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Pew: States that put more people in prison actually cut crime less than states that didn’t…

A new analysis from the Pew Charitable Trusts shows that states like Idaho, which sharply increased its incarceration rate between 1994 and 2012, had no greater drop in crime than states like New York, which sharply cut its incarceration rate during the same time period. “States that decreased their imprisonment rates cut crime more than states that increased imprisonment,” the Pew Trusts reported.

New York’s incarceration rate fell 24 percent from 1994 to 2012; its crime rate fell 54 percent.

Idaho’s incarceration rate increased 103 percent during that same time period; its crime rate fell 46 percent. Idaho saw the third-highest increase in incarceration rates in the nation during that time, exceeded only by North Dakota and West Virginia. New York had the biggest drop in incarceration rates, and tied with Florida for the biggest drop in crime rates.

“Despite the conventional wisdom, states are showing that it is possible to cut incarceration rates without comprising public safety,” said Adam Gelb, director of Pew’s Public Safety Performance Project. The project looked at changes since the 1994 Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act, which led to large increases in imprisonment.

“The crime bill paid billions for new prisons but with nearly 1 in 100 American adults behind bars, we’ve reached a point of diminishing returns,” Gelb said. “There’s now broad bipartisan consensus behind alternatives for lower-level offenders that cost less and do a better job cutting recidivism.” That’s been the focus in Idaho’s new Justice Reinvestment Project, which is seeking to remake Idaho’s justice system to reserve prison space for the most dangerous offenders, find better alternatives for the less-dangerous ones, and reduce rampant recidivism, or repeat offense. That project, backed by all three branches of Idaho’s state government, won legislative approval this past year; it’s aimed at heading off the need to build a big new multimillion-dollar state prison in the next five years.

Pew found that the five states with the largest drops in their incarceration rate saw an average 45 percent drop in crime over the time period. The five states with the largest increases in their incarceration rate saw an average 27 percent drop in crime over that same period. Every state except West Virginia saw drops in crime rates; Pew said leading criminal justice experts say factors other than increasing incarceration – including declining demand for crack cocaine, better policing, technological advances, and reductions in lead exposure – likely contributed to the drop in crime. You can see Pew's 50-state comparison here.

Felon chucks allegedly stolen firearm in chase

A 26-year-old Spokane man with multiple felony convictions tossed a .45 handgun believed to have been stolen during a chase through a residential neighborhood Friday, according to court documents filed this week.

Joshua V. Fowler was booked into Spokane County Jail just after 4:30 p.m. Friday facing charges of attempting to elude police and unlawful possession of a firearm. A Spokane police officer, who said he recognized Fowler from multiple interactions, attempted to pull the 26-year-old over on suspicions he was driving with a suspended license.

“(Fowler) is as familiar with me and my Police Impala as I am with him,” the officer wrote in his report.

Fowler fled, according to the officer's statement, leading him on a car chase through an apartment complex parking lot, reaching speeds of 45 miles per hour. Fowler eventually left the car and reached for his waist, according to court documents. He was arrested nearby without incident.

The officer found the handgun and some ammunition in a bush nearby. The gun is believed to have been stolen in a residential burglary, according to court documents.

Fowler has three forgery convictions and a conviction for eluding police. Spokane Superior Court Judge Linda Tompkins set his bail at $5,000 on Monday. He remains in custody.

Spokane man arrested for defecating on Kennewick sidewalk

A 71-year-old homeless man from Spokane was arrested in Kennewick this weekend for defecating on a public sidewalk.

The man, who is not named in a report from The Tri-City Herald, reportedly told the arresting officer, “When you have to go, you have to go.”

The man was waiting for a bus on the west side of town around 11:30 a.m. when he decided to drop trou, according to the Herald. Several witnesses were present, and the man was taken into custody without incident.

Donovan Simons Jr., 71, was booked into the Benton County Jail for what is described as a “municipal code violation” shortly after 12:30 p.m. Sunday, according to jail records. Simons has criminal history in Spokane County and appeared in Benton County District Court on Monday, according to state court records. He was ordered held on $1,000 bond.

Cheney couple faces animal cruelty charges

Prosecutors have filed animal cruelty charges against the Cheney couple who owned multiple animals, including horses and a llama, seized during a search of their property last month.

