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Homicidal rampage leaves layers of tragedy

Tragedy struck Rebecca Schiering early and often in life.

The Spokane Valley woman struggled with drug addiction and abuse for years but picked herself up, escaping the crime-addled father of her twin boys.

That part of her life was a distant memory when he was killed in a drug-related robbery four years ago.  But despite her best efforts, tragedy struck the 36-year-old and her children again this weekend.

Police say her ex-fiancé, a seemingly stable mechanical engineer who once embraced her children as his own, ended her life in a violent rampage that also killed one of her 9-year-old twin boys and left her teenage son with knife wounds to his neck.

The second twin, who is autistic, was not harmed in the attack and is staying with family.

“Her children were her inspiration,” said Schiering’s aunt, Bonnie Bickler, who traveled to Spokane from Billings.

She said the boys, like the rest of the family, are struggling.

 “We’re just trying to get our arms around it,” Bickler said. “It’s just so hard to deal with.”

Police believe Jan R. DeMeerleer (left), 39, shot Schiering and 9-year-old Phillip Schiering in the woman’s duplex at 622 N. Ella Road before trying to cut the teen, who called 911 about 3 a.m.

Read the rest of my story here.

Past coverage:

July 19: Suspect found dead after 2 killed, 1 injured

Crenshaw defense could begin this week

After earlier conceding his client’s guilt in a grisly double homicide, defense lawyer Chris Bugbee had no questions Monday for the lead detective in the case against 22-year-old Justin W. Crenshaw. 

Now in its second week, the trial has included testimony from Crenshaw’s aunt, Kate, and his sister, Nikki Vanvlyman, who said she’s drank with Crenshaw and observed no bizarre behavior, witnesses said. Crenshaw’s defense against two aggravated murder charges - and life in prison with no parole - for the Feb. 28, 2008, deaths of 20-year-old Tanner E. Pehl (bottom right) and 18-year-old Sarah A. Clark (below) hinges on his claim that he has a condition that causes him to act bizarre and violent after ingesting even a small amount of alcohol.

Prosecutor Jack Driscoll said he hopes to finish the state’s case by Wednesday.

Along with Detective Jim Dresback, Detective Doug Marske testified Monday about bloody clothing found inside a plastic container in Kate Crenshaw’s garage in April 2008. The blood-soaked jeans were still moist when Marske pulled them from the plastic bag.

As Driscoll emphasized in his opening statement, on the jeans was a belt that read “Trust No One” and was adorned with broken hearts, a gun, along with a heart with a dagger sticking through it.

Also Monday, Amanda Wynona, who was renting a room in Pehl’s basement at 512 E. Elm Road, testified that she had briefly met Crenshaw two nights before the killings. He had come over to drink with Clark, Pehl and a couple other people.

“I guess Justin was new in town and Tanner wanted to introduce him to people,” she said.

Crenshaw had moved to Spokane a couple weeks before from Las Vegas to reunite with Vanvlyman, who was close friends with Clark. Crenshaw talked to Wynona about Clark.

“He said that they started seeing each other but he wasn’t interested in her,” she said as she started to cry. Clark, a senior at Mead High School, was to graduate that spring.

Her family and friends fill the courtroom each day, along with Pehl’s. Crenshaw’s grandmother also is attending the trial.

July 13: Jurors see swords used in double slaying

July 12: Crenshaw double-murder trial begins today

Crack addict gets 10 years for murder

A homeless crack cocaine addict from the Seattle area will spend 10 years in prison for his role in the stabbing death of a man he and an acquaintance planned to rob for drug money.

Aaron D. Lyon, 30, was sentenced to 123 months in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder last week. 

Terry L. Conner, 53, (pictured) was sentenced to 31 years in prison last month after pleading guilty to first-degree murder and second-degree burglary. 

The men killed Timothy G. Eby, 50, in an apartment at 2614 E. 3rd Ave. on Dec. 7, 2008. A woman staying in their hotel room at 1303 E. Sprague said she was awakened by Conner yelling at Lyon after the murder, saying Eby should have had $2,000, according o court documents.

When the woman asked what was wrong, Conner “grabbed her by the sweatshirt and said that he just ‘stabbed the (expletive deleted) 15 times for $7.25, what do you think of that you dumb (expletive deleted)?”

A man who was living with Eby said he’d recently met Lyon, who was a drug addict from Seattle. Lyon is in the Spokane County Jail awaiting transport to prison.

Ferry Co. man convicted in ‘07 fatal shooting

A Ferry County man faces at least 11 years in prison after a jury convicted him of recklessly killing a man who’d let him stay at his rural home.

Philip J. “Jeb” Strong was convicted Monday of first-degree manslaughter for the April 2007 death of Trent V. Irby, 37.

Strong had been living with Irby and Irby’s girlfriend at the home on Tonasket Creek Road about 20 miles north of Republic, Wash., but the couple had asked them to move out.

