A convicted felon and his nephew are in custody and facing charges of first-degree murder in connection with the young woman found shot to death early Monday at an apartment complex near Spokane Falls Community College.
Spokane police arrested Jonathan J.L. Ritchey, 23, on suspicion of first-degree murder/domestic violence and Gary L. Stoddard, 45, on suspicion of first-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping, police spokeswoman Monique Cotton said. Ritchey is Stoddard’s nephew.
Stoddard, the alleged triggerman and an ex-con with a lengthy criminal history, was ordered held at the Spokane County Jail in lieu of $1 million bond. Ritchey was ordered held on $100,000 bond.
The victim, identified as 20-year-old Heather A. Cassel, was found dead at the College Terrace Apartments, 4150 W. Fort George Wright Drive, after officers responded around 4:30 a.m. Monday to reports of a woman screaming, a gunshot and a car speeding away. A pair of handcuffs was clasped to one of her wrists but the other hand was free, SPD Commander Brad Arleth said.
New court documents filed today, indicate that Ritchey was upset with Cassel over her relationships with others and that after being abducted by Stoddard, she broke free and was trying to get away when she was shot, documents said.
The night before Cassel’s death, Ritchey claimed she was with an ex-boyfriend and later, with him, according to court documents. Ritchey told detectives he argued with Cassel about a recent affair between an individual she met on Craigslist.
Around 1 a.m., the victim and Ritchey bought alcohol, witnesses told detectives, and they ended up at an apartment belonging to Jennifer Garber, who only met the victim the night prior.
The topic of ex-boyfriends came up and Ritchey became upset, Garber told detectives and Ritchey told Cassel to not talk about it or he was leaving. She didn’t stop and Ritchey left the apartment in Cassel’s car. He later came back after talking to her on the phone wishing she had been quiet in front of the witness.
The couple returned to their apartment near the 700 block of West Cora around 3 a.m. and the other murder suspect, Stoddard, arrived and left with Cassel, documents show. That’s the last time Ritchey claims he saw the victim.
Stoddard called Ritchey on a cell phone reportedly belonging to the victim, according to court documents. Stoddard told him Cassel was planning on applying for temporary custody of their son.
Ritchey told detectives he deleted call logs from his phone between Stoddard because he knew investigators would implicate him in Cassel’s murder. Detectives noted one phone call on the log between Ritchey and Stoddard.
Stoddard told investigators he drove “by the college” with Cassel on Fort George Wright Dr., according to court documents. He attempted to control her by binding her with handcuffs in a grassy area north of an apartment complex, documents said.
He attempted to put her in the car, but she managed to escape the handcuffs and kicked Stoddard from the car before running away. Stoddard told detectives he shot Cassel after he panicked because “he was afraid to go to jail”, documents said.
Multiple witnesses reported hearing a woman screaming followed by two gunshots around the time of Cassel’s death.
“When things came apart and I couldn’t control the situation,” Stoddard told detectives, that’s when he decided to shoot Cassel, documents showed.
When officers arrived to the scene, they found a single gunshot wound below her left eye and another to her midsection, and a handcuff attached to her left wrist.
Ritchey told detectives his DNA would likely be found on the handcuff because he had handled them at his mother’s home after Stoddard bought them. A Glock 9mm handgun would also have Ritchey’s DNA, he said.
A member of Cassel’s family claimed Ritchey claimed to have previously possessed a Glock, documents showed. Ritchey told detectives he saw Stoddard with the gun days earlier at his mother’s home. The gun was stored in the basement, he said.
Police searched a neighbor’s home and found Stoddard hiding under a bed in the basement, along with the handgun during a search warrant. He was arrested on an outstanding felony warrant, the document said.
Neither Cassel nor Ritchey, who have young child in common, lived at the College Terrace Apartments and Arleth said detectives were working to determine why the killing took place there.
“I think it’s happenstance that they ended up there,” Arleth said. “It’s a terrible tragedy not only for the victim’s family but for the child who will now grow up without a mother.”
Stoddard told detectives he drove Cassel in her car to the area of Broad and Addison and later near the community college. He also threw her phone into a mud puddle at an unknown location, he said.
The medical examiner said Cassel died from gunshot wounds. Detectives didn’t learn Cassel’s identity until it released photographs of her tattoos to the media.
Within hours of learning her name, detectives pieced together who had been with Cassel and identified Ritchey and Stoddard as suspects, Arleth said.
Detectives worked through the night and raided three addresses at about 5 a.m. Tuesday and took both men into custody.
Although Ritchey’s bond was set at $100,000, public defender Steven Reich claims Ritchey’s case lacked probable cause because the defendant was not present during the crime, he said.
