A Spokane County jury acquitted a man and his son Wednesday of plotting to rob and kill a drug dealer.
Gerald “Mitch” Mitchell, 55, hung his head in relief as the verdicts were read in Superior Court.
He and his son, Jerry Mitchell, 30, were accused of scheming to steal drugs from a stranger.
Authorities said they planned to slit the victim’s throat afterward.
Sheriff’s deputies, alerted by an informer, arrested the pair the night of May 23, as they were leading James Davis out of his motel room.
Presiding juror Monica Reeves said the case against the defendants was riddled with reasonable doubt.
“We felt the state didn’t have enough evidence,” Reeves said. “It wasn’t that we believed the Mitchells.”
Davis died of a drug overdose prior to trial, forcing Deputy Prosecutor Dannette Allen to rely heavily on the informer’s account.
Reeves, however, said that witness held a grudge against Jerry Mitchell, raising questions of bias.
There was little corroborating testimony about the alleged murder plot, she said.
The jury deliberated for about three hours before finding the defendants not guilty on all counts.
Defense attorneys John Rodgers and Terence Ryan said being unable to put a victim on the witness stand hurt the prosecution, but Davis was hardly a model citizen.
“He was a pimp and a drug dealer - not a sympathetic figure to begin with,” Ryan said.
Even so, sheriff’s Detective Mark Henderson was surprised by the verdicts.
“We caught these guys red-handed at the scene. I have a hard time figuring out how they can’t be breaking the law,” he said.
“We put in all of the evidence that we had,” Allen said. “Maybe it would have been different with a (live) victim.”
During the trial, the defendants said they didn’t harm Davis. They just scared him a little.
The Mitchells said they were doing a favor for Michelle Baxter, 25, a mother of four who sometimes worked as a prostitute.
Baxter, the men said, was being hassled by Davis, her alleged drug connection.
“We just went there to tell the guy to leave her alone,” Mitch Mitchell testified.
That night, Baxter led the Mitchells to Davis’ room at the Ranch Motel, S1609 Lewis.
The Mitchells each were charged with conspiracy to commit firstdegree murder and first-degree robbery.
Baxter also faces the conspiracy charges.
Prior to trial, she agreed to plead guilty to robbery conspiracy if the murder-conspiracy charge was dropped.
But Wednesday’s acquittals threaten to shatter that plea bargain.
Baxter’s lawyer, Maryann Moreno, may now demand further concessions from the prosecutor or decide to take her chances at trial.