Strong claimed self defense and “claimed that he was harassed by the victim on numerous occasions leading up the use of force,” said Strong’s lawyer, Stephen Graham. Strong was originally convicted of second-degree murder, but that was overturned on appeal because the jury didn’t have the option of manslaughter, Graham said.

“The prosecution’s contention was that Strong simply snapped and went in there and executed the guy,” Graham said.

But Graham said Irby had a gun that his girlfriend hid from police, because both were felons prohibited from possessing firearms.

Strong has been in the Ferry County Jail since his arrest. He faces 11.5 to 13.5 years in prison when he’s sentenced today.

Past coverage:

April 6, 2007: First-degree murder charges planned in shooting

Cable show to feature Yates serial killer case

The case of a Spokane serial killer who stalked prostitutes in the 1990s will be featured on a cable TV show next week. 

Death row inmate Robert Lee Yates, Jr., a former Army helicopter pilot and state prison guard, will be the subject of an hour-long episode of “Unusual Suspects” on Investigation Discovery, a sister channel to the Discovery Channel.

Yates (pictured) was a married father of five children when police detectives identified him as a serial killer who killed 10 women in Spokane between 1996 and 1998.

Yates confessed to 13 murders and was sentenced in 2000 to 408 years after Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker declined to seek the death penalty.

But the Pierce County prosecutor charged Yates with two murders there, and Yates was sentenced to death in 2002. He remains on death row at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.

The cable TV show calls Yates the “monster in Spokane.”

A news release reads: “A multi-agency task force follows every possible lead, and they gather the murder weapon, a sketch of the killer, and even his DNA, but investigators still have no suspect. Finally, the reexamination of an old clue helps investigators zero in on the culprit. Can they discover the identity of this unlikely murderer before he strikes again?” Sorry to spoil it for you.

The episode airs Monday at 10 p.m. and includes interviews with retired Spokane County sheriff’s detectives Rick Grabenstein and Fred Ruetsch, as well as Detective John Miller of the Spokane Police Department, Lynn Everson of the Spokane Regional Health District, and retired sheriff’s Capt. Doug Silver.

Fatal gang shots fired outside activist’s home

Gunfire awoke Spokane community activist Cheryl Steele just after midnight Tuesday. 

The founder of the city’s first police substation looked out a window of her home at 2105 W. Boone Ave. and saw a bleeding man laying near her neighbor’s front yard.

Police later identified him as 29-year Nathan D. “Trigger” Gilstrap (left): the city of Spokane’s third homicide victim this year. No suspects have been identified.

Gilstrap’s murder comes after months of deteriorating conditions in the West Central Neighborhood, Steele said.

She started the first police substation in 1992 after two neighborhood girls were kidnapped and murdered. Crime dropped over the next 15 years, Steele said, but assaults, drug houses and gang graffiti are on the raise again as volunteers at the police stations decline.

Read the rest of my story here.

Jurors see swords used in double slaying

Jurors today saw gruesome photos of two young Spokane people slain by a Las Vegas man who claims to suffer from a rare disorder. 

Two swords used in the murders of 18-year-old Sarah A. Clark and 20-year-old Tanner E. Pehl were displayed for the 16 jurors - four are alternates - this morning, along with photos of the deceased.

Clark was found under a blanket slumped next to a bed by a nightstand with her head nearly severed; a Samurai sword was resting on her neck, but detectives believe killer Justin W. Crenshaw (pictured) placed it there after she was dead. About six cut wounds were found on her neck; a firefighter who first found her body testified Monday that it appeared her throat had been cut.

Pehl was found in the hallway with a broadsword through his chest that investigators say was inflicted after he died and after his body had been covered by a blanket. Detective Mike Drapeau displayed the swords, which already were in the home the night of the murders, during testimony today.

Also testifying were witnesses who heard screams coming from the Pehl home about 3:40 a.m. The fire, which Crenshaw set after the murders, was reported at 4:30 a.m.

Crenshaw, 22 and a recovering heroin addict, faces life in prison if convicted of two counts of aggravated first-degree murder.

Defense attorney Chris Bugbee is asking jurors to convict the killer of a lesser charge, citing a rare disorder called alcohol idiosyncratic intoxication. Crenshaw had been in Spokane about two weeks when Clark and Pehl were slain on Feb. 28, 2008. He was here visiting his sister, who was close friends with Clark, and got a job at a restaurant where Pehl worked.

Past coverage

July 13: Crenshaw defense admits slayings

July 12: Crenshaw double murder trial begins today

Killer: Trust no one, broken hearts, knives

When detectives found the clothes admitted killer Justin Crenshaw wore during the slayings of Sarah Clark and Tanner Pehl, they found a clue that Spokane County Chief Criminal Prosecutor Jack Driscoll emphasized at the trial’s opening this morning.

 Inside the plastic container with the bloody jeans and black Nike shoes was a belt “that had the symbol: Trust no one, broken hearts and knives,” Driscoll said.

The belt belonged to Crenshaw.

Driscoll stopped short of offering a motive for the heinous crimes during his opening statement but said evidence will lead jurors to one conclusion: 22-year-old Crenshaw is guilty of two counts of first-degree murder with aggravating circumstances.

Crenshaw doesn’t deny killing 18-year-old Clark and 20-year-old Pehl on Feb. 28, 2008. But he has no memory of it, said defense attorney Chris Bugbee, and did not plan the murders because he suffers from a rare disorder that causes bizarre and often violent behavior after ingesting alcohol.

“Mr. Crenshaw is responsible for the deaths of Sarah Clark and Tanner Pehl. This is not about who caused their deaths. It is to what level of responsibility he should be held,” Bugbee said. “What was his state of mind when these crimes were committed?”

Childhood friends of Crenshaw’s are expected to testify about the all the bizarre stuff he used to do when he got drunk.

“Don’t dismiss this condition because you haven’t heard of it,” Bugbee told the jury. “The issue is, how did this condition affect his ability to think?”

Bugbee said details support the theory, such as the fact that pictures of Pehl’s family members were taken off the walls and placed upside down in the home at 512 Elm Road.

“It is in fact bizarre,” Bugbee said, “Which is consistent with the condition I’m talking about. This is as senseless case. There is no way to justify these deaths.”

Investigators initially believed jealousy may have motivated Crenshaw.

According to court documents, after the murders, “Detective Drapeau told Justin that he understood how things can happen involving relationships and betrayal that could possibly lead a man to do things he normally would not do. Detective Drapeau reports that Justin shook his head and said “shit happens.”

A judge ruled last fall that that statement is not admissible at this trial.

What is admissible is fingerprint and DNA evidence that even Bugbee admitted today was “powerful evidence.”

“This is terribly damaging evidence, you’ll be tempted to conclude early on,” Bugbee told jurors.

But Bugbee urged jurors to remember prosecutors must prove Crenshaw planned the murders and was able to think about the consequences ahead of time.

Crenshaw’s “last memory was sitting on the couch drinking with Tanner Pehl who was playing the guitar,” Bugbee said. “His next memory is waking up the next morning with pain in his hand. He sees the bodies.”

But Bugbee left out an explanation for why the house was intentionally set on fire.

He said he’ll present jurors with lesser charges during deliberations. He expects a guilty verdict, but said evidence doesn’t support a conviction for aggravated premeditated murder.

The first witnesses Monday were the victims’ mothers, Teesha Clark and Laurie Pehl, who identified their children through photographs. Pehl helped provide the trial’s first light moment when discussing Tanner’s tendency to hide a kitchen knife he used for cooking.

“He was afraid we’d dull the edges when we tried to cook,” Laurie said. “Didn’t respect your cooking skills?” Driscoll lightly prodded. Jurors and courtroom watchers, including Pehls’ family, laughed.

Also testifying were first responders to the fire and crime scene, including a firefighter who described the horrific discoveries of Pehl and Clark’s bodies.

“I’d never seen such a thing or hope to ever see anything like that in my life again,” he said.

The trial, expected to last three weeks, continues Tuesday.

Crenshaw double-murder trial begins today

A double-murder trial two-and-a-half years in the making begins this morning in Spokane County Superior Court, where a jury is expected to spend three weeks hearing the case of 22-year-old Justin W. Crenshaw.  

Crenshaw is accused of killing 18-year-old Sarah A. Clark and 20-year-old Tanner E. Pehl on Feb 28, 2008, just a few weeks after he arrived in Spokane from Las Vegas to reunite with his long-lost sister, who he tracked down through MySpace.

Clark and Crenshaw’s sister were best friends. Crenshaw, a recovering heroin addict, worked with Pehl at the now-closed Brooklyn’s Woodfire Grill on the North Newport Highway.

The brutal slayings at Pehl’s home on Elm Road, near the restaurant, came after a night of drinking, according to court documents. Clark’s head was nearly severed; Pehl’s abdomen had four stab wounds that were inflicted after he died.

A bloody fingerprint linked Crenshaw to the crime scene, and detectives saw small cuts on his hands believed to have been inflicted by the victims, court papers show. According to a trial memorandum filed just late last month, the suspected killer’s bloody palm print was found on a can of Easy-Off believed to have been used to try to clean the home before he torched it.

Clark’s car was found parked a few blocks away; she’d told her parents she was staying the night at a friend’s home.  Crenshaw’s sister had been angry with the two for dating. She and her aunt found Crenshaw’s bloody clothing in a container in the garage during a neighborhood yard sale in April 2008.

Crenshaw is charged with two counts of aggravated first-degree murder. Prosecutors decided against the death penalty; Crenshaw instead faces life in prison if convicted.

Crenshaw denied committing the murders in an interview with a Spokesman-Review reporter in July 2008. But it now appears his defense will focus on the ‘diminished capacity’ theory - meaning his attorney, Spokane County prosecutor candidate Chris Bugbee, will argue Crenshaw was incapable of intentionally causing death, or the aggravating circumstance of cruelty, because of his mental capacity. The defense apparently will focus on Crenshaw’s inability to control his actions when intoxicated. (A prosecution request to exclude that testimony was denied on Friday.)