Reich believes investigators jumped the gun on Ritchey’s arrest, he said in court.
“There’s no connection between what I’m reading, the defendant and the charge of murder,” Reich told Judge James Triplet.
Triplet admitted he only read the probable cause once before Tuesday’s first appearances. Court went into recess for nearly a half hour while he examined the affidavit again.
Multiple family members testified in support for Ritchey saying he strong ties to the community, especially with a young son he shared with the victim.
Because he lacks a prior criminal history, Judge Triplet chose a lower bond than the $1 million requested by state prosecutors.
Because the nature of his charge is a violent offense and some evidence indicates Ritchey may have interfered with the investigation of justice by deleting messages in his phone log, Triplet said, he did assign a bond.
Cassel for the past six weeks had been working at Avalon Care Center at Northpointe, said Randy Clabaugh, director of nursing services.
“She was a very good employee,” Clabaugh said. “She will be missed.”
The arrest is the latest in a string of brushes with the law for Stoddard, who was convicted and accused several times of kidnapping and rape, according to county, state and federal court records.
In 1997, Stoddard was convicted of a domestic violence assault against a Spokane County woman with whom he had a six-year relationship and who was the mother of his 4-year-old child.
According to court records, Stoddard was accused of undressing the woman, binding her with duct tape, putting her into the trunk of a car, shooting at her and raping her in front of their son. Stoddard also allegedly beat the boy so badly with a belt that the child “was covered with severe welts.”
Two weeks later, authorities said the woman agreed to go to dinner with Stoddard only to end up driving around north Spokane as Stoddard held a knife to her throat, archives state.
Court documents said the woman was stabbed in the forehead, stomach and chest when she tried to escape. Stoddard served 14 months of a 20-3/4-month sentence in that case.
State DOC records show that after serving that term, Stoddard again went to state prison in 1999 for theft but he has not been part of the state prison system since 2000.
In February 1999, Stoddard nearly froze to death in woods near Skookum Creek in Pend Oreille County after deputies pursued him based on a fugitive warrant out of Spokane County.
Stoddard fell into the creek in freezing temperatures and collapsed unconscious when he made his way back to waiting deputies nearly three hours after the chase began.
He was being sought based on Spokane County charges in which he was accused of kidnapping, rape and first-degree burglary after investigators concluded he broke into a co-worker’s home and beat her. The woman claimed Stoddard punched her in the throat, temple and jaw and knocked her to the floor, where he nearly smothered her to silence her.
According to court documents, Stoddard threatened to snap the woman’s neck if she didn’t stop screaming. While holding her prisoner for several hours, Stoddard allegedly raped her twice. She eventually escaped by slamming a door in his face when he decided they should go for a ride, authorities said.
But a jury on Sept. 2, 1999, acquitted Stoddard on all charges after testimony did not match up to some of the victim’s claims.
During that same year in federal court, Stoddard was charged along with his brother, Ricky A. Ritchey, with running a fraudulent firearms business that defrauded 10 people across the country out of nearly $25,000.
In refusing to allow him out of jail, U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Imbrogno in 1999 ruled that Stoddard was “out of control and not supervisable.” She said at the time that no amount of bail or conditions would keep the public safe from Stoddard.
The indictment in that 1999 fraud case said the scheme began in December 1994 when Stoddard’s brother, also known as Rick Stoddard, opened a bank account and advertised low-cost guns and ammunition in firearms publications. Ten people sent money and got nothing, according to the grand jury.
Stoddard’s wife, Paige J. Sponcler, 27, was sentenced in September 1999 to two years in prison for embezzling $266,663 from All Star Homes, Century 21-Randock and Randock Mobile Homes. She was the bookkeeper for the three businesses.
In his fraud case, Gary Stoddard was sentenced to 18 months and three years supervised release.
Not long after being released from federal prison, Stoddard was accused in 2001 of kidnapping his girlfriend and raping her in the mountains of Pend Oreille County near the spot where he nearly froze to death two years earlier.
However, records from the State Department of Corrections show that Stoddard was not convicted of that case. According to a search of Pend Oreille records, the prosecutor at the time declined to charge Stoddard based on those kidnap and rape allegations.
In June 2003, local detectives sought to have prosecutors charge Stoddard with third-degree rape of a child. However, court records indicate that the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office declined to file charges.
A month later in 2003, a federal arrest warrant was issued alleging that Stoddard violated his conditions of release. But U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle quashed that arrest warrant based on a recent court ruling that indicated that the judge no longer had jurisdiction over the case.
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