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Spokanite’s Calif. murder trial delayed, again

The second murder trial for a former Spokane photographer accused of killing his wife in California more than 25 years ago has been postponed again.

 

William G. Mordick, 64, is now scheduled to stand trial in September for the 1983 killing of his wife, Katherine Mordick.

Mordick was arrested in Spokane on Feb. 11, 2008, and has been in custody in Orange County, Calif., since. His wife was found dead with her throat slashed in the couple’s Anaheim Hills home on Jan. 22, 1983.

A jury couldn’t reach a verdict after his first trial last fall.

Mordick’s second trial was to begin last week after being delayed at least once, but his next court appearance is now set for Sept. 1.

Mordick owned and operated Photography by Gregory in Spokane beginning in the early 1990s. He remains in the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange County.

Feb. 12, 2008: Spokane photographer held in wife’s 1983 slaying

Killer’s Spokane family to testify in Reno

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Convicted murderer and rapist James Biela grew up in a poor and abusive household where his father routinely beat his mother and the children cowered in fear, sometimes using a bucket in their bedroom as a toilet.

A jury in Reno trying to decide whether to sentence the 1999 West Valley High graduate to death heard about his traumatic childhood Friday in testimony from a psychiatrist and one of his two sisters.

Dr. Melissa Piasecki says Biela’s mother, Kathy Lovell, who lives in Spokane Valley, suffered broken teeth and ribs. Earrings were ripped from her ears and she had wrist surgery because she was bound so many times.

The doctor says Lovell sometimes sought shelter by hiding under the kids’ beds. But they would end up watching as he dragged her out and beat her again.

The jury deliberated for just over six hours before finding Biela, who police believe worked in the Moses Lake area after the crimes, guilty on Thursday of all five counts tied to the 2008 killing of the 19-year-old Denison and assault of the others.

District Attorney Dick Gammick says it is cases like this that always strengthen his faith and belief in the jury system.

Past coverage:

May 28: WV grad guilty of rape, murder

May 25: Defense rests in ex-Spokanite’s murder trial

May 25: Prosecution rests in WV grad’s murder trial

May 14: Ex-Valley man on trial for murder in Reno

Nov. 27, 2008: WV grad held in Reno killing

CdA killer sentenced to prison, deportation

A man who shot and killed a college student home for Mother’s Day after a fight at a Coeur d’Alene bar last year will serve at least 20 years in prison before he’s deported to his native Honduras. 

Juan C. Aldana Villanueva, 23, (right) was sentenced today to 20 to 28 years in prison for the murder of Timothy I. Wolfe, 21, on May 9, 2009.

Villanueva, who worked at a Post Falls restaurant, had argued with Wolfe (left), a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe who was attending college in Montana, at a Coeur d’Alene bar before Villanueva drove to the Post Falls home where he lived with his girlfriend and child to get a gun, according to court documents. 

Wolfe was shot to death near Third Street and Indiana Avenue about 2:15 a.m.

Villanueva had been charged with first-degree murder but pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in March.

Read more on the sentencing here.

Past coverage:

May 11, 2009: Police: CdA murder suspect waited for victim

Ex-Spokane man convicted of murder, rape

RENO, Nev. (AP) — A former Spokane man was convicted today of raping and strangling a 19-year-old college coed during a string of attacks that had the city of Reno on edge two years ago.

A Washoe County District Court jury found James Michael Biela guilty of all five counts tied to the murder of Brianna Denison and sexual assault of two other young women.

Biela (left, on May 18) showed little emotion, standing with his hands crossed in front of his waist as the verdict was read.

“It’s a good verdict, well deserved,” District Attorney Dick Gammick said. “Cases like this always strengthen my faith and belief in the jury system.”

The same jury that took about six hours to reach a verdict now must decide whether the 1999 West Valley graduate whose mother lives in Spokane Valley and attended his trial, should be sentenced to death.

Police believe Biela lived and worked in the Moses Lake area for several months after the attacks.

He sold the truck believed to have been used in the crimes to a car dealership that then sold it to a Coeur d’Alene resident. The truck was seized shortly after Biela’s arrest.

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

Past coverage:

May 25: Defense rests in ex-Spokanite’s murder trial

May 25: Prosecution rests in WV grad’s murder trial

May 14: Ex-Valley man on trial for murder in Reno

Nov. 27, 2008: WV grad held in Reno killing

Defense rests in ex-Spokanite’s murder trial

RENO, Nev. (AP) — The jury is expected to begin deliberations in James Biela’s rape and murder trial on Wednesday after his public defenders abruptly ended presentation of their case with the calling of only one expert witness about DNA evidence.

The judge said he anticipates the case going to the jury sometime Wednesday afternoon following closing arguments from both sides in the trial that began 12 days ago.

  “Sooner than I thought we are done with the evidence in the first part of this case,” Washoe District Judge Robert Perry said before sending the jury home for the day about 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday.

