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A Spokane man faces a minimum of 45 years in prison after a jury convicted him Wednesday of two counts of murder that followed a dispute over a car swap.
The jury convicted 28-year-old Merle W. Harvey of first-degree murder in connection with the shooting death Sept. 26, 2009, of 41-year-old Jack T. Lamere.
The jury also convicted Harvey of second-degree murder for the killing of 45-year-old Jacob J. Potter, who just happened to be with Lamere on the day of the shooting.
Spokane County Prosecutor Deputy Dale Nagy said Harvey faces a minimum of 45 years because the murder convictions must be served consecutively.
The jury found that Harvey used a gun in the commission of the killings, which added 10 years to the murder sentences. The sentencing date is set for 3 p.m. on Oct. 22.
“I think it was a just verdict,” Nagy said. “And most importantly … the family is pleased.”
Edward L. “TD” Thomas, 25, will remain incarcerated on a probation hold and $600,000 bond after appearing in Superior Court today via video from the Spokane County Jail, where he was booked just after 9 p.m. Tuesday.
Thomas, wearing a dark blue jail jumpsuit, appeared stoic in court, replying “Yes, your honor,” to each of Judge Annette Plese’s procedural questions. Described by police as a member of a Compton, Calif.,-based gang, Thomas was arrested Sept. 9 in Los Angeles on Spokane County warrants charging him with first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder. He’s also charged with bail jumping for an unrelated robbery case and with escape from community custody.
Thomas stopped checking in with his probation officer around the time of the Jan. 17 shooting death of John S. Williams, 38.
Police say Thomas shot Williams in the face outside a birthday party for a reputed gang member at 5405 N. Crestline Street. He’s also accused of trying to kill Williams’ son during the shooting.
Police believe the shooting resulted from lingering tensions between Thomas and a rival gang member who has a child with the mother of Thomas’ child. The rival, who reportedly belonged to the same gang as Williams, was with Williams’ son when he pulled a gun on Thomas a couple weeks before the party, and Thomas felt he needed to retaliate, police said.
One witness told police there was a feud brewing between older Spokane gang members like Williams and younger members like Thomas.
Six other men were charged in connection with the homicide. Cedric E. “Dirty” Burton, 23, sentenced to five years in prison this month for driving Thomas from the murder.
A jury of six men and six women began deliberating this morning whether a Spokane man murdered two men last September or was defending himself when he gunned them down.
Merle W. Harvey, 28, faces two counts of first-degree murder in connection with the killings on Sept. 26, 2009, of 41-year-old Jack T. Lamere and 45-year-old Jacob J. Potter.
Jurors have the option of convicting Harvey of lesser charges like second-degree murder or manslaughter.
Harvey, a convicted felon, claims he shot Lamere in self-defense after Lamere brought a gun to a dispute over a vehicle. Harvey said he thought he saw Potter - who was with Lamere at the time - put a gun in his shirt, but it turned out to be a flashlight.
After the shooting outside an apartment complex at 1310 W. Boone Ave., Harvey stole a truck in Spokane. He drove it to Coeur d’Alene where he stole another vehicle before he was finally apprehended in Kennewick on Oct. 10, 2009.
Testimony in the trial, which began Sept. 16, included a host of familiar names as witnesses described the weeks of unreported threats - and one unwanted haircut - that led to the gunfire.
JARRATT, Va. (AP) — The first woman executed in the United States in five years was put to death in Virginia on Thursday for arranging the killings of her husband and a stepson over a $250,000 insurance payment.
Teresa Lewis, 41, died by injection at 9:13 p.m. Thursday, authorities said. She became the first woman executed in Virginia in nearly a century. Supporters and relatives of the victims watched her execution at Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt.
Lewis enticed two men through sex, cash and a promised cut in an insurance policy to shoot her husband, Julian Clifton Lewis Jr., and his son, Charles, as they slept in October 2002. Both triggermen were sentenced to life in prison and one committed suicide in 2006.
Lewis appeared fearful, her jaw clenched, as she was escorted into the death chamber. She glanced tensely around at 14 assembled corrections officials before being bound to a gurney with heavy leather straps.
Moments before her execution, Lewis asked if her husband’s daughter was near.
Kathy Clifton, Lewis’ stepdaughter, was in an adjacent witness room blocked from the inmate’s view by a two-way mirror.
“I want Kathy to know that I love her and I’m very sorry,” Lewis said.
Then, as the drugs flowed into her body, her feet bobbed but she otherwise remained motionless. A guard lightly tapped her on the shoulder reassuringly as she slipped into death. (A medical examiners truck is pictured above leaving the prison.)