Crenshaw has been in the Spokane County Jail since the day after the murder. He’s had several attorneys and successfully argued for his case to be transferred from the county public defender’s office because Clark’s family is close friends with an office employee.

Crenshaw served 18 months for an assault conviction in Nevada after he stabbed a man in the neck. A childhood friend who may testify at the murder trial called him “the kindest, most sweetest guy” just after his arrest. She and other friends may testify about Crenshaw’s violent tendencies when blacked out drunk.

The case drew an unusually large jury pool; both victims have large families and extensive local ties. Four alternate jurors were selected; the jury has had a week break because of scheduling conflicts with trial witnesses.

The families of Clark (above, left) and Pehl (right) are expected to pack Judge Tari Eitzen’s courtroom early today. Opening statements begin at 9:30 a.m.

Clark was a senior at Mead High School who worked at Albertsons and dreamed of being a hair dresser; Pehl graduated from the same school and had recently moved back to Spokane from Western Washington. He loved to cook and play guitar and had taken to playing music with his father when he was murdered.

Past coverage:

June 8, 2010: Judge rejects murder suspect’s

Nov. 6, 2009: Judge rules on evidence in Crenshaw trial

Oct. 16, 2009: Motion to suppress filed in Elm Street homicides

Man shot to death by police in Kent, Wash.

KENT, Wash. (AP) — Police in Kent say officers fatally shot a man Wednesday when they believed he was reaching for a weapon.

A police statement did not say whether a weapon was found.

Police described the 42-year-old man as agitated and said he was suspected of striking a woman during a fight Wednesday morning. The man drove off as officers responded.

They later found the disabled car and saw the man run toward a nearby water tower. Police say he was clutching a “shiny object” they believed to be a weapon.

After climbing the tower, the man reportedly told police he was armed and would shoot anyone who approached him. He also said he wanted to die.

Police say the man climbed down after two hours but then threatened officers again before reaching into his pocket. The officers involved are on administrative leave.

Renton police are investigating.

2 plead innocent to murder-related charges

Two men pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges related to a fatal gang-related shooting in January.

James C. Henderson, 33, is charged with first-degree rendering criminal assistance and conspiracy to commit second-degree assault, though his public defender, John Stine, said the case is “pretty thin.”

Henderson “was no where near this crime when it occurred, he’s not involved in it in anyway,” Stine said. “Mr. Henderson was at home - he actually has several police officers as alibi witnesses.”

Henderson is named as a co-conspirator with alleged triggerman Edward “TD” Thomas, (left) who is a fugitive wanted on charges of first-degree murder and first-degree attempted murder for a Jan. 17 shooting that killed John S. Williams.

Stine asked for hHenderson’s bond to be reduced to at the most $5,000, but Superior Court Judge Sam Cozza noted Henderson’s bail jumping conviction and kept it at $100,000.

Also arraigned Wednesday was Henderson’s cousin, Cedric E. “Dirty” Burton, (right)who pleaded not guilty to first-degree rendering criminal assistance. His bond remains at $100,000.

He’s also charged with attempted murder and bail jumping for an alleged incident in a nightclub parking lot last fall.

Henderson and Burton join Christopher J. “Baby Boy” Route, 24, as the only incarcerated suspects charged in the murder.

Their cousin, Eric “Smalls” Burton, Jr., pleaded not guilty to first-degree rendering criminal assistance last month and is out on bail.

Accused killer Thomas still is at large, as are Cedric Burton’s brother and Route’s cousin, John E. Burton, 27; and Marc A. “Bookie” Carter, who are accused of first-degree rending criminal assistance.

Anyone with information on the three is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS or submit tips online. Tipsters don’t have to leave their name to collect a reward but should leave a code name or number.

Past coverage:

June 24: Witness in gang murder agrees to secret deal

June 3: Seven charged in January gang murder

March 9: Homicide case ‘not a simple investigation’

Homicide victim’s funeral set for Friday

A memorial service for the man found dead under the Sunset Bridge is scheduled for Friday at 1 p.m.

Family and friends of William P. “Bill” Pickard, 38, will gather at the Family Faith Community Church, 708 W. Nora, for a service, then at Linwood Park, 7720 N Country Homes Blvd., for a potluck.

Spokane police detectives continue to search for clues on Pickard’s death, which was ruled a homicide after his body was found under the bridge last Wednesday. His car was found in the 1500 block of West Glass Avenue the next day. He told his family he was going to a bar Tuesday, but staff said he never showed up.

Pickard was a few classes away from earning his chemical dependency counselor degree at Spokane Falls Community College.

He graduated from North Central High School in 1990, where he helped lead the wrestling team to a league championship.

Anyone with information on his death should call Crime Check at (509) 456-2233.

Past coverage: July 1: Police find dead man’s car, hope for clues

Man deported in Jan. charged with murder

The roommate of a man found shot to death near Green Bluff last fall has been charged with his murder.