Biela, a 1999 West Valley High graduate whose mother lives in Spokane Valley, told the judge earlier Tuesday he wanted to testify but decided against it on the advice of his attorneys.

The 28-year-old accused of raping and murdering 19-year-old Brianna Denison and sexually assaulting two other young women in a string of attacks from October 2007 to January 2008 on the edge of the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno. He also faces a kidnapping charge.

(Denison’s mother, Bridgette Denison, is pictured above talking to Washoe County deputy district attorney Elliott Sattler.)

Police believe Biela lived and worked in the Moses Lake area for several months after the attacks. He sold the truck believed to have been used in the crimes to a car dealership that then sold it to a Coeur d’Alene couple.

The truck was seized shortly after Biela’s arrest.

Read the rest of the AP story on today’s happenings in the case by clicking the link below.

Past coverage:

Today: Prosecution rests in WV grad’s murder trial

May 14: Ex-Valley man on trial for murder in Reno

Nov. 27, 2008: West Valley grad held in Reno rapes, murder

Prosecution rests in WV grad’s murder trial

RENO, Nev. (AP) — The ex-girlfriend of a former Spokane man standing trial in the killing of a Nevada college coed and sexual assaults of two other young women said Monday she watched from her office window the day victim Brianna Denison’s body was found in a field outside her workplace.

Carleen Harmon also testified that defendant James Biela told her the only reason anyone cared about the case was because the 19-year-old Denison was “hot” and came from a wealthy family.

The prosecution rested its case Monday in Washoe District Court after more than two hours of emotional testimony by Harmon, who lived with Biela and is the mother of his son.

Prosecutors contend Biela is a serial rapist who was motivated in part by a fetish for women’s thong underwear and eventually graduated to murder in a string of attacks in 2008.

Biela’s mother, stepfather and at least one sibling live in Spokane and are reportedly in Reno for the trial.

Biela, a 1999 West Valley High School graduate, could face the death penalty if convicted.

The jury is expcted to begin deliberations this week.

Read the rest of Monday’s AP story on the case by clicking the link below.

Past coverage:

May 14: Ex-Valley man on trial for murder in Reno

Nov. 27, 2008: West Valley grad held in Reno rapes, murder

Jury acquits gunman in rapper Dolla’s killing

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A jury has acquitted a man of killing Atlanta rapper Dolla during a shooting at an upscale Los Angeles mall.

Jurors on Friday rejected prosecutors’ contentions that the killing of Dolla, whose real name was Roderick Anthony Burton II (left), was a callous act of apparent revenge.

Burton and his accused shooter, Aubrey Louis Berry, had been involved in a fight at an Atlanta club less than two weeks before the shooting last May.

Berry (right) hugged his attorney after the verdict was read while Burton’s family sobbed.

Berry’s attorney had contended the shooting was an act of self-defense, emphasizing that Burton glorified a violent gangster lifestyle in his rap lyrics and online videos.

The rapper was a protege of hip-hop artist Akon. 

According to an LA Times story available on the AP wire, gangster rap has long drawn fire for its violence-laced lyrics. Critics have blamed the genre for inciting real crime. Some successful rappers have been accused of violent crimes, and in other cases, suspects have told authorities that gangster rap songs provoked them to violence.

But the murder trial of Berry, a 24-year-old events promoter from Atlanta, is unusual in the way it has focused attention on the artistic work of someone who was the victim of violence.

Read the full story by clicking the link below.

Suspect arraigned in Dishman Hills murder

A man accused of beating another man to death in the Dishman Hills Natural Area pleaded not guilty today to one count of first-degree murder.

Roland E. Benton II, 34, appeared in Superior Court via video feed from the jail, where he’s been since May 5, nearly a week after Douglas J. Klages, 46, was found beaten to death in a small cave where he camped. Klages’ pants pockets were turned inside out, and his cell phone was missing.

A Rosauers receipt found with Klages helped police identify Benton, who had left the store with Klages just hours before the April 30 murder. Benton also reportedly told a friend on the day of the killing that he had done something that would be on “the national news,” according to court documents.

Klages’ family and friends, including his parents and one of his daughters, attended Benton’s arraignment today before Judge Linda Tompkins.

Benton’s public defender, Victoria Blumhurst, did not ask for a reduction in bond, which was set at $500,000 during his first court appearance May 6.

His next court appearance is set for June 22.

Past coverage:

Police: Suspect admitted Dishman killing to friend

Homicide suspect left jail just before murder

Homicide victim hoped for fresh start

Ex-Spokane man on trial for murder in Reno

A former Spokane Valley man is on trial in Nevada for the murder of a 19-year-old college coed and sexual assaults of two other women near the University of Nevada, Reno.

James Michael Biela, a 1999 West Valley High School graduate, could face the death penalty if convicted.

His mother, Kathy Lovell, of Spokane Valley, told the Reno Gazette-Journal she believes her son is innocent. Lovell and Biela’s stepfather and sister, of Spokane, reportedly are in Reno for the trial. 

