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Murder trial starts for man who withdrew guilty plea after appeal

Wed., Dec. 14, 2011

The trial began Tuesday of a Spokane man who pleaded guilty to a Hillyard slaying in 2007 but was allowed to withdraw the plea after a mistake was made on his sentencing paperwork.

Michael D. Coombes, 31, faces a charge of first-degree murder in connection with the Aug. 31, 2007, slaying of 53-year-old William “Red” Nichols, whose body was found near Beacon Hill.

Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Garvin said in court that Coombes told several people, including two Spokane police detectives, he shot Nichols in the head. Coombes is also charged with tampering with a witness and intimidating a witness.

“We will prove motive, means, opportunity and many confessions by Mr. Coombes,” Garvin said.

But defense attorney Jeff Compton told the jury that all of the witnesses who incriminated Coombes did so only when police threatened them with arrest.

“You are going into a world where you see people every day who are drunk or under the influence of drugs,” Compton said. “Keep an open mind.”

The intimidating-a-witness charge came after inmate Tevan Williams shared a cell with Coombes for about a week, Compton said. Williams claimed that Coombes admitted killing Nichols and asked Williams to tell a key witness to say he made up the allegations against Coombes.

“That statement rests solely on someone who has convictions for dishonesty, and he did it to get a deal,” Compton said.

Coombes earlier pleaded guilty to the killing, but his sentencing paperwork contained a mistake – a box that wasn’t checked. As a result, appellate judges returned the case to Spokane County Superior Court, and Coombes withdrew his guilty plea, Garvin said.



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