Read the rest of the Associated Press story by clicking the link below.
Testimony in a Spokane County double-homicide trial expected to end next week includes a host of familiar names as witnesses describe the weeks of unreported threats - and one unwanted haircut - that led to the September 2009 gunfire.
Merle W. Harvey, 28, (right) feared Jack T. Lamere and had been threatened by him several times, Harvey’s mother and best friend testified Wednesday.
Lamere’s friend Dare Douglas had brawled with Harvey’s girlfriend, Diane L. Richardson, and tow truck driver Richard Ziesmer had reportedly taken calls from Harvey lamenting a car trade and threatening Lamere. According to testimony, Lamere often visited Harvey’s home, including once with a man prosecutors called Matt Short - a 6-foot-1, red-haired man who was Wednesday’s Crime Stoppers’ fugitive.
Harvey killed Lamere, 41, and Jacob J. Potter , 45, (left) on Sept. 26, 2009, in what he says was self defense but prosecutors say was a planned murder out of revenge for weeks of problems with Lamere over a car dispute. Harvey said Lamere took his Chevy Blazer for a test drive and never returned, leaving him with a title-less Cadillac he couldn’t drive.
Court testimony on Wednesday described a bizarre altercation weeks before the homicides in which Lamere arrived at Harvey’s East Rich Avenue trailer, instructed him to sit down and be quiet, then forcefully cut Richardson’s hair.
When Harvey visited Lamere later, Lamere had knives and scalping instruments displayed on a table, along with Richardson’s braided hair, according to court testimony.
Some time later, Richardson brawled with Douglas, said Harvey’s mother, Faith Harvey. Lamere learned of the fight and called Harvey, threatening him, according to court testimony.
“He said that Merle was going to be dead,” Faith Harvey testified.
She said her son and his girlfriend were so frightened they went camping for several days. Lamere (right) visited the home several times while they were gone. He often bragged about his past time in federal prison and told Faith Harvey he’d committed “violent, heinous crimes,” she said. (Read more about Lamere here.)
Faith Harvey was the first defense witness to testify.
The prosecution’s last witness, Spokane police Detective Chet Gilmore, testified Wednesday morning, saying that though both Lamere and Potter had brass knuckles, Harvey didn’t mention the weapons after his arrest.
Gilmore said Harvey told him he shot the men on purpose and said Potter “was ready to F us up.”
He said Potter was wearing spiked brass knuckles and carrying a pistol-gripped black flashlight, but that Harvey claimed Potter had hidden a black handgun under his shirt. Gilmore said it would “probably” be difficult to hide the flashlight under a shirt.
It’s undisputed that Lamere was carrying a handgun when he was killed. Lamere’s girlfriend, April Fletcher, also had a knife, but Gilmore said Harvey admitted to never seeing Fletcher, thus the knife has no bearing on the case.
Harvey’s friend Aaron Cunningham (left) testified that he feared Lamere because Lamere held a gun to his head during a meeting over the car trade.
He said Lamere bragged about his history as a torturer “and said that he’s not afraid to do it again,” Cunningham said.
Testimony is to resume Monday at 9:30 a.m.
A vigil to remember homicide victims will be held Thursday in the Spokane County Public Works Building next to the courthouse.
Friends and family of victims as well as others impacted by homicide will gather in the Spokane County Commissioners hearing room at 1026 W. Broadway Ave. as part of the National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims.
The event is scheduled from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. and is sponsored by the victim/witness unit of the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office.
The unit has documented 609 murders, vehicular homicides, manslaughters and unsolved violent crimes in Spokane County.
“While a few of these cases occurred in other areas, the victims’ families are located here and all too often, they are still struggling to cope with the murder of a loved one,” according to a news release.
On Friday, victim/witness coordinator Annette Ingham will place pairs of shoes on the lawn next to the Law Enforcement Memorial to reflect the number of people impacted by homicide.
For more information on the events, contact Ingham at (509) 477-3640.
A former Spokane photographer accused of killing his wife 27 years ago is on trial in Southern California.
William G. Mordick, 64, was arrested in Spokane on Feb. 11, 2008. He’d owned and operated Photography by Gregory in Spokane since the early 1990s.
He’s charged with 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. He faces life in prison if convicted.
A jury couldn’t reach a verdict after Mordick’s first trial last fall. His second trial began Thursday and is expected to last until early October, the Orange County Register reports.
Authorities say DNA linked him to his wife’s murder, which they allege he committed to keep custody of the couple’s two children and avoid child support payments.
Trial began Wednesday for a man accused of gunning down two others in a dispute over a car trade last September.
