James Darling sat pensively on the unforgiving wooden bench situated in the hallway outside Whitman County Superior Court, passing the time as his arraignment approached, wearily pondering the charges that threaten to put him in jail and prevent him from signing a lucrative contract with pro football’s Philadelphia Eagles.
More than 20 minutes later, at 10:37 a.m. Friday morning, the former Washington State University linebacker accompanied defense attorney Brian Butler inside the mostly empty courtroom of Superior Court Judge Wallis W. Friel.
At 10:43, and with county commissioner Carol LaVerne presiding because prosecutors had taken the unusual step of filing an affidavit of prejudice against Friel, Darling entered a plea of not guilty to the one felony and three misdemeanor charges stemming from his alleged involvement in a May 6 dispute over a woman.
A jury trial was tentatively scheduled for July 8. Darling, 22, was charged last week with second-degree burglary, a charge that has since been upgraded to first-degree burglary - a Class A felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.
Deputy Prosecutor Toby Krauel said a sentence of 15-20 months is more common, however.
Darling was also charged last week with third-degree malicious mischief. On Monday, prosecutors filed two additional charges, each alleging fourth-degree assault. The misdemeanor charges are each punishable by up to one year in jail, Krauel said.
Friel’s successor on the case is expected to be named by Tuesday, LaVerne indicated. Prosecutors did not say why they had Friel removed from the case, but sources indicated they were concerned when the judge met briefly with WSU football coach Mike Price during Darling’s initial court appearance last week.
In addition, LaVerne reluctantly agreed to a motion posed jointly by Butler and Krauel that will let Darling travel to Pennsylvania and New York, presumably to negotiate a contract and attend the Eagles’ mid-July training camp.
Darling, from Kettle Falls, had been prohibited from leaving Spokane and Stevens counties as part of his May 7 release, secured when Darling promised to pay $20,000 if he did not appear.
Darling’s predicament is particularly tenuous because he remains on probation from his July 10, 1996 conviction for using a stolen WSU parking pass. If convicted on any of the four current charges, part or all of Darling’s 363-day suspended sentence from the parking-pass case could be imposed immediately - in addition to whatever punishment might be meted out in the current case.
Darling, who on Butler’s advice has refrained from discussing the case publicly, said before Friday’s arraignment that he is frustrated by not being able to tell his side of the story.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo