An 18-year-old man now faces a mandatory life sentence if convicted of the murder of an 85-year-old Spokane woman last year.
Spokane County prosecutors Friday charged Vy Thang with aggravated first-degree murder, replacing the original charge of first-degree felony murder.
Thang, originally from Aberdeen, Wash., is accused of robbing and beating to death Mildred Klaus last Aug. 29 in her home at 211 W. Shannon.
Prosecutors cannot seek the death penalty because Thang was a juvenile when the crime occurred. State law requires that 17-year-olds charged with serious violent crimes be tried as adults.
Deputy Prosecutor Larry Steinmetz said revising charges to a more serious crime is standard policy within the prosecutor’s office. “We charge conservatively the first time. If a defendant refuses a plea bargain, we then refile the more serious charge,” Steinmetz said.
Thang has said he did not murder Klaus. His trial is scheduled for Oct. 12 in Spokane County Superior Court.
Steinmetz said three factors support an aggravated-murder charge: Thang’s premeditated planning of the murder; committing murder to conceal his role in the robbery; and committing both crimes while a fugitive from a state detention home.
Authorities say Thang entered through a porch window at Klaus’s home. He came upon Klaus, who lived alone, and demanded money. When she threatened to call police, Thang allegedly knocked her to the ground.
Police say he then kicked her repeatedly in the chest. Klaus’s son found her the next day.
Police say Thang took the woman’s purse, which contained $82, then went to a nearby house where two friends were staying.
One of those friends, Simeon Terry, 17, pleaded guilty to second-degree possession of stolen property in connection with the Klaus robbery.
He was sentenced to 100 days’ detention and agreed to testify against Thang at trial.
At the time of the killing, Thang and Terry were fugitives from Maple Lane juvenile detention center in Centralia, Wash.
When counselors took a group of inmates to a Seattle Seahawks exhibition game, Thang and Terry escaped and eventually came to Spokane.
Thang was serving a sentence for breaking into the home of an elderly Aberdeen woman in 1996, beating her and leaving her for dead.
Terry, who is from Spokane, was serving time for armed robbery. He has denied any part in the killing or robbery.
Thang remains in the county jail on $500,000 bond.