But detectives haven’t arrested Miguel A. Rodriguez-Barbosa for the October slaying of Jesus Torres Valdovinos, 25 (pictured).

The 19-year-old was deported to Mexico in January after being convicted of a felony related to marijuana found in the north Spokane home he shared with the victim.

Court documents supporting a first-degree murder charge against Rodriguez-Barbosa, 19, were ordered sealed June 24 by Superior Court Judge Michael Price, one week after Judge Ellen Kalama Clark approved a $1 million warrant for the suspect’s arrest.

The charge ends an eight-month investigation that was aided by fingerprint evidence and cell phone call records, but begins a search for a young man long considered a murder suspect who was not charged until months after his return to his home country.

“He didn’t disappear. We disappeared him,” said Virginia Kice, spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Read the rest of my story here.

Past coverage:

Jan. 11: Pot conviction least of teen’s problems

Jan. 5: Murder victim’s roommate eyed as suspect

Oct. 27: Homicide victim’s roommate arrested on drug charges

Oct. 26: Homicide victim linked to drug sales

Car could hold clues in Spokane man’s death

The night before his body was found underneath a Spokane bridge, William P. Pickard told his family he was going to one of his favorite bars.

But staff at the Swinging Doors in north Spokane say they never saw the longtime customer that night.

Pickard, 38, was found dead about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday under the Sunset Boulevard bridge on the west bank of Latah Creek in High Bridge Park.

An autopsy didn’t immediately reveal his cause of death.

Homicide detectives know Pickard fell from the bridge, but they don’t know if he was dead or alive when it happened, said Officer Jennifer DeRuwe. They hope his 2007 white Mercury Mariner will provide clues.

Read the rest of my story here.

Murder for $7.25 gets man 31 years in prison

A convicted killer’s lawyer called a judge’s comments to the victim’s family “one of the most moving statements I’ve ever heard a judge give” in a sentencing Tuesday in Spokane County Superior Court.

Judge Jerome Leveque urged the family of Timothy Eby, who was stabbed to death by 53-year-old Terry Conner, to live his legacy and urged Conner to pay attention.

“Your life isn’t over,” Leveque told Conner, though the judge said the man likely will die in prison. “And to the family, the things common to all of you - you all referenced a man who had a tremendous belief in what can be. He never gave that up. That is a tremendous legacy. I extend my condolences to everyone.”

Public Defender Ed Carroll praised Leveque’s statement. “He was right. Don’t let yourselves get torn apart by this,” Carroll said to Eby’s family.

Conner was sentenced to 31 years in prison Tuesday.

Read Tom Clouses’s story on the sentencing here.

Past coverage:

Dec. 8, 2008: Slaying may have been over $7.25

Mont. man arraigned in Grant Co. murder

(AP) A 29-year-old Montana man accused of fatally shooting a Grant County man has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder.

David Emerson Nickels appeared in Grant County Superior Court on Tuesday and remains jailed on $5 million bail.

He was arrested in Helena last week and is accused of killing 35-year-old Sage Munro in Ephrata, Wash., on Dec. 29. Munro, who was dating Nickels’ ex-girlfriend, was found dead from a single gunshot to the chest. Nickels and the woman had been secretly still seeing each other.

Court records say Nickels told investigators and friends he was in Great Falls at the time of the slaying, but cell phone records showed his phone registered a call from a cell tower in Spokane about two hours after the shooting.

He was extradited to Washington on Thursday.

Past coverage:

June 26: Love triangle alleged in Grant Co. murder

Suspects in gang murder: 1 jailed, 3 to go

A man charged in connection with a fatal shooting in January was arrested on Sunday.

Christopher J. "Baby Boy" Route, 24, (left) is in jail on a probation hold and a felony charge of first-degree rendering criminal assistance after being booked into jail about noon.

He's accused of helping cover up the gang-related murder of John S. Williams on Jan. 17.

According to court documents, Route and other reputed gang members attended a birthday party at Casey's Restaurant and Lounge before taking a limousine to an after party at 5405 N. Crestline.

Route, who was charged with assault in connection with a gang murder in 2005, told police he stayed at the party for only about 30 minutes and left when a fight broke out. 

 Route said he didn't know anything about the shooting, but detectives say he was present when Williams punched out a car window, then was shot to death, allegedly by Edward "TD" Thomas (right).

Thomas then put the murder weapon, a Ruger mini 30, in a rental car driven by Eric "Smalls" Burton, according to court documents.

Burton's cousins, Cedric E. "Dirty" Burton and James C. Henderson, 33, on rendering criminal assistance charges. 

Thomas still is a fugitive wanted on first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder charge. Wanted on rendering criminal assistance charges are Route's cousin (and Cedric Burton's brother), John E. Burton, 27 (no picture available); and Marc A. "Bookie" Carter (left).

Anyone with information on the three is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS or submit tips online. Tipsters don't have to leave their name to collect a reward but should leave a code name or number.