Biela was arrested in Reno in November 2008 after an anonymous tip led authorities to his ex-girlfriend, who confided to a friend of finding two pair of women’s thong underwear in his truck while they drove back to Nevada from Moses Lake in September 2008.

Police later matched Biela’s DNA to that found on the body of Brianna Denison, who was home from college when she disappeared in January 2008. Her body was found three weeks later in a vacant lot in south Reno.

Biela, who trained at a martial arts school alongside Reno police, had been working as a pipefitter in the Moses Lake area since March 2008. Denison’s slaying is a high-profile case that shook the city, officials said.

“We assume he went up to Washington to get out of this area, because the heat was on,” Lt. Rob McDonald of the Reno Police Department said in November 2008.

Shortly after his arrest, detectives seized from a Coeur d’Alene couple a truck Biela sold to an Inland Northwest car dealership. Police believe the truck was used in the three crimes - they say one of the victims described the car’s interior in detail. 

Biela, a former Marine, has lived in Reno since 2002. He graduated from basic military training in San Diego in fall 1999, newspaper archives show.

His trial, expected to last three weeks, opened Wednesday with Deputy District Attorney Chris Hicks telling jurors that Biela is a man with a fetish for women’s thong underwear who escalated from rapist to killer.

Tucked beneath one of Denison’s legs when her body was found was a pair of women’s thong underwear. One belonged to the friend Denison was staying with the night she disappeared, and forensic experts believe it was used to strangle her, Hicks said.

But Public Defender Jay Slocum urged jurors not to view the evidence with sympathy or anger, but the “cold light of reason.”

Slocum said DNA evidence was not conclusive, and that while authorities say they’ve linked the three crimes to a single assailant, each has “very distinct facts” that shed doubt on the prosecution’s theory.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

Past coverage:

Nov. 27, 2008: West Valley grad held in Reno killing

Read an AP story on the trial’s opening day by clicking the link below.

Gunman in Halloween shooting gets 35 years

A Spokane man who shot and killed another man outside a downtown bar after a Halloween celebration in 2008 was sentenced today to 35 years in prison.

Jonathan H. Espinoza received 339 months for first-degree murder and 93 months for first-degree assault, police said in a news release.

Espinoza, 26, killed Joshua D. Ridgely, 22, and injured two of Ridgely’s friends, Ryan R. Jackson and Michelle M. Wilcox, in a shooting outside The Blvd Tavern on Nov. 1, 2008.

Espinoza opened fire on a crowd after grabbing a gun from a friend, Matthew R. Jones. Jones, 26, told police he’d fired one shot into the air before Espinoza grabbed the weapon and said “This is how you do it.”

Jones pleaded guilty last summer to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Past coverage:

April 26, 2010: Shooter pleads guilty in Halloween murder

June 11, 2009: Man pleads guilty in killing

Nov. 3, 2008: Shooting victim always wore smile

Police search for murder victim’s cell phone

Police are searching for the cell phone of a man found murdered in the Dishman Hills Natural Area late last month.

Spokane County Sheriff’s detectives hope information from AT & T on the time and location of calls made since Douglas J. Klages’ murder will help them solidify their case against Roland E. Benton, who was arrested for first-degree murder last week.

Benton, who’s in jail on $500,000 bond, is to be arraigned May 18.

Klages used his cell phone to call his parents the day before he died.

“At the time the body was discovered, the victim’s pants pockets had been turned inside out, as if someone had gone through them,” according to a search warrant filed today in Superior Court. “(This detective) believes that it is possible that the cell phone, as well as other items, may have been taken from the victim at the time of his murder.”

A Rosauers receipt found with Klages helped police identify Benton, who had left the store with Klages just hours before the murder.

Benton also reportedly told a friend on the day of the killing that he had done something that would be on “the national news.”

Past coverage:

Police: Suspect admitted Dishman killing to friend

Homicide suspect left jail just before murder

Homicide victim hoped for fresh start

Suspect was jailed 2 days before murder

A Spokane transient was arrested Wednesday for the murder of a man found beaten to death in the Dishman Hills Natural Area on Friday.

Roland E. Benton, 34, was booked into Spokane County Jail about noon Wednesday – one week after he was released on a domestic violence charge.

Jail records show it’s his third booking this month: He also spent two days behind bars on a warrant for not complying with court orders for a 2006 misdemeanor hit-and-run.

Benton is the only suspect in the murder of Douglas J. Klages, 46, said Sgt. Dave Reagan. No other arrests are expected.

Read the rest of my story here.

Past coverage:

Homicide victim hoped for fresh start

Homicide victim was beaten to death

When Douglas Klages last talked to his parents, he was planning for the future. The 46-year-old Spokane native struggled with alcoholism but wanted to clean up. He told his parents so in a phone call last Thursday.

“He said, ‘I know you’ll be happy: I’m lining myself up for a treatment program,’” said his father, Don Klages. “It was a terrible addiction.”