Merle W. Harvey said he shot Jack T. Lamere, 41, and Jacob J. Potter, 45, in self defense after the men, who were high on methamphetamine, threatened him with weapons.
But prosecutors contend 28-year-old Harvey, convicted of felony first-degree assault for a shooting 10 years ago, planned the slayings and then lied about what happened to investigators when he was arrested after two weeks on the run.
Opening statements were given Wednesday afternoon, followed by testimony from one of the first responding police officers. The trial is expected to last through next week, said Deputy Prosecutor Dale Nagy.
Harvey shot Lamere and Potter to death Sept. 26 in the parking lot of Lamere’s apartment at 1310 W. Boone Ave., then fled with his girlfriend at the time, Diane L. Richardson.
They were arrested Oct. 10 while walking in a field in Kennewick after allegedly stealing jeep in Coeur d’Alene, then crashing it into a canal in the Tri-Cities following a shoplifting incident at a convenience store.
Richardson pleaded guilty to first-degree rendering criminal assistance in February and was sentenced to six months in jail with credit for time served.
Harvey is charged with two counts of first-degree murder. He’s said since he was first arrested that he shot Lamere and Potter in self defense after the men surrounded his truck with guns.
He said he wasn’t looking for the men that night but spotted his Chevy Blazer in the parking lot while driving with Richardson.
Harvey said Lamere, who had been released from prison in September 2008, had taken his Blazer for a test drive but never turned it and left Harvey with a Cadillac but no title.
Harvey said he called Lamere (left) repeatedly asking for the title but didn’t get anywhere.
“The problem was compounded by the fact that Merle was aware of Jack’s history of violence and torture,” according to court documents prepared by Merle’s lawyer, Scott Mason. “Jack was a convicted felon, known as a debt collector (“taxman”) and enforcer. He often carried a knife and/or brass knuckles.”
Harvey said Lamere refused to give him his Blazer without the Cadillac, so Richardson borrowed and STA security guard’s cell phone to have the car driven to the parking lot.
While Richardson was gone, Lamere and his girlfriend, April Fletcher, armed themselves with a gun and knife. Lamere and Potter each had a pair of brass knuckles; Potter’s were spiked, according to court documents.
Police photos show a metal baseball bat and knife on the floor of the car Lamere had been working on; a loaded gun was in a nearby toolbox, and another knife was in the bed of a truck, according to court documents. Lamere and Potter had high levels of meth in their bloodstream.
Harvey shot the men with two guns but “it was not until the scene became hostile and Merle felt Diana’s and his life were being threatened that he revealed the weapons and fired,” Mason said in court documents.
But other witnesses dispute Harvey’s account, prosecutors say. According to court documents, one man told police he heard the shooter “say something to the effect of, ‘This is for ripping me off.’”
And Richard Ziesmer, a tow truck driver who worked with Lamere, said Harvey had called threatening the men in the days leading up to the shooting.
Ziesmer told The Spokesman-Review in June that his court paperwork had been getting mistakenly mailed to Harvey’s mother’s home. Ziesmer says he learned of the mix up when he found the paperwork stuck to his tow yard fence with the word “snitch” scrawled on it.
Harvey’s mother, 55-year-old Faith M. Harvey is expected to testify. She was jailed Tuesday on a material witness warrant.
The trial resumes this morning before Spokane County Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen.
A Stevens County man who murdered a man he was already accused of assaulting will spend the rest of his life in prison under a sentence imposed Wednesday.
A jury convicted Christopher H. Devlin, 57, of aggravated first-degree murder last month for the May 2008 slaying of Daniel Heily, who was shot to death a day before he was testify again Devlin in an assault case.
But the jury ruled Devlin was not armed with a firearm - a contradiction that Spokane County Superior Judge Jerome Leveque said may affect the case upon appeal.
“Whether or not the verdict is going to survive challenges, I don’t know,” Leveque said.
Defense lawyer Mark Vovos said Wednesday that he intends to appeal.
Heily’s family spoke at the sentencing, describing Heily as a loving man and calling Devlin a “psychopath,” “thug,” “despicable individual” and “tyrannical plague.”
The only sentences for aggravated murder in Washington are life in prison or the death penalty. Leveque ruled out the death penalty in February because prosecutors withheld from defense lawyers information about where the murder was committed.
Devlin had no prior criminal record. He remains in Spokane County Jail awaiting transport to prison.
A fugitive arrested at a Spokane Valley motel on Sunday is a suspected member of a white supremacist group investigated for murders, robberies and assaults that targeted minorities in Southern California.