Terri Marlin, 51, and Thomas Marlin, 53, face multiple animal cruelty criminal counts following an investigation into the conditions at their property at 23239 S. Cross Road in July. Authorities were initially alerted to the couple, who have an extensive history of animal abuse complaints, after several emaciated horses appeared at the Cheney Rodeo Grounds during a wildfire evacuation.

Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Services seized two horses, a llama, eight dogs and six cats from the residence. The Marlins face seventeen criminal counts apiece, including first-degree animal cruelty, second-degree animal cruelty and confining an animal in an unsafe manner, according to a news release from SCRAPS. First-degree animal cruelty is a felony, while the other charges are misdemeanors.

Wanted man flips plain-clothes cop the bird

A wanted man was jailed earlier this month after he swore at and gave the finger to a plain-clothes sheriff's detective, then struck the detective and ran, according to court documents.

David E. Lee, 22, is in custody at the Geiger Corrections Facility. He faces charges of assaulting a police officer, obstruction and resisting arrest after a series of events around 8 p.m. on July 9 near Mount Spokane High School.

Lee was a passenger in a Chevy sedan that came upon two trucks, one pulled off to the side of North Lowe Road so the driver could take a photo of the sunset, she told investigators. The driver of the sedan sped past the two trucks, at which time Lee yelled profanity and “flipping the finger,” witnesses said. The driver of the second truck, Spokane County Sheriff's detective Shannon McCrillis, pulled the sedan over for a traffic stop.

A woman inside the car told police Lee asked whether McCrillis was a “real cop” because he had warrants out for his arrest. McCrillis said Lee was not compliant with his commands to keep his hands where he could see them during the stop, and when he tried to take Lee into custody on his warrants, the 22-year-old struck the detective with his elbow and ran to the woods nearby.

Police dog Laslo was eventually called in to take Lee into custody. Drug paraphernalia was found in a bag belonging to Lee inside the car, according to police reports.

Suspected van burner leaves trail of hard lemonade for police

A 60-year-old Spokane man was arrested on suspicions of arson after investigators found empty cans of Mike's Hard Lemonade at the scene of a scorching van and in the man's vehicle.

Steven Klemz was booked into Spokane County Jail early Thursday morning facing charges of arson and malicious mischief. Police were initially called to a home in the 6900 block of North G Street on Wednesday night around 10 p.m., according to court documents, after a home owner and Stemz got into an argument about yard work. An officer asked Stemz to leave, and he complied.

About two hours later, the home owner called police to say a van outside her home had been set ablaze and the tires of her nearby Chevy sedan slashed. The hoses in the yard had also been cut to prevent her from dousing the flames and the area was soaked in gasoline, she told investigators.

A neighbor reported hearing a bang shortly before midnight, shortly before the fire was reported. The neighbor also reported seeing Klemz in the yard. Found in a van nearby, Klemz denied involvement in the fire, but police found an empty Mike's Hard Lemonade can matching those found near the scene of the cut hoses and an empty gas can near the site of the fires.

Klemz's criminal history in Spokane County includes a burglary conviction in the 1970s, according to court records.

North Idaho Crime Outpaces Boise

Sheriff Ben Wolfinger patrols the streets during recent Coeur d'Alene 4th of July activities. (SR file photo)

North Idaho has the highest crime rate in the state, eclipsing the Boise area, according to the state’s latest crime statistics. It’s a trend that’s been growing in recent years. The Boise area had a much higher crime rate than the Panhandle as recently as 2008, but since then, North Idaho’s rate has surged as the state’s overall crime rates have dropped. “Our guys are working hard and they’re doing a good job, but it’s just trying to keep up is the hard part,” said Kootenai County Sheriff Ben Wolfinger. One factor: Kootenai County is becoming part of a Spokane-North Idaho metropolitan area, rather than an isolated, more rural area with a seasonal influx of visitors/Betsy Z. Russell, Eye on Boise. More here.

Question: Do you feel less safe today in Kootenai County than you did 10 years ago?

Suspected robber uses spoils to spoil mother

A 24-year-old man used a credit card he swiped from a Spokane Valley shopper in a strong-arm April robbery to buy a Mother's Day present online, according to investigators.

Spokane Valley authorities searched several residences last week looking for Damian Plumley and evidence of the April 24 incident. A woman said she was walking from her car following a shopping trip when a man matching Plumley's description bumped her from behind, knocking her to the ground. The man took her purse, which contained several credit cards.

