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Self-defense claim in dragging death

Tue., Nov. 27, 2007, midnight

A Newman Lake man claimed through his attorney Monday that he was defending himself and others during a wilderness confrontation that ended with the dragging death of an Eastern Washington University student.

But Pend Oreille County District Court Judge Philip Van de Veer found probable cause to hold Wendell C. Sinn Jr., 45, on suspicion of second-degree murder or first-degree manslaughter in connection with the Saturday night death of Jerid Sturman-Camyn, a 20-year-old martial arts enthusiast who reportedly had threatened several campers with an ax.

Deputy Prosecutor Tony Koures said he plans to file charges before Sinn is arraigned later this week or, more likely, next week.

Sinn was released Monday from Pend Oreille County Jail after surrendering his firearms and posting $10,000 bail. His attorney, John Nollette of Spokane, said Sinn intends to fight any criminal charges.

“This man was operating in defense of himself and others,” Nollette said without elaborating.

Meanwhile, authorities revealed Monday that the victim was dragged nearly 13 miles after Sinn allegedly attached a rope to a pickup trailer hitch and looped the other end around Sturman-Camyn’s neck.

Sheriff Jerry Weeks said the pickup driver – Sinn’s 17-year-old son, Justin Daniel Sinn – apparently was unaware that Sturman-Camyn was roped behind the truck when the elder Sinn told the youth to drive away.

The Sheriff’s Office said some of the eight people at a hunting camp near Ione, Wash., where the violence began said Sturman-Camyn, who was a mixed martial arts fighter, lost his temper, armed himself with an ax and threatened others at the camp.

The office said Sunday that some people at the camp had been drinking heavily, but Weeks declined Monday to identify them. However, Weeks said field tests showed Sinn had very little to drink and his son hadn’t been drinking at all. Two other teens, ages 16 and 18, also hadn’t been drinking, according to Weeks.

Weeks said it was unclear what sparked the violence. He noted Sturman-Camyn reportedly had been wrestling playfully with his father, who was along on the camping trip.

A preliminary autopsy report indicated the victim died of strangulation and wounds from being dragged over gravel and coarsely paved roads. His neck was not broken, nor did he suffer any spinal cord injury, according to the prosecutor’s office, which also handles coroner duties.

Toxicology tests to determine whether Sturman-Camyn had been drinking or using drugs hadn’t been completed Monday.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Questin Youk said Justin Sinn “was in shock” when he learned he had dragged Sturman-Camyn to death. Youk met the boy on LeClerc Road, about a mile north of the Kalispel Indian Reservation, after the boy called 911 on a cell phone to report he had been chased by a man with an ax.

Youk said Justin Sinn pulled over to make the call about 11:35 p.m., and then drove about 1 ½ miles before stopping again. A dispatcher, who had remained on the line, told Sinn to stop at the south end of River Bend Loop Road and wait for Youk.

Dispatchers got another call about 11:40 p.m., in which another teenager reported someone was being dragged behind a truck in the same area.

“I think at that time they were starting to put two and two together,” Youk said.

It wasn’t clear Monday who placed the second call, but Youk said it was another teenage boy who was a friend of both Justin Sinn and Jerid Sturman-Camyn. Youk said that teen saw Sturman-Camyn being dragged and raced after the pickup on a four-wheel all-terrain vehicle in a vain effort to stop the truck.

“He got close enough to see taillights in the distance,” but was hampered by dust and darkness, and couldn’t catch up.

The teen stopped at a house near the intersection of West Branch LeClerc Creek Road and LeClerc Creek Road to call 911. Youk said the youth was unsure Sturman-Camyn was still being dragged until he saw blood on the road.

LeClerc Road, LeClerc Creek Road and West Branch LeClerc roads were closed overnight and later were sanded.

Weeks said it was “reasonable” to believe Justin Sinn didn’t know Sturman-Camyn was behind the Ford F-250 pickup he was driving. There was a canopy on the pickup bed and the road was dusty and dark, the sheriff said.

The incident involved four father and son combinations, all from Spokane Valley or the Newman Lake area. They were hunting deer in a late buck season for muzzleloading weapons.

Authorities said Wendell Sinn and his son, Justin Daniel Sinn, were camped on Dry Canyon Road in the Colville National Forest, about a mile north of Hanlon Cutoff Road, along with Kelly F. Cuzzetto and his son, Kurt Thomas Cuzzetto.

Jerry “Scott” Camyn and his son, Jerid Sturman-Camyn, were camped about four miles south on West Branch LeClerc Creek Road along with Kerry E. Torske and his son, Dillon.

Koures said an exchange of cell phone text messages between two teens, one in each camp, prompted everyone in the Camyn-Torske camp to go to the Sinn-Cuzzetto camp for a visit that ended in tragedy.

Wendell Sinn would face a standard range of 10 1/4 to 18 1/3 years in prison if convicted of second-degree murder or 6 1/2 to 8 1/2 years if convicted of first-degree manslaughter, according to Koures. He said the murder charge is based on a Washington law that says it’s murder if someone dies in the course of some other felony – in this case, second-degree assault.

A jury would have to choose between the murder and manslaughter charges.


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