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Trial opens in gruesome eye-gouging attack

Tue., Feb. 19, 2013, 4:30 p.m.

Convicted killer Michael L. West Jr., now standing trial for gouging out the eyes of a fellow inmate, sat in a chair today with his hands cuffed to his waist and his bound legs secured by a chain to the floor as testimony began in Spokane County Superior Court.

There’s no question that West, 36, permanently blinded Airway Heights Correctional Center inmate Chad E. Bolstad and beat another inmate in the gruesome 2010 attack.

But his defense attorney argues he should be found not guilty by reason of insanity. Prosecutors want jurors to convict him of first- and second-degree assault.

West previously has been convicted of attacking and raping his girlfriend and of first-degree murder for the 2004 killing 21-year-old Christopher Rentz, who was West’s cellmate in the Spokane County Jail. He’s not scheduled to be released from state prison until 2048.

Despite that violent history, state prison officials transferred West in 2010 to the medium security Airway Heights Corrections Center. Within days, West was facing the new charges.

Defense attorney Derek Reid said his client had stopped taking the medications that helped him manage his behavior.

Reid said he also offered Deputy Prosecutor Larry Steinmetz a deal to have West plead guilty to two assault charges in exchange for a sentence that runs at the same time as West’s murder conviction.

Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen is presiding over the assault trial.

Corrections officers testified Tuesday about responding to screams from inmate Gary L. Welch, who was in the same cell with West and Bolstad.

When the officers arrived on Oct. 10, 2010, they found Welch pleading to be let out of the cell while West hunched in a corner and Bolstad lay bleeding on the floor.

Sgt. Justin Grimes said he assisted in removing Bolstad, who was unconscious and bleeding from both eyes.

After corrections officers secured Bolstad and Welch, who suffered minor injuries, Grimes said he ordered West onto the ground.

“He said, ‘Are you my god?’ I gave him a third directive,” Grimes said. “He repeated the question. ‘Are you my god? If you tell me you are my god I will obey your command.’”

Grimes and several other officers secured West, who did not struggle while they subdued him and took him to a holding cell.

Reid said he expects to call prison officials to explain why they complied with West’s requests to be transferred from the mental health unit of the maximum-security Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla to the medium security prison in Airway Heights.

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