For the third time in seven months, a Spokane man will face a criminal charge in the shooting death of a teenager during a drinking party last summer.
Days after the June 26 killing, 21-year-old Jeremy Conwell was arrested and charged with second-degree manslaughter in the shooting of Ricky Franetich with a .45-caliber handgun.
The men had argued during a party at Minnehaha Park. Conwell said he acted in self-defense, fearing Franetich, 15, and three other males were about to attack him in the dark.
Three months later, Spokane County prosecutors dropped the manslaughter charge and replaced it with two misdemeanors.
They defended that reduction by saying the case against Conwell was not clear-cut. They agreed that Conwell could plead guilty to reckless endangerment and carrying a concealed weapon.
In October, a Spokane County judge refused to accept the plea, saying the facts of the case didn’t support the misdemeanor charges.
That refusal - plus angry protests by the victim’s family - pushed prosecutors this week to agree to reverse themselves again.
Now they’ll charge Conwell with first-degree manslaughter, alleging he acted recklessly - not in self-defense - when he killed Franetich.
If convicted of the new charge, Conwell could face up to 41 months in prison - nearly 14 times longer than the 90 days he would have served under the plea bargain.
Deputy Prosecutor Jack Driscoll said the case against Conwell is the same one his office considered weak last year. “No new evidence or testimony has been produced.”
The key factor behind the new charge was the strongly worded rejection of the plea agreement by Superior Court Judge Kathleen O’Connor.
After reviewing the case, O’Connor said she saw no reason to agree that the killing of Franetich was an accident - the basis for the reduced misdemeanor charges.
She cited the downward trajectory of two bullets that struck Franetich in the head and chest.
Conwell said Franetich was with three other males who were coming toward him when Conwell fired “warning shots” at them.
But the angle of the bullets suggests Franetich - who was unarmed - may have been on the ground when the fatal shots hit him, O’Connor said.
Franetich’s mother, Debra, lambasted the prosecutor’s office for dropping the original charge.
Both sides now say they’ll prepare for trial, expected to start within two months.
But Conwell’s defense attorney, Steve Tucker, said no trial should be necessary. He said he’s requesting the state Court of Appeals overrule O’Connor.
“Mr. Conwell should have the right to plead guilty to the charges he faced” back in October, Tucker said Thursday.
But Deputy Prosecutor Martin Rollins said that once O’Connor decided against accepting the plea, all bets were off.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: THE SENTENCE If convicted of first-degree manslaughter in the death of Ricky Franetich, Jeremy Conwell could face up to 41 months in prison - nearly 14 times longer than the 90 days he would have served under the plea bargain.
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