May 29, 1996 in City
Comeslast Trial Has 75 In Jury Pool Decision Due Today On Whether Police Gang Expert Will Testify
Jury selection began Tuesday in the trial of Kenneth Comeslast, a teenager accused of fatally shooting two girls and wounding another as they sat on the front porch of a northeast Spokane home last summer.
More than 75 potential jurors were called to Superior Court for the process, which Judge Kathleen O’Connor expects to last through Friday.
Comeslast, 16, is charged with two counts of aggravated murder in the deaths of Kendra Grantham, 16, and Cindy Buffin, 17.
He also faces two counts of attempted murder in the assaults of Amanda Denny, who was shot in the side, and Sadie Maddox, who was with the girls on the porch but not hurt.
A judge last fall ordered that Comeslast be tried as an adult. If convicted as charged, there is only one possible sentence: life in prison without parole. State law prohibits the death penalty for people younger than 18.
Police and prosecutors say the Aug. 9 shooting occurred because Comeslast, a self-proclaimed gang member, wanted to “gain status” by killing someone.
They said Comeslast, who went by the street name “Tiny Smurf,” sneaked up on his victims in the darkness and, standing about 6 feet away, fired at least five rounds from a high-powered assault rifle.
Then he squeezed off another 11 rounds at nearby homes while trotting backward to his friend’s station wagon, police said.
Prosecutors have asked O’Connor to allow testimony from Spokane police gang expert Larry Saunders, who would tell jurors about “the gang mentality” and establish a motive.
Saunders said that in the weeks before the murder, Comeslast obtained the rifle, practiced shooting it and threatened to kill Denny.
Those actions “show how important it was to kill someone to gain stature in the gangs,” prosecutors said in a pretrial motion. “The combination of these events … clearly show why individuals would commit an otherwise unexplainable crime: He just wanted to kill someone.”
Assistant public defender Richard Fasy, however, challenged Saunders’ status as an expert on gangs and asked O’Connor to exclude his testimony. Fasy noted Saunders has been assigned to the department’s gang unit only since 1993.
O’Connor said she will announce her decision in writing today, during a break from jury selection.