Past coverage: June 3: Seven charged in January gang murder

Love triangle alleged in Grant Co. murder

The suspect in the shooting death of a Grant County man in December was secretly dating the victim’s girlfriend, court documents allege.

 David E. Nickels, 29, is in jail on $5 million bond for a first-degree murder in connection with the Dec. 29 slaying of Sage J. Munro at Munro’s home in Ephrata.

The six-month investigation took detectives to six states before Nickels was arrested this week in his hometown of Helena.

That’s where investigators say he met Munro’s girlfriend, 21-year-old Marita Messick, more than five years ago. Nickels and Messick had a child together when Messick was 15, according to court documents filed this week in Grant County Superior Court.

Read the rest of my story here.

Witness in gang murder agrees to secret deal

A witness in a gang-related murder pleaded guilty to two charges this morning in a sealed agreement with prosecutors.

Antonio E. Cook, Jr., 28, (left) will remain in jail pending sentencing, which was not immediately scheduled.

The deal drops several charges, including robbery, gun and drug possession, but those charges can be refiled if Cook doesn’t comply with the deal, Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Mark Cipolla said in court.

Cook waived his right to a speedy sentencing; his public defender said it won’t happen for at least 40 days. Details of his sentencing recommendation have not been made public.

Cook first answered “no” when Superior Court Judge Neal Rielly asked if he was making the plea freely and voluntarily but then said otherwise.

“I wanna take advantage of what’s going on right now and get it over with,” Cook said.

Rielly questioned Cook repeatedly, saying “whether you like the system or respect the system” he wouldn’t accept the plea if Cook was being pressured. Cook pleaded guilty to tampering with a witness and third-degree assault.

He was arrested in February after police found his fingerprints on the stolen gun used to kill John S. Williams on Jan. 17, though he isn’t believed to have been present when Williams was killed. Cook later threatened a teen who was cooperating with police, leading to the tampering conviction. 

Cook’s assault charge was for an unrelated incident in September when Cook punched a woman after she fought with him and a friend over a sexually suggestive text message the friend had sent her, according to court documents. The woman’s boyfriend saw the messages, documents say.

Court documents show Cook is a key witness in the case against several reputed gang members charged in Williams’ death.

Police say he told them that accused triggerman Edward “TD” Thomas (right) admitted to shooting Williams six or seven times before firing a single round into his face at close range.

Thomas is a fugitive wanted for first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder. Anyone with information on his location is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.

Past coverage:

June 3: Seven charged in January gang murder

March 9: Homicide case ‘not a simple investigation’

Man in Helena arrested for Grant Co. murder

A man in Helena, Mont., has been arrested for the shooting death of a Grant County man last December.

David E. Nickels, 29, faces a first-degree murder charge for 35-year-old Sage Munro’s death on Dec. 29.

Munro was found shot to death on his living room floor in the 100 block of E Street NE in Ephrata. Nickels was arrested in Helena Wednesday on the murder charge and an unrelated warrant.

The six-month investigation was handled by the Columbia Basin Investigation Team, a collection of detectives from local law enforcement agencies. Munro had a large family and a young son.

Man dies in hail of gov.-sanctioned gunfire

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah executed a condemned killer by firing squad shortly after midnight Thursday, reviving a style of justice that hasn’t been used for at least 14 years and that many criticize as archaic.

Ronnie Lee Gardner, 49, was shot by a team of five anonymous marksmen with a matched set of .30-caliber rifles early Friday. Gardner, who had a white target pinned to his chest and was strapped to a chair, was pronounced dead at 12:20 a.m.

Gardner is the first person to be executed by a firing squad in the United States in 14 years.

Gardner was sentenced to death for a 1985 capital murder conviction stemming from the fatal courthouse shooting of attorney Michael Burdell during a failed escape attempt. He was at the Salt Lake City court facing a 1984 murder charge in the shooting death of a bartender.

A flurry of last-minute appeals and requests for stays were rejected Thursday by the U.S. Supreme Court, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Gov. Gary Herbert.

On Thursday, prison officials said Gardner spent time sleeping, reading the novel “Divine Justice,” watching the “Lord of the Rings” film trilogy and meeting with his attorneys and a bishop from the Mormon church. Gehrke said officers described his mood as relaxed.

Although officials had said he planned to fast after having his last requested meal Tuesday, Gardner drank a Coke and a Mountain Dew on Thursday night. His Tuesday meal consisted of steak, lobster tail, apple pie, vanilla ice cream and 7UP.

Read the rest of the Associated Press story by clicking the link below.

Past coverage:

June 14: Clemency denied for killer facing firing squad

June 11: Man set to die by firing squad pleads for life

April 23: Utah killer will be executed by firing squad

Killer’s death by firing squad set for tonight

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah is set to execute a condemned killer by firing squad shortly after midnight tonight, reviving a style of justice that hasn’t been used for at least 14 years and that many criticize as archaic.