Cory A. Dearing, 52, remains in the Spokane County Jail awaiting extradition to Riverside County, where he’s charged with conspiracy to commit murder.
The charge was filed in May 2009 after a raid that targeted the Inland Empire Skinheads.
Officials with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office told told the Press-Enterprise that the group has ties to the national white supremacist group the Hammerskins and uses social networking websites to recruit members, including high school students under age 18.
Seven of Dearing’s alleged associates were arrested on April 20, 2009. The suspected leader, Raymond Williams, was arrested at a hospital where his wife was giving birth. Police said the woman and another pregnant woman and been considering inducing labor so their children could be born on Adolf Hitler’s birthday. Williams later committed suicide in jail.
He, Dearing and Jeremy D. Brower were charged with criminal street gang activity conspiracy to commit a crime with a violent gang activity enhancement, according to Riverside Superior Court records available online.
Coeur d’Alene police announced late Friday that Dearing may be in Coeur d’Alene visiting relatives. Witnesses placed him at a home on Woodside Avenue, just north of Interstate 90 and east of Huetter Road in Coeur d’Alene, about 5 p.m., then at a home in Hayden on Tessa Way later that evening.
He was arrested in Spokane Valley on Sunday about 11 a.m. as he walked from the Maple Tree Motel, 4824 E. Srpague Avenue, where a U.S. Marshals task force had been watching him for several hours.
Six days after tanking a plea deal by professing his innocence, a Spokane man who drove the suspected gunman from a murder in January pleaded guilty to four felonies but maintained he played no role in the gang-related slaying.
“In my heart, I know I didn’t murder this man or help murder this man,” said Cedric E. “Dirty” Burton.
Burton, 23, said he knew the victim, John S. Williams, “personally.”
“He was a nice guy to me, too. He was real cool,” Burton said. “…I do feel sorry for him.”
He lamented the lifestyle that leads to shooting deaths like Williams’.
“I’m from Cali. I see it constantly, everyday,” Burton said.
He said he felt Williams’ family’s pain because people close to him have been murdered, too. He mentioned his cousin, Aaron Bascomb, who was shot to death in Los Angeles in April.
“I know the severity of what you have to deal with this,” Burton said to the members of Williams’ family who sat in the courtroom. “I’ve lost so many people I grew up with…We go through it constantly down there.”
Superior Court Judge Annette Plese approved Burton’s plea deal, which sentenced him to 60 months in prison. He’ll serve the sentence the same time as a 63-month sentence for a second-degree assault conviction handed down by a jury last month.
He pleaded guilty today to harassment, bail jumping, and two counts of rendering criminal assistance. The deal reduced robbery and assault charges to rendering (Burton drove a man who robbed and assaulted a woman from the scene) and dropped an additional count of bail jumping. The harassment charge stemmed from text messages Burton sent to the mother of his 14-month-old daughter.
Burton said his child is his impetus for resolving his criminal charges quickly.
“Being deprived of your freedom, it teaches you a lot,” he said.
Burton has a previous assault conviction for a 2005 gang shooting in which Demetrius Route was convicted of murder and Deric D. Burton was convicted of conspiracy to commit first-degree assault and two counts of second-degree assault.
That conviction coupled with his assault conviction from last month makes two strikes for Cedric - one more and he’ll be sent to prison for the rest of his life. His public defender, Mark Hannibal, said Burton understands that.
“He is a young man,” Hannibal said. “He does have a few goals in his life; one is to continue his education.”
Burton said he trusts in God and said though he’s made a lot of mistakes, “Regardless of what’s on my record, I’ve never intentionally assaulted anyone or robbed anyone.”
“I was becoming a victim to the lifestyle I was getting myself into,” he said. “A second of freedom, a second with my daughter, it’s worth more than a lifetime of bondage.”
Burton acknowledged Williams’ supporters as he was taken from the courtroom back to jail.
“God bless you guys,” he said.
Williams’ mother, Cindy, said she appreciated Burton’s kind words about her son and said she isn’t sure Burton even knew who’d been killed when he drove the alleged shooter, Edward L. “TD” Thomas, from the party at 5405 N. Crestline Jan. 17.
Thomas, who was arrested Thursday in Los Angeles, is charged with first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder for John Williams’ slaying and the attempted slaying of his son. Police say Thomas had a gun pointed at him by a gang member associated with Williams and felt he needed to retaliate.
(AP) A law professor at Gonzaga University who drove to Walla Walla from Spokane to protest the execution of Cal Coburn Brown told the Associated Press she was embarrassed by Brown’s mandated fate.
