March 16, 2011 in City

‘Dangerous’ offender returns to jail on probation violation

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Spokane County Sheriff's Office photo

Convicted murderer and rapist Joseph E. Singleton, 47, is a level 3 sex offender.
(Full-size photo)

A convicted killer and rapist deemed so dangerous that prosecutors said they wished his 19-year prison term had been longer is back in jail after serving just half of his original sentence.

Joseph Earl Singleton, 47, is to serve six months in jail for failing to check in with his probation officer or attend drug treatment. He could serve longer if he’s convicted of a felony harassment charge for allegedly threatening to kill his wife.

His public defender, Scott Mason, said Singleton is “pleasant in court,” trying hard and was able to find a job before his arrest.

“I know it’s tough getting a job with that kind of history,” Mason said.

But the attorney who prosecuted Singleton in 2000 said the case exemplifies what a 10-year-old change in Washington’s sex offender sentencing laws aimed to address.

“It’s an unfortunate sentencing system that he was convicted under, because Mr. Singleton, as I think is pretty obvious from the record, is a pretty dangerous dude,” said Chris Bugbee.

If Singleton had committed the crime after Sept. 1, 2001, he would have been subject to reviews by experts on sexually violent predators before release and could have served life in prison. Sex offenses committed since then bring indeterminate instead of fixed sentences, meaning offenders could serve the maximum sentence available if a state board determines they’re still threats. For a class A felony like first-degree rape, that’s life in prison.

“My guess is they wouldn’t be letting him out any time soon,” Bugbee said. “From the standpoint of public safety, the current scheme is better.”

Bugbee, now a private defense lawyer, was a deputy Spokane County prosecutor when he expressed concern that Singleton was ordered to serve just 19 years in prison for the rape of a developmentally disabled woman.

The Division III Court of Appeals overturned Singleton’s 236-month sentence in 2006 on a technicality. A lawyer had incorrectly applied Singleton’s out-of-state convictions, which include a murder in Alabama in 1985, in the sentencing formula. He was resentenced to 120 months.

Singleton is a level 3 sex offender – the classification considered most likely to reoffend.

He declined an interview with The Spokesman-Review but wondered aloud in court how he was expected to suddenly turn his life around after so many years of drug addiction and prison.

“I’m trying,” he said at his probation hearing Friday.

It’s unclear how long Singleton served in prison for the 1985 murder, but court documents say he was convicted of a purse snatching in Louisiana in 1991. He moved to Spokane in 1998, according to previously published reports.

Two years later, he was convicted of kidnapping and raping a 22-year-old woman and ordered to serve 19 years in prison.

He was released in November 2009 after being credited for good behavior and quickly garnered probation violations that sent him to jail for a month.

According to reports from his probation officer, Singleton failed to maintain his GPS device, didn’t report a change of address, consumed alcohol, methamphetamine and cocaine, didn’t pay his fines and ignored curfew. He also hasn’t completed sex offender treatment and once brought a woman to the probation office who officials described as “a damaged individual who had self-reported prior domestic violence relationships.”

He was sentenced to 60 days in jail for probation violations in December 2009 and faced other sanctions, such as daily check-ins, throughout 2010.

Last April, he told police “he would be willing to receive a fourth-degree assault charge by spitting in my face,” according to a report by his probation officer.

Singleton obtained a marriage license with Amanda R. Crawford last November. In January, Crawford told police Singleton threatened to kill her in text messages and said he didn’t care about going back to prison.

Singleton pleaded not guilty March 8 to a felony harassment – threats to kill. The class C felony carries up to five years in prison.

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