The next day, Don and Karen Klages learned of their son’s murder. Hikers found his body in a small cave inside the Dishman Hills Natural Area Friday afternoon, where Spokane County Sheriff’s detectives believe he’d been camping.

An autopsy showed he died from blunt-force trauma to his head, according to the Medical Examiner’s Office.

Now, as detectives search for his killer, Doug Klages’ friends and family are struggling to understand how a man with no enemies and a generous heart could end up beaten to death. Klages’ death is the first homicide investigated by the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office this year.

“This community is grieving,” said Dean Whisler, day room manager at the Union Gospel Mission, where Klages stayed on and off for several years. “Everyone loved him.”

Read the rest of my story here.

Dishman Hills homicide victim identified

A man who authorities believe may be Spokane County’s first homicide victim this year has been identified as Douglas J. Klages.

Hikers on Friday found Klages, a 46-year-old transient, dead in a small in a small cave at Camp Caro Community Park, south of Sprague Avenue, in the Dishman Hills Natural Area.

An autopsy was conducted Monday afternoon, but investigators have not release Klages’ cause of death.

Investigators found trauma on his body but no cause of death was immediately determined. They searched the area for several hours Friday but found no additional evidence, Sgt. Dave Reagan said

Klages has been in and out of homeless shelters and was apparently camping in the area around the time of his death, Reagan said.

The only other homicide in the Spokane area this year was the still-unsolved shooting death of John S. Williams, 38, outside a party at 5405 North Crestline on Jan. 17. Spokane police are investigating that case.

Klages gave his address as Cusick, Wash., when he was arrested in a drunken driving incident in 2004 that included a man accidental riding on his car’s roof.

Klages was sentenced to 150 days in jail with credit for 97 days served for driving under the influence, hit and run and operating a vehicle without an ignition interlock.

Read a brief on the crash by clicking the link below.

Man gets 15 years for baby girl’s murder

A judge sentenced an admitted baby killer to 15 years in prison today but denied the slayer’s mother a final request: a hug before deputies hauled him back to jail.

Jereme J. Bassett, 24, last month pleaded guilty to second-degree murder of 7-month-old Nevaeh Alana Miller, who was the daughter of Bassett’s girlfriend at the time, Jennifer Wilcox.

Bassett also pleaded guilty to third-degree assault that stemmed from him choking Wilcox’s 8-year-old son after he learned Nevaeh was brain dead. Superior Court Judge Annette Plese sentenced Bassett to 15 years in prison, followed a plea agreement between Deputy Prosecutor Kelly Fitzgerald and Assistant Public Defender Kevin Griffin.

However, Bassett will get credit for more than two years he has served in jail since he harmed Nevaeh on March 20, 2008, in the room he and Wilcox shared at the West Wynn Motel on Sunset Boulevard.

Read the rest of Tom Clouse’s story here.

Past coverage:

April 13, 2010: Girl’s killer faces 12 to 20 years in prison

March 27, 2008: Girls organs given to 3 babies

March 26, 2008: Troubles started early for man accused in baby’s death

Gunman pleads guilty in Halloween murder

Halloween gunfire that killed a man trying to break up a fight in downtown Spokane will send the triggerman to prison for at least 24 years in a plea deal approved recently in Spokane County Superior Court.

 Jonathan H. Espinoza, 26, faces up to 32 years in prison for a shooting outside The Blvd Tavern that killed Joshua D. Ridgely, 22, (left) and injured two of Ridgely’s friends, Ryan R. Jackson and Michelle M. Wilcox. The bottom of the standard sentencing range is 24 years.

Espinoza opened fire on a crowd outside the bar shortly after midnight on Nov. 1, 2008, after grabbing a gun from a friend, Matthew R. Jones.

Jones, 26, told police he fired one shot into the air before Espinoza grabbed the weapon and said “This is how you do it.”

Jones pleaded guilty last summer to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Espinoza pleaded guilty Thursday to first-degree murder, first-degree assault and second-degree assault. He remains in jail awaiting sentencing.

The shooting came after a fight broke out in a crowded parking lot outside the bar, 333 W. Spokane Falls Blvd. An associate of Jones and Espinoza was involved, and Espinoza instructed Jones to get a gun from the car they arrived in before he grabbed it from him and fired multiple rounds, according to court documents.

Ridgely, a 2004 University High School graduate who installed windows for his brother’s company, was hit in the chest and died in the parking lot. Bullets hit Jackson and Wilcox and narrowly missed at least three others, including Summer Jackson, who was Ridgely’s girlfriend and Jackson’s sister, police said.

The plea deal approved by Judge Michael Price last week dismissed three counts of attempted murder in connection with the stray bullets.

Espinoza and Jones were arrested Nov. 3 after a friend who previously told detectives he didn’t know the shooters broke down in an interrogation room, police said.

Espinoza already was a convicted felon prohibited from possessing firearms. His record includes a conviction for felony possession of a controlled substance.