“I want to make a very strong statement to the citizens of Washington and to Gov. Gregoire that many of us are opposed to killing people in our names,” said Mary Pat Treuthart, 57. “And I’m angry, saddened, and embarrassed that the U.S. is still using the death penalty to punish anyone for their crimes.”
Treuthart joined about two dozen people opposed to capital punishment inside a gated area outside the prison where Brown was executed early today. (Treuhart is pictured, with Nancy Nelson, also of Spokane, at the protest Thursday night in Walla Walla. Trehart is at the left, Nelson is at the right.)
A separate gated area for death penalty supporters drew three people. Construction worker Mark Clark, 36, of Kennewick, said he thought for several days about coming to the execution.
“My thought is you’ve got to pay for what you’ve done,” Clark said. “You’ve got to be accountable for your actions.”
Brown (right) was executed for 1991 rape, torture and murder of 21-year-old Holly Washa. Brown confessed to killing Washa during an interrogation in California for an alleged assault on a woman there. He later led authorities to Washa’s battered body, which was inside the trunk of a car.
Brown met Washa near Sea-Tac airport in Washington when he helpfully pointed to Washa’s rear tire, indicating a problem. When she stopped to check it out, he carjacked her at knifepoint.
For the next 36 hours, Brown robbed, raped and tortured Washa, before stabbing and strangling her.
University Ministry and Catholic Charities sponsored a vigil against the death penalty Thursday night at Gonzaga University’s Crosby Center. The Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane organized a nondenominational ceremony followed by another vigil on the steps of the Spokane County Courthouse.
Brown was the first Washington inmate to die by a one-drug lethal injection.
Brown spent much of Thursday talking on the telephone with his attorneys and family members, said Belinda Stewart, communications and outreach director for the state Department of Corrections.
His last meal included meat pizza and apple pie.
“He is resigned to what is going to happen tonight,” Stewart said Thursday. “He’s aware, he knows and he’s resigned.”
Washa’s father, brother and two sisters of witnessed the execution, as did King County prosecutor Dan Satterberg (left).
Just before his execution, Brown protested sentencing disparities, saying that criminals who had killed many more people, such as Green River killer Gary Ridgway, were serving life sentences while he received a death sentence.
“I only killed one victim,” he said. “I cannot really see that there is true justice. Hopefully, sometime in the future that gets straightened out.”
Brown did not apologize to the family of the victim, but said he understood their emnity for him. He said he forgave that hatred, held no emnity toward them and hoped the execution would give them closure. He also said the prison staff had been most professional and that he had no complaints about his treatment there in 17 years.
After his comments, Brown, who was lying on his back strapped to a gurney, looked up at the tubes sticking out of the wall and connected to his body. When the drug was administered, his chest heaved three times and his lips shuddered, then there was no movement.
The Washa family showed little emotion during the execution. Both sisters sat in the front row holding unopened tissue boxes, while brother Roger sat in the back with his father, his arms folded across his chest.
“Closure has finally come to the family,” said John Washa, Holly’s father, of Ogallala, Neb. “Why he did what he did to my daughter Holly I guess I’ll never understand.” (Holly’s mother is pictured left in 2009)
“Now it’s finally over, I don’t have to think about him anymore,” said sister Becky Washa of Sioux Falls, S.D., as family members held a picture of the victim.
Brown’s attorney and members of his family were not present at the execution, though he spoke with them by phone on Thursday.
Brown was the first Washington inmate to die by a one-drug lethal injection. His was the fifth execution since 1993, and the third in a row by lethal injection. All the others were by hanging.
Read an Associated Press story about the executions by clicking the link below.
Edward L. “TD” Thomas, 25, wanted since June for first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder, was captured by the fugitive squad of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Compton station, according to a news release by Matt Rose of the Spokane Violent Crime Gang Enforcement Team.
Spokane police detectives have been in close contact with Southern California law enforcement regarding the Jan. 17 murder of John S. Williams, 38, because “many of the suspects were known to have ties to the South Central Los Angeles area,” Rose said.
Police say Thomas shot Williams in the face outside a birthday party for a reputed gang member at 5405 N. Crestline Street. He’s also accused of trying to kill Williams’ son during the shooting.
Police believe the shooting resulted from lingering tensions between Thomas and a rival gang member who has a child with the mother of Thomas’ child. The rival, who reportedly belonged to the same gang as Williams, had pulled a gun on Thomas a couple weeks before the party, and Thomas felt he needed to retaliate, police said.
One witness told police there was a feud brewing between older Spokane gang members like Williams and younger members like Thomas.