Detectives learned those credit cards were used to buy items at a local convenience store and at several department stores' websites. While searching Plumley's residence in the 11000 block of East Fourth Avenue, police found an electric tea kettle they confirmed was bought using the robbery victim's credit card.

Plumley's mother told police her son had bought it for her as a Mother's Day gift.

Plumley is in custody of the Spokane County Jail facing charges of robbery, identity theft, leaving the scene of an injury accident and possession of stolen property.

Second man accused of selling heroin arrested

Spokane police arrested 55-year-old Ernie Hern this week, the second of a pair accused of selling heroin out of a residence in the East Central neighborhood through March of last year.

Hern faces multiple possession and sale of drug charges after police used a confidential informant to buy heroin from him in January 2013, according to court documents. The informant allegedly twice bought heroin at home in the 200 block of Fiske Street, once from Hern and a second time a month later from Timothy Price, 36.

When authorities raided the house in March 2013, Price was there, but Hern wasn't. Price was arrested and scheduled to be arraigned, but never showed up, according to court records. He was taken back into custody last month and has pleaded not guilty to a drug trafficking charge.

Both Hern and Price have criminal histories that include past drug charges. Prosecutors are asking Hern be held on $1,000 bond in the new charge.

Man pleads guilty to child pornography charges in federal court

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly named the man who pleaded guilty Monday. The story has been updated to correct the error.

A Spokane man caught by the Secret Service engaging in online trading of child pornography faces a five-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to a federal felony charge Monday.

Ryan Raymond Joseph Comerford will have to register as a sex offender in compliance with a plea deal reached in U.S. District Court. Comerford was indicted in September on multiple child pornography counts after a Secret Service sting revealed evidence he was using a peer-to-peer network to receive explicit images and videos featuring children.

Comerford pleaded not guilty to the charges and was released pending trial, which was scheduled for next week. He admitted using marijuana in violation of his release conditions, and was arrested again in January.

Defense attorneys were provided with the digital evidence in the case last month.

As part of the agreement, Comerford will remain on probation for 20 years after his release and be barred from contact with minors. A judge is expected to rule on the agreement in July.

Suspected drunken driver crashes near off-duty deputy’s home

A man suspected of drunken driving had his keys confiscated by an off-duty Spokane County Sheriff's Deputy who witnessed the man trying to drive over some boulders near Liberty Park, according to court documents.

Wayne Pederson crashed his Toyota pickup near a trailhead at the park just south of Interstate 90 in Central Spokane earlier this week. A sheriff's deputy who was home at the time of the crash left his home to find Pederson trying to drive over a boulder that was blocking the trail, he told investigating officers.

Pederson then fell out of his truck, according to court documents. The deputy took Pederson's keys and called law enforcement, who arrived and conducted a sobriety test. The investigating officer listed Pederson's level of impairment as “obvious.”

Pederson refused a breathalyzer and blood draw at the scene, according to court documents.

Would-be booze robber leaves store without liquor, freedom

A man accused of stealing a $13 bottle of vodka from a Spokane grocery store was arrested on suspicion of first-degree robbery after he allegedly punched a clerk and heaved the liquor bottle into the road.

Chad Burk, 40, was arrested late Friday after witnesses said he left a Safeway store on North Market Street without paying for his alcohol. A clerk watched Burk grab a bottle of vodka and a can of beer, walk to the frozen foods section and place the can of beer inside. Burk placed the vodka in his jacket and walked out without paying, according to the store clerk.

The clerk chased Burk out of the store, where Burk allegedly punched him twice and pushed him up against a wall. The employee wrestled Burk to the ground when police arrived.

At some point during the altercation, Burk threw the vodka into the street, according to court records.

Burk was released from custody without bond this weekend. He is expected to make a first-appearance on the charge against him Monday afternoon.

Man arrested on DUI suspicion blames mom who isn’t there

A man arrested after crashing his vehicle and refusing a breathalyzer test earlier this week blamed the accident on his mother, who was nowhere near the scene of the accident.

Larry Coleman was found by Liberty Lake firefighters sitting behind the steering wheel of his car, which was resting in a snowy ditch along Interstate 90 around 6 p.m. Monday, according to court documents. Coleman was not injured and was the only person in the car when law enforcement arrived.