Barring the success of any final appeals, Ronnie Lee Gardner will be strapped into a chair, have a target pinned over his heart and die in a hail of bullets from five anonymous marksmen armed with .30-caliber rifles and firing from behind a ported wall.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver denied Gardner’s petition for a stay Thursday, saying allegations of a conflict of interest by the Utah attorney general’s office were without merit.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert also denied Gardner’s request for a temporary stay, saying Gardner has had “a full and fair opportunity” to have his case considered.

Gardner’s final appeals are still pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

For the rest of the Associated Press story, including more photos, click the link below.

Past coverage:

June 14: Clemency denied for killer facing firing squad

June 11: Man set to die by firing squad pleads for life

April 23: Utah killer will be executed by firing squad

Man in wife’s murder is competent for trial

A Stevens County man accused of killing his wife has been declared competent to stand trial after undergoing mental evaluations at Eastern State Hospital.

Craig R. Cosby pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder last week. Trial is set for August.

Cosby was 68 when called 911 on Oct. 3 and said he killed his wife.

He was arrested in the front yard of his home in the 1200 block of Overlook Boulevard in Marcus, a small town along the Columbia River in northern Stevens County.

Susan May Cosby, 53, was found dead of gunshot wounds in the home, and her husband was soon ordered to under mental evaluations.

In his weekly column to media, Stevens County Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen said “a large number of items of physical evidence” still are being examined at the sate crime lab.

Past coverage: Oct. 20: Man held in wife’s murder taken to Eastern

Clemency denied for killer facing firing squad

DRAPER, Utah (AP) — A state parole board today unanimously denied clemency to a condemned Utah man scheduled to be executed by firing squad.

Curt Garner, chairman of the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole, said the board determined that the jury’s verdict imposing a death sentence was not inappropriate and that no sufficient reason exists to grant clemency or to commute convicted killer Ronnie Lee Gardner’s death sentence.

“Gardner makes no claim of innocence and admits that he is guilty of each of the crimes of which he has been convicted,” Garner said Monday.

Family members of several of Gardner’s victims sat holding hands as Garner read the board’s decision.

“I really thought they would change it over to life,” said a relieved Tami Stewart, whose father, George “Nick” Kirk, was shot and wounded by Gardner in 1985. “I don’t feel happy, but it needed to be done. That’s hard for me to say, because I feel sorry for him, but the jury made their decision.”

Read the rest of the AP story by clicking the link below.

Past coverage:

June 11: Man set to die by firing squad pleads for life

April 23: Utah killer to be executed by firing squad

Man set to die by firing squad pleads for life

DRAPER, Utah (AP) — A Utah killer set to be executed by firing squad next week said Thursday he is remorseful and wants a state parole board to spare his life so he can help troubled kids avoid the kind of problems that landed him on death row.

Ronnie Lee Gardner, who chose a firing squad instead of lethal injection, told the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole he and his brother are trying to develop 160 acres in northern Utah for an organic farm and residential program for children. He said he’s earned about $1,300 selling prison artwork and crafts — handmade baby booties and handkerchiefs — to start the project. He even tried to enlist Oprah Winfrey in the cause two years ago.

Gardner, 49, said he had been working quietly on his idea for the “Back to Basics” program for about 10 years. He said he is a changed person and wants to help prevent kids from traveling down a path to violence and criminal activity.

“I think I’m the perfect example of what you shouldn’t do,” Gardner said, testifying for about two hours as part of his effort to persuade the board to reduce his sentence for murder to life in prison.

Read the reset of the Associated Press story by clicking the link below.

Past coverage:

April 23: Utah killer to be executed by firing squad

Judge rejects murder suspect’s booze test

A murder defendant facing life in prison asked a judge today to let him undergo a test in which he gets drunk and experts analyze how violent he becomes.

Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen declined Justin W. Crenshaw’s request and ordered him to take the test he’d refused to take at the Spokane County Jail late last month.

Crenshaw, charged with two counts of aggravated murder for the brutal slayings of Mead High School senior Sarah Clark and 20-year-old Tanner E. Pehl on Feb. 28, 2008, still is set for trial this month, with jury selection beginning June 28. Testimony cannot begin until July 12 because of scheduling conflicts with investigators.

Crenshaw, 22, requested the alcohol test himself and indicated possible concerns with his defense lawyer, Chris Bugbee, running for Spokane County prosecutor.

Crenshaw apparently plans to present the ‘diminished capacity’ defense at trial - meaning Bugbee will argue Crenshaw was incapable of intentionally causing death because of his mental capacity. The prosecution is to prove two aggravating factors: deliberate cruelty and multiple victims, one motive.

Eitzen told Crenshaw this morning that he has until Thursday to undergo a test by an Eastern State Hospital doctor or the diminished capacity defense won’t be admissible at trial. (Crenshaw had refused to answer questions when Dr. William Grant met with him at the jail May 27.) The test is the prosecution’s response to a test Crenshaw underwent in Western Washington that supports the diminished capacity defense.

