May 21, 2009 in City

New trial denied in robbery

Man one of three convicted of altered charges
Thomas Clouse Staff writer

Now three sets of parents are hoping for successful appeals as their sons await prison terms that could last until middle age, their convictions based largely on testimony from a jailhouse snitch.

“Another black eye for justice,” Rick Larson said Wednesday after Superior Court Judge Michael Price denied a request for a new trial for his son, Robert Larson. “When a prosecutor can stand in court and lie time after time after time, where is the justice in that?

“I don’t believe anyone can get a fair trial in Spokane County.”

A jury in February convicted 29-year-old Larson, 22-year-old Paul E. Statler and 22-year-old Tyler W. Gassman of first-degree robbery, first-degree assault and drive-by shooting.

The suspects had solid alibis before authorities changed the charges against them, adjusting the date of the alleged robbery to a day when their alibis were weaker. The last-minute change drew an $8,000 sanction against the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office by Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen. Then the deputy prosecutor and a defense lawyer in the case traded complaints about each other to the state bar association.

Price acknowledged “mudslinging” in the case but ruled that the convictions should stand despite the emergence of a letter by 21-year-old witness Anthony Kongchunji, who wrote in March that he conspired with the prosecution’s key witness, Matthew Dunham, to bring false allegations that resulted in a series of charges against Larson, Statler and Gassman.

Defense attorneys David Partovi, Timothy Note and Anna Nordtvedt filed motions for new trials based on what they called new evidence stated in Kongchunji’s letter. But in denying their motions, Price essentially blamed the defense attorneys for not calling Kongchunji to the witness stand to challenge testimony from Dunham, who is scheduled to be released in September, on his 19th birthday.

Duane Statler, Paul Statler’s father and the recipient of Kongchunji’s letter, said he’s outraged at the case’s handling.

“Judge Eitzen should have dismissed this charge on that day” when Deputy Prosecutor Eugene Cruz changed the date of the alleged robbery, Duane Statler said, “and we wouldn’t be in this quagmire. They’re about to sentence three innocent boys.”

The sentencing hearings for Larson, Gassman and Statler are set for the first week in June.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email