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Jury convicts West in eye gouging case

Michael L. West (Washington Department of Corrections)
Michael L. West (Washington Department of Corrections)

A jury found convicted killer Michael L. West Jr. guilty of gouging out the eyes of a fellow prison inmate, ensuring that West will remain in prison for the rest of his life.

The jury deliberated just a few hours Tuesday before finding the 36-year-old, who remained shackled to the floor during the trial, guilty of first- and second-degree assault.

West was accused of attacking two inmates on Oct. 10, 2010, inside a cell at Airway Heights Corrections Center.

Family members of Chad E. Bolstad, who was permanently blinded in the attack, wept as Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen announced the verdict.

“It was very hard. Chad died six times that night. It’s not like he was just brutally beaten,” Bolstad’s mother, Darla Jackson, said. “My hope is that the DOC will take proper control and keep (West) from hurting anyone else.”

The state Department of Corrections is also facing a civil suit filed on behalf of Bolstad after prison officials agreed to transfer West from the maximum security prison in Walla Walla to the medium security prison in Airway Heights.

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

Defense attorney Derek Reid unsuccessfully argued that West should be found not guilty by reason of insanity. When corrections officers raced in to help Bolstad, West asked one of them if he was his god.

Reid noted that because of the rape conviction, West is due in 2048 to go before the state’s Indeterminate Sentencing Review Board, which rarely decides to release inmates like West.

“He was never getting out anyway,” Reid said, “which leads me to ask: ‘Was this really an effective use of taxpayer money?’”

West faces up to life for the new first-degree assault conviction. The jury also found him guilty of three aggravating factors: that he was deliberately cruel, that Bolstad was particularly vulnerable and that the assault exceeded the definition of great bodily harm.

Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Steinmetz said the enhancements do not add time to the sentence, but allow Steinmetz to ask Judge Eitzen to sentence West above the range of life in prison.

West showed no emotion. Reid said his heavily medicated client did not speak following the verdict.

“He did ask me before closing arguments when we were going to sentencing,” Reid said. “That was not a ringing endorsement of my work thus far.”

Eitzen set sentencing for March 13 at 8 a.m.

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