It took a Spokane jury less than 12 hours to decide that 16-year-old Kenneth “Junior” Comeslast deserves life imprisonment without parole for killing two teenage girls and wounding a third last summer.
Comeslast was found guilty Thursday of two counts of aggravated firstdegree murder in the shooting deaths of Cindy Buffin, 17, and Kendra Grantham, 16. Quiet throughout the eight-day trial, Comeslast left Spokane County Superior Court muttering a profanity.
Later, in a jail interview, he insisted the real killer is an 18-year-old former friend.
“It wasn’t me,” Comeslast said.
Outside the courthouse, relatives of the victims talked openly about the elation they felt.
“It brings it to a conclusion for me,” said Marlene Davis, Grantham’s aunt.
“I hope something good happens from this,” she said, “like maybe a kid learning that there are immense consequences for trying to be cool and earn respect by carrying a gun and shooting someone.”
Spokane County Prosecutor James Sweetser praised the jury for taking pains to render a careful verdict. “Justice was done,” he said.
Defense lawyers Richard Fasy and Jay Ames said they had hoped to convince jurors that the shootings were accidental.
“We were not expecting this verdict,” Ames said.
Afterward, jurors left the courthouse quickly. Judge Kathleen O’Connor chose not to make their names public.
Although he was prosecuted as an adult, Comeslast never faced the death penalty because he is a minor. That left life imprisonment as the only possible sentence for aggravated murder.
Shortly after midnight last Aug. 9, the girls were talking with friends on the front porch of a Hillyard home.
Witnesses said the attack came suddenly, from a nearby yard, when a man wearing a hooded sweatshirt fired five shots from a semiautomatic assault rifle.
Two of Comeslast’s companions - Doug Champagne, 19, and Chris McIlveen, 18 - testified last week that they parked their station wagon about a block from the house.
They said they watched Comeslast walk toward the house, carrying the assault rifle. After hearing a series of gunshots, they said the teenager came running back to the car.
Champagne and McIlveen acknowledged they agreed to testify in exchange for reduced charges of rendering criminal assistance, to which they have pleaded guilty.
In his closing argument Wednesday, Fasy reminded jurors that no one at the crime scene identified Comeslast as the shooter.
But the jury appeared to accept the prosecution’s portrait of Comeslast as a brooding, hot-tempered delinquent, with the gang name “Tiny Smurf.”
Comeslast was also convicted of two counts of first-degree attempted murder for wounding 13-year-old Amanda Denny and shooting at Sadie Maddox, 13, who wasn’t injured.
Comeslast’s mother called the trial a set-up, suggesting her son’s former friends fabricated testimony to save their own skins.
“The one person who saw someone with the gun that night, Amanda Denny, said it was white man, with light hair,” Sharon Comeslast said. “So that could only be Chris McIlveen. I’m angry, because they really didn’t have enough proof to convict Junior. He didn’t do it.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo