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Murder victim’s brother pleads guilty to child rape

Matthew Pehl, 30, could avoid jail time

The brother of a man brutally murdered at his home in north Spokane in 2008 pleaded guilty Wednesday to raping an 8-year-old girl in the same house in 2011.

Matthew Pehl, 30, may avoid jail time on charges of child rape and molestation after prosecutors agreed he was eligible for a special sentencing alternative that will allow him to serve his more than 10-year sentence on monitored release. The victim’s family plans to argue the plea agreement at sentencing to take place next month.

Pehl’s brother, Tanner, was brutally murdered along with Mead High School senior Sarah Clark in February 2008. A jury convicted Justin Crenshaw of the double stabbing murder in July 2010, in spite of Crenshaw’s argument that he suffered from a rare alcohol disorder that caused him to act overly violent when drunk.

Crenshaw told investigators he didn’t recall stabbing Clark repeatedly, almost severing her head, or plunging a broadsword into Tanner Pehl’s corpse. He also didn’t remember attempting to set fire to the house by piling cardboard pizza boxes on the stove, starting a blaze that alerted neighbors to the corpses.

DNA evidence later linked Crenshaw to the crime scene. He was sentenced to life in prison for the murders and is being held at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, according to jail records.

The house at 512 E. Elm Street was not destroyed by the fire, and Pehl continued to live at the address with his mother at least through Jan. 7, 2011, when the father of the 8-year-old girl took her to the home to rehearse with a band in the basement, according to court records. While he was practicing, Matthew Pehl touched the girl inappropriately in a bedroom while watching TV and further molested her in the bathroom.

The girl was unable to talk about the incident to investigators, but detailed the encounters to her father. Pehl was arraigned in July 2012, and a trial in the case was expected to begin later this month.

On Wednesday morning, dressed in street clothes, Pehl pleaded guilty to one count of child rape and another count of child molestation. A sentencing hearing was scheduled by Superior Court Judge Salvatore Cozza next month.

Prosecuting attorney Kelly Fitzgerald declined after the hearing to discuss the factors that led her to recommend community custody in the case. According to Washington state law, sex offenders who commit nonviolent crimes, do not have a history of sexual offenses and are facing sentences of fewer than 11 years are eligible for special sentencing.

Under the special sentencing, Pehl may still spend up to a year in prison, be forced to attend treatment and remain under electronic monitoring. He will also have to register as a sex offender for life.

According to county records, the Pehl family sold the home on East Elm Street in October 2011.

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