January 28, 2011 in City

In brief: Guilty plea can be withdrawn

 

A Spokane man who pleaded guilty to a 2007 murder has been allowed to withdraw his guilty plea because Spokane County prosecutors failed to tell him he had to spend a minimum of 20 years in prison before he would be eligible to receive early release credits.

The Division III Court of Appeals issued its decision Thursday allowing Michael D. Coombes to withdraw the plea because he was not “informed of a direct consequence of his plea.”

Coombes, 30, pleaded guilty to killing 53-year-old William R. Nichols sometime between Aug. 30 and Sept. 2, 2007.

Coombes pleaded guilty in June 2008 and received a 27-year prison sentence. However, he appealed his sentence because he had the mistaken belief that he was eligible to begin early release credit during the entire sentence, according to court documents.

The portion of his plea that explained the minimum 20-year sentence was left blank in the court file.

The case now returns to Superior Court Judge Michael Price to allow Coombes to withdraw his plea.

Thomas Clouse

Trial in Zehm death delayed again

The criminal trial of Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. has been delayed again.

U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle agreed to a request by defense attorney Carl Oreskovich to change the date of the trial despite objections from a federal prosecutor. The trial, stemming from a confrontation between Thompson and Otto Zehm that resulted in Zehm’s death, has been moved to Oct. 11 from March 7.

The trial was put on hold last summer after prosecutors asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a ruling by Van Sickle that prevented them from presenting evidence that Zehm had not committed a crime on March 18, 2006, when he was confronted by Thompson in a Spokane convenience store.

Thompson struck Zehm with a police baton and shocked him with a Taser during the confrontation, which included six other officers.

Attorneys for both sides will travel to Seattle on Feb. 7 to present oral arguments to a panel of appellate judges.

Thomas Clouse

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