Past coverage:

June 11, 2009: Man pleads guilty in killing

Nov. 3, 2008: Shooting victim always wore smile

Man killed in front of kids; suspect at large

Okanogan County detectives are still looking for a gunman they say killed a father in front of his two children on Friday.

Javier Ramirez-Cardenas, 30, of Okanogan, (left) is accused of fatally shooting Jose Antonio Padilla-Campos, 34, in Campos’ home at Johnny Appleseed Orchards off B&O Road, west of Okanogan. The shooting was reported at 9:15 p.m.

Investigators say Ramirez-Cardenas was let in, then shot Campos as he sat in a chair at a computer.

Campos’ 7-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son witnessed the killing. Both are staying with their mother, who lived at the home but was away at the time of the shooting, said Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers.

Detectives found Ramirez-Cardenas’ 2005 Nissan Altima in an orchard behind his home but haven’t found the suspect.

“We’re chasing a bunch of leads today, but nothing solid yet,” Rogers said.

Investigators don’t know what led to the shooting.

“We’re still trying to figure that out,” Rogers said. “We’re just not sure what his motive was.”

Anyone with information on Ramirez-Cardenas’ location is asked to call (509) 422-7232.

Crenshaw double-murder trial delayed, again

The trial of young man accused of a grisly double murder has been postponed.

  Jury selection in the trial Justin W. Crenshaw, 22, is now set to begin on June 28 - more than two years after investigators say he stabbed Sarah A. Clark and Tanner E. Pehl to death, then tried torching the home to cover the crime.

Trial was scheduled for May 3, but Crenshaw’s lawyer, Chris Bugbee, requested an extension because a report on tests Crenshaw underwent in Western Washignton isn’t ready. Prosecutors also need time to have the report reviewed by an expert.

Crenshaw is charged with two counts of aggravated first-degree murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence without parole if convicted.

The original aggravating factor charges that the murders were “part of a common scheme or plan.” Prosecutors recently amended the charge to include a second aggravating factor - deliberate cruelty.

Pehl and Clark were found dead in Pehl’s home on Elm Street in north Spokane on Feb. 28, 2008. Crenshaw was arrested later that day.

Past coverage:

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

2 convicted in murder of pregnant woman

Okanogan County jurors late Thursday convicted two Spokane residents in the 2009 ice-pick slaying of a pregnant woman near Tonasket.

Tansy Fay-Arwen Mathis, 30, and David Eugene Richards, 34, were convicted in the killing of Michelle Kitterman, 25, who was found dead along a driveway adjacent to Stalder Road in Tonasket on March 1, 2009. Kitterman was 11 weeks pregnant.

Mathis was found guilty of aggravated first-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter of an unborn child, first-degree kidnapping and tampering with evidence. Richards was found guilty of second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter. The jury reached its verdict about 11 p.m., said Sheriff Frank Rogers. Aggravated first-degree murder carries a sentence of life in prison.

Awaiting trial for murder is Lacey K. Hirst-Pavek, 33, of Tonasket, who is accused of offering $500 to have Kitterman killed because Kitterman was having an affair with her husband.

A key witness was Brent L. Phillips, 39, of Spokane, who was involved in the killing and pleaded guilty last month in the murder.

Mathis, formerly of Tonasket, is believed to have met with Hirst-Pavek several times in arranging to have Kitterman killed.

Past coverage: April 16: 2 on trial in Okanogan ice-pick slaying

Teen in fatal stabbing pleads to assault

A teen arrested in a fatal stabbing will spend a few more months in jail after pleading guilty today to second-degree assault. 

Christopher E. Hooper, 19, (left) was arrested after the Jan. 16 stabbing death of Shannon Cochran, 22. Cochran is pictured above with his mother, Tracey.

Hooper was sentenced today to 12 months in prison with credit for time served in jail.

Police say Hooper was with Tylor T. Buttolph, 19, and Michael L. Summa, 20, and Summa fatally stabbed Cochran near Garland and Helena as he defended a friend in a fight over a drug debt. Hooper handed Summa the knife, prosecutors say. Hooper said he was high on methamphetamine at the time. Read more from the sentencing here.

Buttolph (left) and Summa (right) are charged with second-degree murder and remain in jail.

Buttolph’s father, Daniel R. Wood, was convicted last year of first-degree rending criminal assistance for helping the defendants. Buttolph’s mother, Tanya Buttolph, also is charged with first-degree rendering criminal assistance. Her trial is scheduled for May. 

After the stabbing, police say the men called Wood, who picked them up in a car. As the group climbed into Wood’s vehicle, Buttolph asked Summa “why he stabbed Shannon Cochran so many times,” according to court documents.

Past coverage:

Oct. 15, 2009: Warrant issued for teen in murder case

Jan. 26, 2009: Final suspects in homicide arrested

Jan. 21, 2009: Stabbing victim died standing up for friend

Jury convicts career burglar of murder

A jury today convicted a career burglar of killing an 80-year-old man in a botched burglary in September 2008.