When a Washington State Patrol office arrived, Coleman had moved to the passenger's seat, according to court documents. He told the patrolman his mother had been driving at the time of the one-vehicle accident and that she'd started walking along the highway toward Liberty Lake following the crash.

Liberty Lake police officers and firefighters found no woman on the highway, according to court records.

Coleman admitted to drinking a couple beers and refused a breathalyzer test after speaking with an attorney. A court order was signed to test his blood for intoxicants and he was arrested, according to court documents.

Where Spokane’s homicides occurred in 2013

According to Spokesman-Review reporting, local law enforcement investigated 23 deaths as homicides in and near Spokane County in 2013. Public safety reporters Kip Hill, Kaitlin Gillespie and others kept track of each of the cases, and we're making our records available to you below.


Blue icon: Case has been resolved, either through legal procedures or the death of a suspect.
Yellow icon: A suspect (or suspect) is (are) in custody, and the case is moving through the legal process.
Red icon: No suspects have been apprehended to date.

Click on the icon to learn more about the case, and visit the Google spreadsheet for specific case details and customize the map to your preferences. As a companion to this piece, the Spokesman-Review is also publishing a list and map of the homicides involving law enforcement officers in 2013.

How religion cuts crime

People who regularly visit a place of worship are less likely to get involved in low level crime and delinquency, according to new research.

A survey from Manchester University found a direct correlation between higher visits to religious places and lower crime figures, especially in relation to shoplifting, drug use and music piracy.

Researchers believe this is because religion not only teaches people about 'moral and behavioural norms', but also spending time with like-minded people makes it less likely they'll get mixed up with the 'wrong crowd'. Read more. Daily Mail

The study found people who visit places of worship commit fewer crimes— the more frequent the visits, the lower the chance of deliquent behaviour.

How often do you visit a place of worship?


  

SpongeBob robber sentenced to 13 years

A Worley man who donned a cartoon character mask to rob an espresso stand in Coeur d’Alene last year will spend at least four years behind bars.

Kyle Ernest Campbell, 25, wore a SpongeBob SquarePants mask when he robbed Lean Bean Espresso at 1207 E. Sherman Ave. on Jan. 30, 2013.

Campbell, who pleaded guilty to armed robbery on Oct. 3, entered the stand armed with a handgun and demanded money from employees, who complied. He then fled on foot.

He was sentenced Monday by 1st District Judge Lansing Haynes to a prison term of four years fixed and another nine years indeterminate, with credit for time served.

Campbell has a lengthy arrest history, primarily on tribal charges, but only two convictions – for misdemeanor careless driving and minor in possession of alcohol, the Kootenai County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office said.

He acknowledged he has a substance abuse problem, the prosecutor’s office added.

Death threat against grandma lands robber back in jail

A 23-year-old man who pleaded guilty earlier this year to robbing a woman at gunpoint in a Spokane Valley nail salon will likely face a longer prison sentence after police say he threatened to shoot his 80-year-old grandmother.

Kyle Henriksen was booked into Spokane County Jail last week after police said he violated conditions of his release. Henriksen was scheduled for sentencing in an armed robbery that occurred at the Super Nails salon at 1525 N. Pines Road on Dec. 28. Witnesses said a man walked into the salon, clad in a black hooded sweatshirt and wearing sunglasses, and pointed a gun at a woman getting a pedicure, demanding her purse.

The thief fled the scene on foot, and the woman identified Henriksen as the likely suspect. After trying to pin the robbery on an acquaintance, Henriksen eventually admitted to carrying out the robbery.

A few days after the robbery, police pulled Henriksen over for a broken tail light. They found drug paraphernalia and a blue powder that Henriksen said was “probably Oxycontin,” but said it didn't belong to him. Henriksen was also arrested later in July for leading police on a chase that ended at the apartment he was sharing with his grandmother.

Court records show Henriksen pleaded guilty to the December 2012 robbery in September. Sentencing in the case was scheduled for Nov. 18, in which prosecutors anticipated seeking the lower end of the sentencing range for first-degree robbery: 87 months, or a little over seven years.

But on Oct. 23, police were called to Henriksen's apartment on accusations he'd threatened to shoot his grandmother. When they arrived, the grandmother told police that Henriksen was pawning all of her possessions and had attempted to unplug her big-screen television so he could sell it. When she resisted, he yelled “I'll shoot you,” she told police.