Past coverage:

April 26: Crenshaw double-murder trial delayed, again

Nov. 6, 2009: Judge rules on evidence in Crenshaw trial

Oct. 16, 2009: Motion to suppress filed in Elm Street homicides

Sept. 9, 2009: Crenshaw double-murder trial delayed

Sept. 4, 2009: Detectives just now examining Crenshaw’s cell phone

July 9, 2008: Murder defendant will get new attorney

March 5, 2008: Murder suspect trying to better life, friend says

March 1, 2008: Friends remember slain Mead High senior

Husband gets 30 years in Valentine’s murder

LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — A judge has handed a 30-year prison sentence to a Lewiston man convicted of murdering his wife on Valentine’s Day last year.

A Nez Perce County jury had convicted Gary Mallory II of strangling Charlene Mabie Mallory, a 48-year-old who married him three months before her death.

Prosecutors recommended life in prison without parole; District Judge Carl Kerrick instead sentenced Mallory to 30 years - three times the minimum term required by statute. Mallory will serve two years for felony domestic battery, followed by an additional 28 years to life on the first-degree murder charge. If he is released, Mallory will be under state supervision for the rest of his life.

Killer’s lover admits to weapons charges

The boyfriend of a Spokane prostitute who murdered her husband has pleaded guilty to two federal weapons charges in California.

Brian L. Moore, 43, is expected to be sentenced to about two years in prison - but he’ll be credited for time already served. He’s been in custody since April 2009; his sentencing is reportedly at least a couple months away.

In a plea agreement filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in the Central District of California, Moore admits to possessing an unregistered rifle and a firearms silencer found in his Orange County, Calif., warehouse by Spokane police on April 27, 2009. Police found diagrams in the building “showing the design and construction of a firearm silencer,” according to the agreement.

Investigators say they still hope to refile murder charges against Moore for his alleged role in the Dec. 9, 2007, shooting death of Dale Robert Stark in Spokane. Shellye Stark is serving 50 years in prison after a jury convicted her of first-degree murder in March 2008.

Moore was arrested on murder and conspiracy to commit murder charges during the raid in California, but Spokane County prosecutors moved to dismiss the charges after a judge threw out key evidence from a private investigator hired by Moore and Stark. The dismissal came just before Moore’s public defenders were gong to ask a judge to permanently dismiss the charges because of lack of evidence.

Still charged in the case is Shellye Stark’s father, Curtis A. Johnson.

Johnson is set to go to trial June 14 on one count of first-degree identity theft after police say he cashed two checks with signatures forged to look like Dale Stark’s.

Read past coverage of the Stark/Moore case here.

Murder charges filed in gang slaying

Seven people have been charged in connection to a Jan. 17 gang-related slaying in Hillyard.

Edward L. “TD” Thomas (right) is wanted on charges of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder after police say he shot John S. Williams in the face with a Ruger mini 30 rifle and fired shots at another man.

Wanted on conspiracy and rendering criminal assistance charges are Marc A. “Bookie” Carter, John E. Burton, 27; and Christopher J. Route, 23.

Already in jail on the charges are cousins Cedric E. “Dirty” Burton, 23; Eric “Smalls” Burton, Jr., 25; James C. Henderson, 33. The three appeared in District Court today via video feed from the jail today.

Cedric Burton has been in jail since early May, when detectives arrested him in Los Angeles. His public defender said he had traveled south to attend the funeral of his cousin, Aaron D. Bascomb, a Long Beach 22-year-old who was shot and killed in Inglewood, Calif. April 9.

Lingering hostility between two gangsters who have a child with the same woman may have been what sparked the most recent fatal shooting.

Read my full story on the murder investigation here.

Pictured above, from left to right, first row: Thomas, Carter and Route. Second row: Cedric Burton, Eric Burton and Antonio Cook, who is charged with illegally posessing the murder weapon. Pictures of John Burton and James Henderson were not available.

Past coverage:

March 9: Homicide case ‘not a simple investigation’

Killer gets life in prison under 3 strikes law

Convicted killer and career burglar David K. Brewzcynski received Wednesday the only sentence available to him — life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Brewczynski, 44, was convicted of bludgeoning and shooting 80-year-old Kenneth Cross on Sept. 20, 2008. The April murder conviction was Brewczynski’s third strike, meaning his only available sentence was life in prison under state law. He read from a brief statement and said he did not kill Cross.

He also intends to appeal, according to court testimony before Superior Court Judge Annette Plese.

  Cross was found beaten and shot in his Boone Avenue home in Spokane Valley on Sept. 20, 2008. The autopsy showed he had been struck with a blunt object 24 times in the head, about the same number of times in the torso and shot three times in the head.

Past coverage:

Past coverage:

April 21: Jury convicts career burglar of murder

April 8: Trial starts in death of 80-year-old man

Nov. 19, 2008: Accused killer pleads not guilty

Oct. 10, 2008: Murder victim may have been targeted

Oct. 2, 2008: Burglar’s storage unit yields dead man’s ID