An acquaintance of a Spokane man whom police believe took his own life last summer is now accused of assisting in the suicide.
Family members of William P. Pickard, 38, say Melvin Alephus Gillespie, 40, lied to police for months after Pickard’s death, which detectives believe was staged with rope to look like a homicide.
Pickard’s body was found under the Sunset Bridge on June 30. His car was found four miles away the next day.
Gillespie was arrested Monday on charges of obstructing a public officer and promoting a suicide attempt and is being held at the Spokane County Jail.
The suspect told police that Pickard, a father of two, said he had a life insurance policy that would not pay if his death was a suicide, according to court documents.
“Melvin admitted all of his lies, which he admitted hindered our investigation and cost the police department and the State of Washington tens of thousands of dollars,” according to court documents.
It’s the first time court and law enforcement officials can recall someone in Spokane County being charged with promoting a suicide, which is a class C felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
“I’m actually in shock that we had this happen,” said A.J. Sanders, a suicide prevention specialist for the Spokane Regional Health District.
She said the health district has resources and training available to help recognize suicidal thoughts.
“Typically people who are thinking of suicide aren’t thinking very clearly,” Sanders said. Most people don’t want to end their life; “they just want their pain to end,” Sanders said.
“It takes an outside person, really, to talk that through with them and identify outside solutions,” Sanders said. “There is bad advice that you can give to someone who’s considering suicide, and certainly helping someone carry out their plan is not recommended.”
Gillespie declined a request for a jailhouse interview.
Deanna Pickard, who has two children with William Pickard, said Gillespie spoke at Pickard’s funeral and repeatedly said he felt guilty.
“It was just weird, and I couldn’t figure out why he kept saying that,” she said. “Now I guess I know why.”
Detectives believe Gillespie drove Pickard to the bridge, helped tie him up and rummaged through the man’s car to make it appear ransacked before leaving it in the 1500 block of West Glass Avenue, said Officer Jennifer DeRuwe, spokeswoman for the Spokane Police Department.
Police believe Gillespie made a pact with William Pickard only to reveal the suicide note if detectives began to suspect Gillespie of homicide.
Court documents show detectives were suspicious of Gillespie early in the investigation after he admitted lying about where he’d last seen Pickard.
After cell phone records showed his phone had activated a tower near the bridge about the time Pickard was believed to have died, homicide detectives confronted him, which prompted him to give them Pickard’s suicide note.
Handwriting experts determined it was penned by Pickard, according to police.
His brother Daniel Pickard has said he believes the suicide claim.
“I’m 100 percent behind the work the police did on this,” Pickard said last week.
But others don’t believe it.
“He would have had to have a gun to his head to write that note and jump over that bridge,” said Sharon Whitt, a longtime friend.