Henriksen said his grandmother misunderstood what he said. He also told police he had a drug problem and said they would find drug paraphernalia under the cushions of a sofa in the home where he'd been sleeping. Police later arrested him for driving with a suspended license.

Police arrested Henriksen in 2009 when, as a 19-year-old, he assaulted two men who said they were attempting to return a purse belonging to Henriksen's girlfriend. Armed with a handgun, Henriksen struck one of the men in the face, causing the gun to fire and strike his jaw, according to previous news reports. Henriksen pleaded guilty to two counts of assault in the incident in December 2010, according to court records.

Court records show sentencing has not yet occurred in the December 2012 robbery case. Henriksen is being held in the Spokane County Jail.

Investigation turns up bomb-making materials at Boise home

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The investigation of a domestic dispute led Boise police to discover more than 100 pounds of bomb-making material in the crawl space of the suspect's house. Police say 32-year-old Joshua J. Finch was arrested Wednesday morning on suspicion of two counts of felony kidnapping. During the kidnapping investigation, police learned Finch might have explosive materials. A search of a residence found bomb-making materials that officials say were in various bomb-making stages. Several roads in the area of Finch's house were closed and police asked the residents of 21 homes to voluntarily evacuate. Residents were able to return to their homes at around midnight. Officials say charges related to the explosives are expected to be filed Thursday.

Today’s lesson? Don’t spit on cops

A man wanted on an outstanding Department of Corrections warrant faces new charges after he spat on two Spokane police officers.

Lance C. Anderson, 35, was arrested Monday and taken to Deaconess Hospital for medical clearance before being booked at Spokane County Jail, according to an affidavit. Anderson was disorderly and spat at two of the police officers arresting him.

Anderson now faces two felony charges of third-degree assault for the spitting.

Lawmaker’s family goes from grief to forgiveness

State Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis and his wife, Marion, know grief, having buried their 23-year-old son a decade ago, reports AP reporter John Miller; they've come to know forgiveness, too. Davis and his family have decided not to oppose parole for their son's killer, a fellow BSU student who shot Davis' son to death at a party in 2003 after an argument. Now, 32-year-old Vincent Craig Olsen could leave the South Idaho Correctional Institution by next week. Click below for Miller's full report.

Pill theft plants 52-year-old Spokane man in jail

The alleged theft of a $2 bottle of ibuprofen could lead to weeks of legal headaches for a Spokane man.

Michael Ewing was arrested Saturday after an undercover officer at an East Central grocery store said he saw the 52-year-old sneak a bottle of off-brand painkillers into his pants pocket. The officer approached Ewing when he went to pay for other purchases, and several witnesses said when the officer informed Ewing he would be placed under arrest, he began swinging his fists wildly, striking the officer in the eye. Store employees and the officer eventually subdued Ewing by placing him in handcuffs, according to court documents.

Prosecutors initially sought a charge of first-degree robbery for Ewing, who has two prior felony convictions back in the late 1970s. But at a first appearance in Spokane County Superior Court on Monday, Judge James Triplet ruled prosecutors had only proven probable cause for lesser charges of assault and theft.

Ewing was released from custody without bail. He is due in court to address the charges later this month.

Trial begins in NorthTown Mall molestation case

A Spokane jury will likely decide this week whether a 56-year-old man with a criminal history of indecent acts with minors will spend the rest of his life in prison.

The trial of Richard Payne, accused of inappropriately touching and exposing himself to a five-year-old girl at a NorthTown Mall arcade in June 2012, began today with jury selection in Spokane County Superior Court Judge Kathleen O'Connor's courtroom. The proceedings, expected to last a week or less, have been delayed multiple times by defense motions seeking to suppress comments Payne made to investigators and keep some details of his criminal history from jurors.

To read more about this item, go inside the blog.

Hydroplanes Took Bite Out Of Crime

Believe it or not, the 2013 Coeur d'Alene Diamond Cup event appears to have taken a bite out of crime. “I was just looking at the bookings, and there weren't as many bookings this weekend as we would ordinarily have on a weekend,” Kootenai County Sheriff Ben Wolfinger said Tuesday. In fact, other than one arrest for boating under the influence, and one vehicle that was towed for blocking traffic, parking tickets made up the worst Diamond Cup offenses over the holiday weekend. “Other than that, we had very few calls for service related to the hydroplane races,” said Coeur d'Alene Police Sgt. Christie Wood/Jeff Selle, Coeur d'Alene Press. More here.

