A man who steadfastly claimed he didn’t know who shot him and killed another man in north Spokane in 2007 – an assertion police say was false and impeded their investigation – had his conviction overturned by the Washington Supreme Court Thursday.
Kenneth R. Budik was convicted of rendering criminal assistance for claiming he couldn’t identify the attackers and sentenced to 13 months in prison. His conviction was upheld on appeal.
But the Washington Supreme Court, in a split decision, erased the jury verdict and a subsequent appeals court decision. Justice Susan Owen, writing for the majority, said, “Mere false disavowal of knowledge is insufficient to sustain a conviction for rendering criminal assistance.”
Chief Justice Barbara Madsen agreed with her counterparts on the final decision to reverse the conviction, but she didn’t agree with the other justices’ reasoning. And Justice James Johnson dissented, saying the conviction should have been upheld.
“The issue was whether to believe Budik or believe the other witnesses,” Johnson wrote in his dissent. “The jury considered all the evidence, and it unanimously found Budik guilty. For the foregoing reasons, I respectfully dissent.”
After suffering a gunshot wound to the leg and another that shattered his shoulder, Budik told Spokane police Detective Kip Hollenbeck that he did not know who shot him and 28-year-old Adama R. Walton, who was killed. But the detective suspected Budik was withholding information and eventually persuaded prosecutors to charge him with first-degree rendering criminal assistance.
Budik’s sentence was longer than those of the two men who pleaded guilty to the attack.
Hollenbeck could not be reached Thursday for comment. But he told The Spokesman-Review in 2009 that the investigation was frustrating because none of the witnesses would cooperate.
“Kenny Budik is probably the most uncooperative witness we had in the entire case, and he’s a victim,” Hollenbeck said in 2009. “That’s a perfect example of how this case went.”
The shooting occurred outside of a party on North Perry Street. Walton was driving his girlfriend’s gold Chevrolet Avalanche when he was shot through both lungs, and Budik was hit twice. Walton drove a block and a half before the vehicle rolled with the injured Budik inside.
Later at the hospital, Budik told Hollenbeck that he didn’t know who shot him. Since an empty shell casing was found in the vehicle, Hollenbeck reportedly believed Budik should have been close enough to the shooter to provide the person’s identification.
As it was, Deputy Prosecutor Mark Cipolla eventually charged Freddie J. Miller and Titus T. Davis with first-degree murder. But Miller pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of rendering criminal assistance. A jury could not reach a decision during Davis’ trial and he later pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter. He was released on the day of his guilty plea, having been given a reduced sentence of time already served.
“Those guys are out walking the street again,” said Hollenbeck in 2009, referring to Miller and Davis. “I hate to say it … but there’s nothing we can do.”