May 13, 2009 in City, News

Jury convicts man of raping Spokane prostitutes

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Sex offender Pierre West slowly shook his head today as the judge read the jury’s long list of guilty verdicts, including several charges that are enough to keep the twice-convicted rapist in prison for life without the possibility of parole.

West was convicted in a case where several prostitutes described the terror they lived after being picked up by the man who drove them back to his Spokane Valley home and ordered them to appease him in strange and violent ways.

“I’m pleased that everybody in our community receives the same protection under the law,” Deputy Prosecutor John Love said following the verdicts, “and that the lifestyle of these women was not a controlling factor in the jury’s decision.”

However, the verdict was somewhat of a mixed bag. The jury hung, or did not come to a decision to acquit or convict West, on three of five rape charges. And of the four counts of kidnapping, the jury instead found West guilty of three counts of the lesser included charges of unlawful imprisonment.

In addition to those charges, the jury found West guilty of three counts of felony harassment and two counts of second-degree assault. The jury also ruled that all five of those crimes were committed with sexual motivation.

So even if the jury had exonerated West on all the rape counts, Love said the two assault convictions would have been enough to trigger the state’s two-strike law for violent sexual offenses, which carries a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. West previously was convicted in 1988 of rape of a child.

West said nothing as Spokane County sheriff’s jailers led him away. Assistant Public Defender John Stine said he had no comment after the two-week trial.

Jenn Davis Nielsen, a victim advocate for Lutheran Community Services, said many of the prostitutes attacked by West were victims of sexual abuse as children.

“They are in a position where society looks down on them. They don’t have the liberty and opportunity to report these heinous crimes,” Nielsen said. “The fact they came forward shows how dangerous Mr. West is.”

Lynn Everson, the needle exchange coordinator at the Spokane Regional Health District, helped detectives identify some of West’s victims.

According to court records, one of the prostitutes reported seeing a video of another woman engaged in rough sex with West. That woman never was identified, prompting investigators to believe several more victims did not come forward.

Everson credited another sexual predator for allowing local law enforcement and victim advocates to work together _ Robert Yates.

“In this community, as a result of Robert Yates, we all work together,” Everson said.

Yates was sentenced to death in 2002 by a Tacoma jury after his conviction on two counts of aggravated murder for the slayings of Melinda Mercer in December 1997 and Connie Ellis in 1998.

Yates, a Spokane factory worker and former military helicopter pilot, pleaded guilty to 13 murders in 2000 in Spokane County for which he was sentenced to 408 years in prison under a deal with Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker.

Love credited sheriff’s detectives David Bentley and John Grandinetti for finding the victims and documenting their accounts of the violent encounters with West even though many were afraid to cooperate with law enforcement officers.

“Providing sexual acts for money is an illegal act. But humans are humans,” Love said. “Everybody has problems, What does a predator do? They pick off the weakest of the herd.”

Reporter Thomas Clouse can be reached at (509)459-5495 or at tomc@spokesman.com


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