Six men are accused of helping Thomas avoid arrest or of lying to police to cover up the murder. Five - Eric “Smalls” Burton, Jr., 25; Cedric E. “Dirty” Burton, 23; John E. Burton, 27; James Henderson, 33; Christopher J. “Baby Boy” Route, 24 - have been arrested. Only Marc A. “Bookie” Carter remains at large.
Police say most of the men are cousins; Cedric and John Burton are half-brothers.
Route, Thomas, Cedric Burton and Eric Burton were convicted of felony assault or riot for a January 2005 gang murder outside Crazy 8’s bar. Demetrius Route was convicted of that murder and remains in prison. Deric D. Burton was convicted of two counts of second-degree assault and conspiracy to commit first-degree assault. He also remains in prison.
YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) — In a state where executions are uncommon, Cal Coburn Brown’s lethal injection on Friday will be the first time since 2001 that Washington has carried out its capital punishment.
Barring a last-minute stay of execution from the state or U.S. Supreme Court, the 52-year-old will become the first death row inmate in the state to die by a one-drug method of execution, a recently changed protocol from a three-drug cocktail. Washington is the second state in the nation, after Ohio, to change to the one-drug method.
Gov. Chris Gregoire on Wednesday denied clemency for Brown, who had petitioned for his death sentence to be commuted to a life sentence.
The governor said she found “no basis to change the death sentence that was imposed by the jury in accordance with the laws of our state.”
The state Supreme Court also denied a stay, though Brown’s attorneys immediately asked for an emergency stay and another review. An appeal challenging the qualifications of the state’s execution team is before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Eighteen months ago, Brown, who was convicted in the 1991 murder of Seattle-area woman Holly Washa was just hours from a lethal injection when he received a stay of execution. (Washa’s sister, Becky Washa, of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is pictured outside the Washington State Penitentiary in March 2009 with a picture of her slain daughter)
The state Supreme Court granted the stay because another inmate had been granted a hearing on the constitutionality of the state’s lethal injection policy. Since then, Washington’s execution method has changed, as has the four-member team assigned to carry out the injection.
The previous team resigned, fearing its members might be identified after several inmates challenged the state’s previous method and questioned the qualifications of the execution team.
Read the rest of the AP story by clicking the link below.
In a 16-page affidavit prosecutors suggested may have originated with her jailed husband, alleged murder plot target Cyndi Steele rails against a plea deal arranged with FBI informant Larry Fairfax and accuses the U.S. Attorney’s Office of violating her rights as a victim.
The document, filed under seal but emailed to the Spokesman-Review by an associate of Steele’s, can be read here.
In it, Steele calls for Fairfax to be charged with conspiracy to commit murder or attempted murder and says the FBI told her about murder plot co-conspirators who still have not been arrested. She claims the FBI knew of the 12-inch pipe bomb affixed to her SUV (pictured) before auto shop employees discovered it June 15 and says they allowed her to drive from Oregon to North Idaho knowing the device was on her car.
Steele says her fear over the bomb was fueled by death threats made against her family, including her children, “whenever my husband would take political positions on various issues,” according to the affidavit. “Death threats occurred quite often when my husband was acting as a First Amendment defense lawyer protecting the individual’s right to freedom of speech….Some of these death threats were made by persons affiliated with the Anti-Defamation League, an organization that has professed a strong dislike for my husband and some of his political positions.”
The Anti-Defamation League did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
Steele called for the plea hearing to be postponed, but U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill declined, noting she’d filed her request that morning despite knowing of the hearing for two weeks.
“I have to question either the motive or the sincerity of their request,” Winmill said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci Whelan said the affidavit contains opinions and statements she believes aren’t true. She said Cyndi Steele has made it clear she wants nothing to do with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. She’s been in contact with the office in two occasions - to retrieve her husband’s computer and to retrieve silver she says Fairfax stole but investigators say was given to him as a partial payment in the murder-for-hire plot, Whelan said.
Spokane County Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Hirzel said he ordered Pastor Wayne Scott Creach to drop his gun multiple times, struck the 74-year-old man in the leg with a police baton and fired only after the property owner began to draw the gun out of his waistband, an investigator said Tuesday in the first detailed account of the Aug. 25 incident that resulted in Creach’s death.
At no time did Creach aim his weapon at Hirzel, according to Spokane Police Lt. Dave McGovern, who supervises the detectives who investigate major crimes.The autopsy following the shooting showed no corresponding mark on Creach’s leg from a baton strike, McGovern said.
“But then again, that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t struck,” the police lieutenant said. “It’s just that there were no marks of it.” Further forensic testing will be done to determine if there are marks on Creach’s trousers or fibers on the baton. Read Tom Clouse’s full story here.
