.

(Denison’s mother, Bridgette Denison, is pictured above talking to Washoe County deputy district attorney Elliott Sattler.)

Police believe Biela lived and worked in the Moses Lake area for several months after the attacks. He sold the truck believed to have been used in the crimes to a car dealership that then sold it to a Coeur d’Alene couple.

The truck was seized shortly after Biela’s arrest.

Read the rest of the AP story on today’s happenings in the case by clicking the link below.

Past coverage:

Today: Prosecution rests in WV grad’s murder trial

May 14: Ex-Valley man on trial for murder in Reno

Nov. 27, 2008: West Valley grad held in Reno rapes, murder

Prosecution rests in WV grad’s murder trial

RENO, Nev. (AP) — The ex-girlfriend of a former Spokane man standing trial in the killing of a Nevada college coed and sexual assaults of two other young women said Monday she watched from her office window the day victim Brianna Denison’s body was found in a field outside her workplace.

Carleen Harmon also testified that defendant James Biela told her the only reason anyone cared about the case was because the 19-year-old Denison was “hot” and came from a wealthy family.

The prosecution rested its case Monday in Washoe District Court after more than two hours of emotional testimony by Harmon, who lived with Biela and is the mother of his son.

Prosecutors contend Biela is a serial rapist who was motivated in part by a fetish for women’s thong underwear and eventually graduated to murder in a string of attacks in 2008.

Biela’s mother, stepfather and at least one sibling live in Spokane and are reportedly in Reno for the trial.

Biela, a 1999 West Valley High School graduate, could face the death penalty if convicted.

The jury is expcted to begin deliberations this week.

Read the rest of Monday’s AP story on the case by clicking the link below.

Past coverage:

May 14: Ex-Valley man on trial for murder in Reno

Nov. 27, 2008: West Valley grad held in Reno rapes, murder

Ex-Spokane man on trial for murder in Reno

A former Spokane Valley man is on trial in Nevada for the murder of a 19-year-old college coed and sexual assaults of two other women near the University of Nevada, Reno.

James Michael Biela, a 1999 West Valley High School graduate, could face the death penalty if convicted.

His mother, Kathy Lovell, of Spokane Valley, told the Reno Gazette-Journal she believes her son is innocent. Lovell and Biela’s stepfather and sister, of Spokane, reportedly are in Reno for the trial. 

Biela was arrested in Reno in November 2008 after an anonymous tip led authorities to his ex-girlfriend, who confided to a friend of finding two pair of women’s thong underwear in his truck while they drove back to Nevada from Moses Lake in September 2008.

Police later matched Biela’s DNA to that found on the body of Brianna Denison, who was home from college when she disappeared in January 2008. Her body was found three weeks later in a vacant lot in south Reno.

Biela, who trained at a martial arts school alongside Reno police, had been working as a pipefitter in the Moses Lake area since March 2008. Denison’s slaying is a high-profile case that shook the city, officials said.

“We assume he went up to Washington to get out of this area, because the heat was on,” Lt. Rob McDonald of the Reno Police Department said in November 2008.

Shortly after his arrest, detectives seized from a Coeur d’Alene couple a truck Biela sold to an Inland Northwest car dealership. Police believe the truck was used in the three crimes - they say one of the victims described the car’s interior in detail. 

Biela, a former Marine, has lived in Reno since 2002. He graduated from basic military training in San Diego in fall 1999, newspaper archives show.

His trial, expected to last three weeks, opened Wednesday with Deputy District Attorney Chris Hicks telling jurors that Biela is a man with a fetish for women’s thong underwear who escalated from rapist to killer.

Tucked beneath one of Denison’s legs when her body was found was a pair of women’s thong underwear. One belonged to the friend Denison was staying with the night she disappeared, and forensic experts believe it was used to strangle her, Hicks said.

But Public Defender Jay Slocum urged jurors not to view the evidence with sympathy or anger, but the “cold light of reason.”

Slocum said DNA evidence was not conclusive, and that while authorities say they’ve linked the three crimes to a single assailant, each has “very distinct facts” that shed doubt on the prosecution’s theory.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

Past coverage:

Nov. 27, 2008: West Valley grad held in Reno killing

Read an AP story on the trial’s opening day by clicking the link below.

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