Question: Sounds like we can finally put riots of the 60s in rear-view mirror, right?

Jailed Ridpath developer wants trial moved

Spokane developer Greg Jeffreys, who is jailed on federal charges alleging that he defrauded investors of millions of dollars, has asked a judge for a change of venue for his trial, arguing that local media “has saturated the Spokane area with prejudicial and inflammatory remarks.”

Citing primarily Spokesman-Review coverage, Jeffreys argued that half of the county’s potential jury pool had been tainted with information unrelated to the trial. The motion also cited the case against former Spokane Police Officer Karl Thompson, in which Thompson’s trial was moved to Yakima in 2011 after five years of “intense media coverage.” Thompson was found guilty of excessive use of force for his role in the death of Otto Zehm in 2006.

In a response to Jeffreys’ request, the government, through U.S. Attorney Michael Ormsby, said claims of a prejudiced jury pool were “wholly overstated” and asked the judge to reject the request.

U.S. District Judge Rosanna Peterson will hear the request on Sept. 10 at 10 a.m.

The judge will also hear a motion from Jeffreys to suppress evidence, including oral statements from Jeffreys, because they were a “direct result of an illegal search and seizure” of Jeffreys’ 10,000-square-foot home by 24 law enforcement agents on July 19, 2012, as well of Jeffreys’ person when he was arrested at the airport on Jan. 30.

Jeffreys is known for his central role in a development plan of the Ridpath Hotel. He faces 73 felony charges ranging from bank fraud to theft, though none relate to the shuttered downtown high-rise.

After violating previous orders by a judge and threatening a business associate and FBI special agent, Judge Peterson ruled that Jeffreys must remain in jail until his January trial.

Crime Stoppers identifies ten new fugitives

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Crime Stoppers of the Inland Northwest are looking for ten fugitives, three of whom are active, repeat offenders.

Repeat offender suspects are those criminals considered by law enforcement to be the most active offenders in the community, according to Crime Stoppers. There is a double reward for repeat offenders.

Crime Stoppers fugitives are wanted criminal suspects avoiding police capture. Do not approach them. They should only be contacted by law enforcement.

Anyone with information about these fugitive's whereabouts is asked to call the Crime Stoppers Tip Line at 1-800-222-TIPS. Tipsters don't have to give their name to collect the fugitive reward.

Coeur d’Alene police need help finding an armed robbery suspect

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Coeur d'Alene police released security camera video of a man who robbed an espresso stand in Coeur d'Alene on Tuesday and Crime Stoppers is offering a cash reward for information leading to his arrest.

At about 5:30 p.m., a man pointed a gun and demanded money from a clerk working at the Lean Bean at 1820 Northwest Blvd., according to a news release.

The suspect fled on foot toward the 1000 block of Emma Avenue, the release said. He was last seen wearing blue jeans, a gray hooded sweatshirt and shoes with red laces.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Coeur d’Alene Police Department at 208-769-2320 or Crime Stoppers at 208-667-2111 or 1-800-222-TIPS.

Sheriff’s office needs help identifying potential suspect in burglary

The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office needs help identifying a potential suspect in a residential burglary.

On Sunday, the sheriff’s office received a report of a residential burglary on West Rockwell Avenue, according to a press release. The victim reported credit cards and other items were stolen.

A potential suspect used one of the credit cards at the Walmart on 5025 E. Sprague Ave. in Spokane Valley to purchase a flat screen television on Tuesday, according the release.

Photos were taken from parking loc surveillance footage. Anyone with information about the incident or who can help identify the suspect is asked to call Deputy Scott Streltzoff at 509-241-5485.

Alleged burglar picks wrong target - squad car with officers just feet away…

Of all the targets for a burglary, a Nyssa, Ore. man picked one of the worst early Sunday morning. He was in downtown Boise at 6th and Main streets at 2:15 a.m. – a busy time, just after the bars close – and police officers in marked cars were on the scene, responding to a report of a hit-and-run collision with a bicyclist, who turned out not to be badly hurt. The officers were just feet away from their car, interviewing people including numerous witnesses, when Juan Jose Vasquez, 25, allegedly opened the front passenger door of the squad car, leaned in and started rummaging through the officers’ stuff. The officers saw him, shouted at him and grabbed him, and he was holding a metal box containing paperwork and supplies for writing police reports that he’d picked up from the passenger seat.