David K. Brewczynski, 44, (right, and above in 1997) was convicted of first-degree murder, first-degree burglary and first-degree theft of a firearm for the beating death of Kenneth Cross at Cross’ Boone Avenue home.

A week after the murder, police found Cross’ identification and other personal items in a storage unit Brewczynski rented in southeast Spokane County. Forensic experts say a bloody shoe print in Cross’ house could match a shoe found in Brewczynski’s home.

Deputy Prosecutor Steve Garvin said in his closing argument today that investigators believe they have shown “beyond any doubt” that Brewczynski struck Cross some 24 times in the head, a similar number of blows to his torso and at least two shots to the head.

Brewczynski “beat down, killed and shot Kenneth Cross. It is beyond question,” Garvin said.

But Assistant Public Defender Derek Reid tried to make the case that Spokane County sheriff’s detectives, who are contracted to work as police in Spokane Valley, simply followed the facts that fit their theory and failed to test other evidence that may have supported charging other suspects.

Read more here.

Brewczynski was arrested in 1997 in what detectives described as a community policing dragnet. (The picture up top is from that arrest.) He was suspected in more than three dozen burglaries. He served seven years in prison but was arrested for burglary just months after his release. (Read the story from 2004 here.)

Past coverage:

Trial starts in death of 80-year-old man

Burglar’s storage unit yields dead man’s ID

Murder victim may have been targeted

Accused killer pleads not guilty

Teen gets 11 years in murder over $20

Matthew T. Shope told police everything. He led them to the victim’s body, described her murder in detail and, ultimately, gave detectives a solid case against her killer.

But it’s what Shope did - and didn’t do - before his arrest that earned him more than a decade in prison under a sentence imposed Tuesday in Spokane County Superior Court.

“He was not the instigator of the incident,” said Deputy Prosecutor John Love. “However, he did not attempt to stop the incident.”

Shope pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for the Oct. 6, 2008, strangulation death of 28-year-old Jennifer L. Siria and was sentenced to 134 months in prison.

His accomplice, Michael A. Quinones, 29, was sentenced to 25 years in prison March 25 after pleading guilty to first-degree murder.

“I should have done something,” Shope said today through tears. “I was a coward in the situation and didn’t take action to stop it and I feel terrible for the family.”

Siria’s mother, Patricia, said Shope is an example of “what every parent fears for their child, that their bad choices will take them to a place they’ll never be able to overcome.”

“Why didn’t he run out and pound on doors and call for help?” she said. “I hope he wishes now that he had.”

Quinones and Shope gave Siria $20 to let them stay in her apartment at 537 E. Hawthorne Road but demanded the money back when they decided the leave, which led to Siria’s murder.

Shope feared he would be Quinones’s next victim, defense lawyer Mark Hannibal said. Shope helped Quinones clean the apartment, later telling police “it’s amazing how well you can clean when you’re threatened with your life,” Hannibal said.

A Spokane County Sheriff’s deputy picked Shope and Quinones up near the scene and released Quinones not knowing of the murder. But Shope refused to get out of the car and told the deputy he had an arrest warrant. Not finding one, the deputy drove Shope to Daybreak rehab, where the boy told employees “he had been involved in something that could send him to prison for a long time,” according to court documents.

Had it not been for Shope, “the killer would have gotten away with his crime,” Hannibal said. Hannibal asked Moreno to impose an exceptional low sentence of 114 months (the high-end sentence for first-degree manslaughter), but the judge declined.

“I just simply can’t justify it based on the loss of a life in this case,” she said. “I know that you feel badly. I know you are very remorseful for what you did and didn’t do….(but) the devastation that you caused with your codefendant cannot be ignored.”

Past coverage:

Drifter sent to prison for brutal slaying

Second suspect charged in murder

Police: Accused killer wrote rape suspect’s alleged victim

2 on trial in Okanogan Co. ice-pick slaying

Two Spokane residents charged in the ice-pick slaying of a pregnant woman near Tonasket last year face life in prison if convicted by an Okanogan County jury this month.

Tansy Fae-Arwen Mathis, 30 (right), and David Eugene Richards, 34 (left), are accused of killing 25-year-old Michelle L. Kitterman and her unborn baby in an attack authorities say was motivated by an affair Kitterman was having with the husband of Lacey K. Hirst-Pavek, 33, of Tonasket.

Richards and Mathis are charged with aggravated first-degree murder, which carries a life sentence if convicted. Kitterman was 11 weeks pregnant when she was found dead on March 1 along a driveway adjacent to Stalder Road, near Tonasket.

Investigators say Hirst-Pavek offered $500 for the killing, then rented a car that detectives said was used in the attack. Hirst-Pavek (right) is awaiting trial on charges of first-degree murder for Kitterman’s slaying and first-degree manslaughter for the death Kitterman’s unborn child.