Past coverage: Sept. 6: Deputy says he hit pastor with baton
A Spokane gang member set to plead guilty today to several felonies changed his mind at the last minute and is now set for trial.
Cedric E. “Dirty” Burton (right), accused of helping a murder suspect avoid arrest, told Judge Tari Eitzen that he was going to plead guilty because “I don’t want to jeopardize any more time,” but then insisted “I’m not guilty of any of these allegations at all, and I know I can beat 90 percent of these allegations.”
Eitzen questioned him repeatedly about his intention and asked if he wanted to plead guilty because he was worried about what would happen if he went to trial (the basis for an Alford plea.)
Burton, 23, said he wasn’t worried about a trial.
“I don’t think I can be found guilty,” Burton said. “I know I’m not guilty of any of these crimes.”
Burton was to plead guilty to harassment, bail jumping and two counts of rending criminal assistance, one in connection to the Jan. 17 murder of John S. WIlliams.
The deal would have dropped first-degree robbery and second-degree assault charges, as well as an additional bail jumping charge.
Deputy Prosecutor Mark Cipolla was to recommend Burton receive 5 years in prison, which he would serve concurrently with a 63-month sentence imposed last month after a jury convicted him of second-degree assault. The charges stemmed from Burton skipping a court hearing, threatening to kill the mother of his child, helping a man who robbed and assaulted a woman escape the home, and for helping murder suspect Edward L. “TD” Thomas after Thomas (left) allegedly shot Williams to death in January.
Burton said Cipolla’s version of the events was wrong and said he missed court because he had a flat tire.
“My speedy trial rights have been violated…just a lot of things,” Burton said. “I don’t feel I have been treated fairly.” Burton said he had a 15-month-old daughter and was “already off the scale with all these strikes, you know what I mean?”
Etizen replied that she didn’t.
“It really truly doesn’t matter to me,” Eitzen said. “We can halt this process and you can go to trial.”
The judge did just that, sending the case to Judge Michael Price to be assigned a trial date.
Burton was taken back to the Spokane County Jail, where he’s been since early May after being arrested in Los Angeles. He said he’d left the state to attend his cousin’s funeral.
Burton is among six men facing charges for the Jan. 17 fatal shooting outside 5405 N. Crestline. His cousin, 33-year-old James C. Henderson, pleaded guilty to riot on Friday and was credited for 102 days served in jail.
Thomas, the alleged triggerman, still is at large. Anyone with tips on his location is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS or submit tips online.
OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Attorneys for a death row inmate who is scheduled to be executed this month have filed a request for an emergency stay with the Washington state Supreme Court.
Cal Coburn Brown argues that his death sentence should be reversed because information related to his mental illness was not adequately considered during sentencing.
Brown reportedly suffers from bipolar disorder. He is scheduled to be executed on Sept. 10 for the 1991 torture and murder of 22-year-old Holly Washa, a Burien woman.
Brown also has filed an appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He is challenging, among other things, the state’s new one-drug system for lethal injection.
Brown is incarcerated at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.
Murder charges against Brian L. Moore, boyfriend of convicted killer Shellye Stark, were filed Aug. 26 - exactly one year after he was indicated on U.S. District Court in the Central District of California on two federal weapons charges.
Moore was sentenced Monday to 21 months in prison in the federal case. He’s already served about 16 months. Spokane police hope federal authorities will transport him here. If not, detectives will go get him. The charges are the second try for prosecutors.
Moore’s federal public defender, Sean Kennedy, had objected to federal prosecutors in California discussing the Stark murder case in Moore’s sentencing documents, saying the “salacious” details had nothing to do with Moore.
But Spokane investigators believe Moore masterminded the plot to murder Dale Stark, helped control his assets and trained Shellye to use firearms.
He was arrested in an Orange County warehouse in April 2009 with unregistered guns and homemade silencers.
In a letter to the judge, Moore said he kept the weapons because they reminded him of happy memories with his father. Working with guns was “how my father and I perpetuate our relationship,” Moore wrote. “This is how I heard him say, “I love you.”
Moore said the effects of his arrest and imprisonment have been “to say the least, dramatic.”
Two cousins charged in a gang-related mucrder are headed to prison on unrelated convictions.
Cedric E. “Dirty” Burton, 23, was sentenced to 63 months in prison on Friday for second-degree assault.
Eric “Smalls” Burton, Jr., 25, also was sentenced recently to 20 months in prison for possession of cocaine with intent to deliver.