Now Vasquez is in the Ada County Jail facing a felony burglary charge; he was appointed a public defender and has a preliminary hearing set for June 24. “Usually officers are not very far away from their vehicles,” said Boise Police spokeswoman Lynn Hightower, making burglarizing a squad car on-scene “not a good idea.”

How he did it: Idaho inmate pulls off major financial fraud from behind bars

It’s clear that Mark Brown is a smart guy, maybe even borderline brilliant. But what’s astounding is the way he apparently pulled off a major, years-long financial fraud, taking in big corporations, courts and attorneys across the nation, all from behind bars in an Idaho prison cell.

Brown had no access to the Internet and appears to have had no accomplices or outside help. Instead, investigators believe he used a cherished electric typewriter that he was allowed to keep in his small, spare cell, and legal ads found in national newspapers including the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, to make fraudulent claims in big class-action lawsuits and bankruptcies. The story is detailed in my two-part series in The Spokesman-Review’s Sunday and Monday editions; you can read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here

Brown is alleged to have typed up professional-looking legal documents, false letters from law firms and more, and made skillful use of the “legal mail” exception for inmates that allows for correspondence with attorneys and judges without review from prison staff. Big checks poured in – Brown’s take in multiparty lawsuits including a $70 million GlaxoSmithKline drug-pricing settlement and a $20 million IBM shareholders’ settlement. Authorities say Brown collected close to $64,000 through those settlements and deposited the money in his prison trust account, which inmates can use for things like commissary purchases. He then transferred much of it out to an investment account that authorities have targeted for potential forfeiture.

The behind-bars operation caught authorities by surprise. “We screen our mail pretty well, but he also was running a pretty good scam here,” said Cpl. Wesley Heckathorn, a guard at the Idaho Correctional Institution in Orofino and former longtime U.S. Navy investigator who helped uncover Brown’s alleged fraud. Brown is now facing a 12-count federal indictment for mail fraud and awaiting a September trial, while authorities at both Idaho’s state prison system and the nation’s largest private prison operator, Corrections Corp. of America, scratch their heads over how he allegedly pulled it off.

Some who know Brown, however, aren’t surprised. “Mark is just so bright,” said Terry Rich, who hired Brown in 1994, when Brown was briefly out on parole, to work at his Boise high-tech firm. “He is so slippery, and he’s so believable, one of the most charming people you’ll meet. … If you let Mark sit around and think too much, this is what happens.” Brown was a promising 23-year-old computer science student at the University of Idaho when he first went to prison with a 20-year sentence for theft; now, he’s 53, still in prison, and never likely to get out.

Boise Police arrest suspect in 15-year-old cold case, Kay Lynn Jackson’s murder

Fifteen years after she was killed while walking along the Boise Greenbelt on her way to church, carrying a Bible, the Boise Police today arrested a suspect in the murder of 22-year-old Kay Lynn Jackson.  Patrick Jon Zacharias, 40, has been charged with 1st degree murder and rape in Jackson’s death. Police said the break in the case came when a DNA test conducted on Zacharias, who has been serving time at the Idaho State Correctional Institution since an unrelated conviction in 2007, was entered into a national crime information database and came up as a match.

Jackson was killed on the morning of Palm Sunday in 1998. “The lead detective, Mark Ayotte, has worked this case since Kay Lynn’s death,” Boise Deputy Police Chief Pete Ritter said at a news conference today. “His case files have stayed on his desk, never more than an arm’s length away. Detective Ayotte led a team that includes officers, investigators and support staff from Boise, all over Idaho and indeed all over the country. Their hard work has led to this critical point in a case that has touched so many lives for 15 years.” You can read the BPD’s full news release and statements here.

Jackson's murder was the first of three on the Greenbelt in which women were raped and murdered over a three-year period; it was the last of the three to remain unsolved. Darrell Payne received a death sentence for the July 2000 murder of BSU student Samantha Kay Maher, 22; and Erick Virgil Hall was sentenced to death for the September 2000 rape and murder of Lynn Henneman, a flight attendant who was walking from a restaurant to her hotel when she was killed.