A key witness against Mathis and Richards is 39-year-old Brent L. “Hollywood” Phillips, of Spokane, who pleaded guilty to Kitterman’s murder March 29.

A plea deal calls for him to get 26 years in prison when he’s sentenced May 11, said Okanogan County Prosecutor Karl Sloan.

Other witnesses include Spokane police investigators who assisted Okanogan County in the investigation because “several of the people (Okanagan investigators) needed to speak with were in Spokane,” Sloan said.

Phillips (left) and Richards lived in Spokane at the time of the murder.

Mathis, formerly of Tonasket, is believed to have met with Hirst-Pavek several times before reaching an agreement to “take care of” Kitterman for $500 and persuading Richards and Phillips to get involved, Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said in previously published reports.

Richards is believed to have provided the ice pick, Rogers said.

Lawyer Steve Graham, who’s defending Mathis, said the murder was the “sole work” of Phillips.

Past coverage:

Affair may have triggered ice-pick slaying

Fourth suspect arrested in pregnant woman’s death

Suspect in ice-pick playing surrenders

Man pleads guilty to ‘08 murder of baby

A Spokane man who murdered a 7-month-old girl, then assaulted her older brother, faces 12 to 20 years in prison when he’s sentenced next month. 

Jereme J. Bassett, 24, has been in Spokane County Jail since March 20, 2008, the day his now ex-girlfriend brought her daughter, Nevaeh Alana Miller, to Sacred Heart Medical Center with head trauma so severe doctors said recovery was hopeless.

Bassett recently pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and third-degree assault of a child and will be sentenced May 3.

“I wish he would have burned in Hell instead, but it sounds like this is the best deal we’re going to get,” said Nevaeh’s grandmother, Deborah Parks. “It’ll never replace what he took from us.”

The assault conviction stems from Bassett choking Nevaeh’s 8-year-old half-brother and slamming him into a bed after the children’s mother, Jennifer Wilcox, rushed Nevaeh to the hospital. The boy had commented to Bassett that Nevaeh “was brain dead,” according to court documents.

Bassett was unemployed and regularly watched Nevaeh and the boy while Wilcox worked.

Wilcox returned the day of Bassett’s arrest to find her baby unresponsive in the room she and Bassett shared at the West Wynn Motel on Sunset Boulevard.

Bassett had called her earlier to say Nevaeh had fallen and hit her head but seemed OK. He told police he tried to revive the child, then smoked marijuana with two friends who were visiting.

Nevaeh was pronounced dead on March 22, 2008. Her organs were donated to three babies. Parks said she stays in contact with the parents of the baby who received Nevaeh’s heart.

“That’s made a big difference,” she said.

Bassett has past convictions for possession of a controlled substance, residential burglary, and attempted first-degree theft. His criminal history calls for a standard sentencing range of 144 to 244 months.

Spokane County Superior Court Judge Annette Plese approved Bassett’s plea deal on Thursday, the same day Spokane police announced the arrest of 18-year-old Tyler L. Jamison on accusations that he assaulted his 2-month-old daughter, SkyeLynn.

Past coverage:

Girls organs given to 3 babies

Troubles started early for man accused in baby’s death

Police: Baby brain dead after father’s assault

When medics first saw Skyelynn Jamison this week, the two-month-old girl had a serious head injury, broken ribs and bruises all over her body.

Her father, 18-year-old Tyler L. Jamison, told a doctor on the phone earlier that he thought something was wrong, but police say he ignored orders to take the girl to a hospital immediately.

Now Skyelynn is on life support at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, and Jamison is in Spokane County Jail on a first-degree assault charge that police say will be amended to a murder charge if Skyelynn dies.

The girl is not expected to survive, said police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer DeRuwe.

Detectives arrested Jamison late Wednesday after his girlfriend’s family told 911 dispatchers he planned to leave town to escape arrest.

Spokane County District Court Judge Debra Hayes called the police description of the case “difficult for anyone to read” before ruling Jamison a flight risk Thursday. His bail was set at $200,000.

Read the rest of my story here.

Skyelynn is the third Spokane baby in two years to suffer fatal injuries allegedly at the hands of a caretaker.

In March 2008, Nevaeh Alana Miller died after police say her mother’s boyfriend, Jereme J. Bassett, abused her. Bassett, 24, is scheduled for trial in June on one charge of second-degree murder.

In December 2008, Izayah Arlen Wayne Denison died at the hands of his mother’s boyfriend, Andrew W. Whitmire. Whitmire, 24, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in November and is serving 14 years in prison.

In February, Daniel S. O’Brien, 23, was charged with assaulting his 2-month-old daughter, Tristan. He remains in jail.

Trial starts in murder of 80-year-old man

A jury will soon decide whether a career burglar murdered an elderly Spokane Valley man in 2008.

David K. Brewczynski, 44, is accused of killing 80-year-old Kenneth Cross in a botched burglary at Cross’ Boone Avenue home on Sept. 20, 2008.

A week after the murder, police found Cross’ identification and other personal items in a storage unit Brewczynski rented in southeast Spokane County.

Forensic experts say a bloody shoe print in Cross’ house could match a shoe found in Brewczynski’s home, Deputy Prosecutor Steve Garvin said in his opening statement Wednesday.

Garvin said evidence shows Brewczynski is the killer. But public defender Derek Reid pointed to conflicting statements made by Cross’ housekeeper, Teresa M. Nelson, in an effort to persuade jurors “the government hasn’t done their job.”

Investigators who interviewed Nelson the day of the murder “described her as nervous, fidgety,” Reid said. “At one point, without an explanation, she says ‘I didn’t kill him. I didn’t have anything to do with it,’ ” Reid said.

Read the rest of my story here.

Past coverage:

Burglar’s storage unit yields dead man’s ID

Murder victim may have been targeted

Accused killer pleads not guilty

Elderly man’s accused killer on trial this week

Jury selection is expected to begin this week in the trial of a career burglar accused of killing an 80-year-old Spokane Valley man. 

David K. Brewczynski, 44, is charged with first-degree murder and 23 other counts related to four residential burglaries committed around the time Kenneth Cross was found beaten and shot to death in his Boone Avenue home on Sept. 20, 2008. Cross had lived at the home since 1968.

Expected to testify is Cross’s housekeeper, Teresa M. Nelson. Nelson pleaded guilty to first-degree theft in February 2009 for stealing a ring from Cross’s girlfriend’s home. Nelson first told police she met Brewczynski through a dating phone line but has since denied knowing him.

The trial in Spokane County Superior Court is scheduled to last eight days. Judge Annette Plese is presiding.

Brewczynski was arrested in 1997 in what detectives described as a community policing dragnet. (The picture up top is from that arrest.) He was suspected in more than three dozen burglaries. He served seven years in prison but was arrested for burglary just months after his release. (Read the story from 2004 here.)

Past coverage:

Burglar’s storage unit yields dead man’s ID

Murder victim may have been targeted

Accused killer pleads not guilty

Calif. murder trial for Spokane man delayed

The second murder trial for a former Spokane photographer accused of killing his wife in California more than 25 years ago will be postponed, officials said today.

William G. Mordick, 64, was arrested in Spokane on Feb. 11, 2008, and has been in custody in Orange County, Calif., since. He’s charged with first-degree murder for the death of his wife, Katherine Mordick, who was found dead with her throat slashed in the couple’s Anaheim Hills home on Jan. 22, 1983.

A jury couldn’t reach a verdict after his first trial last fall, according to the Orange County Register. Prosecutors argued Mordick killed his wife “in order to keep custody of his daughters, ages 2 and 4 at the time, and to avoid paying the $650 monthly child support payments,” according to an article you can read here.

Mordick’s second trial is scheduled to begin April 14, but an assistant to defense lawyer Jack Earley said today that it will be postponed to allow more time to prepare.

Mordick owned and operated Photography by Gregory in Spokane beginning in the early 1990s.

Previous coverage:

Spokane photographer held in wife’s 1983 slaying

Husband guilty in pregnant teacher’s killing

(Joel Mills/The Lewiston Tribune)

Sarah Parks’ family badly wants to know how she died.

With that in mind, they are supporting a plea agreement that will send her husband Silas Parks to prison for a maximum of 40 years, Latah County Prosecutor William Thompson Jr. said.

“I think at this point, in addition to wanting to be assured that an appropriate punishment is handed down, they also want to know exactly what happened,” Thompson said.

Silas Parks pleaded guilty Tuesday to two counts of voluntary manslaughter and one count of first-degree arson in connection with the death last year of his pregnant wife, Sarah Parks, a third-grade teacher at Moscow Charter School.

Silas Parks, 26, of Kendrick, Idaho, was initially charged with two counts of first-degree murder and the arson count.

But a plea deal negotiated with the Latah County Prosecutor’s Office reduced the murder charges. It also stipulated that as part of a presentence investigation, Silas Parks will describe in detail how he killed Sarah Parks and then set fire to their Moscow duplex.

Read the rest of the Lewiston Tribune story here.

Drifter gets 25 years for ‘08 strangulation

A panhandler who murdered a woman in a dispute over $20 was sentenced today to 25 years in prison.  

Michael A. Quinones, 29, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder for the Oct. 6, 2008, strangulation death of 28-year-old Jennifer L. Siria.

“This was not a planned thing,” Quinones said. “Frankly, I don’t remember half of it. I’m not a brutal savage. This just got out of hand that night. I’m sorry it occurred.”

Another defendant, 19-year-old Matthew T. Shope, is expected to be sentenced for the murder soon.

Read Tom Clouse’s story here.

Past coverage:

Panhandler sought in woman’s killing

Second suspect charged in murder

Police: Accused killer wrote rape suspect’s alleged victim/a>