Cedric Burton had been charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder for trying to run over two men in a downtown Spokane parking lot in November, but a jury convicted him of only assault, which is his second strike. A co-defendant, Charles Willy Jackson, is charged with second-degree assault, third-degree malicious mischief and possession of a controlled substance (cocaine) after police say he shot out the back window of the men’s Hummer. His trial is set for September.
Eric Burton received the low-end of the standard sentence for his crack cocaine conviction, which stemmed from him having 26 baggies of the drug when Spokane police stopped him last summer.
Authorities have said he may face federal charges for allegedly possessing the gun used to kill John S. Williams on Jan. 17.
Both cousins have convictions related a 2005 gang murder, and both still are charged with first-degree rendering criminal assistance in connection with Williams’ murder in January.
The accused triggerman, Edward “TD” Thomas, still is at large.
COLVILLE – Spokane County prosecutors ended their first-degree murder case against Christopher H. Devlin without calling the only person they believe witnessed the killing.
Defense attorneys Mark Vovos and Roger Hunko implored Superior Court Judge Jerome Leveque to allow them to tell jurors that prosecutors Larry Steinmetz and Dale Nagy agreed to give Carl A. Hoskins a deal in exchange for testimony – that as it turns out never came.
“He’s the only guy who saw anything, supposedly,” Vovos said. “If they didn’t believe him, why would they give him the 27 months?”
Steinmetz refused to comment about why he didn’t call Hoskins as a witness in the trial against the 57-year-old Devlin, who is charged with the May 2008 slaying of 52-year-old Daniel Heily.
A Spokane man was bound with a rope before being thrown to his death off the Sunset Bridge in June.
Police on Monday released a photo of that rope, which was used to bind William P. “Bill” Pickard’s hands and neck, to bring attention to a murder that’s provided few clues.
“We’re hoping this may generate a lead or two,” said Lt. Dave McGovern. “We believe there’s more than one person involved in this crime.”
Pickard died after being thrown from the Sunset Bridge early June 30 in what detectives suspect may have been a drug-related murder.
Pickard’s hands and neck were bound with a nylon rope that McGovern described as “a flat rope that’s black and white in design…It’s kind of like a shoelace but it’s bigger.”
The rope is about three-quarters of an inch in diameter.
“We think it’s unique enough that there’s not too many of these out there,” McGovern said.
Read my full story here.
Identity charges have been dismissed against the father of a prostitute convicted of murdering her husband.
The dismissal of the first-degree identity theft charge against Curtis A. Johnson, 69, comes about a month before his daughter’s boyfriend, Brian L. Moore, (pictured) is expected to be sentenced to two years behind bars for two federal weapons convictions. Moore has been in jail since April 2009 and likely will receive credit for time served.
Spokane County investigators have vowed to refile murder charges against Moore for the Dec. 9, 2007 murder of Dale Stark, who was shot to death by Johnson’s daughter, Shellye L. Stark in their Spokane home.
Police believe Moore helped Shellye Stark plot the murder to get Dale Stark’s assets.
But prosecutors moved to dismiss the original charges of against Moore last October after a judge ruled critical evidence from a private investigator hired by Stark and Moore was not admissible.
Johnson was accused of cashing two checks with signatures forged to look like Dale Stark’s after the murder.
According to court documents, someone transferred $9,500 from Dale Stark’s home equity line on Dec. 28, 2007, into a credit union account Shellye Stark (left) took control of after her husband’s murder.
Less than a week later, Johnson reportedly cashed the two checks from that credit union account - one for $3,000, the other for $9,500 - in Newport, Wash. He lives in Priest River.
Moore is to be sentenced to 24 months in prison and 51 months probation on Aug. 30, assuming a federal judge follows the sentence recommended in the plea agreement.
It’s unclear if a deal was reached with Johnson to testify against Moore, but the felony charge against him was dismissed without prejudice, meaning prosecutors can refile, according to an order signed by Superior Court Judge Michael Price on July 23.
In a plea agreement filed in June 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.
Detectives don’t believe Moore was in Spokane when Shellye shot Dale, rather they allege he plotted the murder with Shellye and helped her concoct a sordid tale of spousal abuse in a failed attempt to dupe authorities into thinking the killing was in self defense.
A Spokane County jury rejected her claim in March 2009, and Judge Tari Eitzen sentenced her to 50 years in prison. She’s at the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor.
Read past coverage of the case here.
In the end, after 2 1/2 years and a two-week trial, the killer had nothing to say.
“No thank you, your honor,” said Justin Crenshaw when Judge Tari Eitzen asked him if he had anything to say for the murders of Sarah Clark and Tanner Pehl. “I don’t want to take away anything from the families. My attorney covered it, and I’ll leave it at that.”
Eitzen pressed the 22-year-old, reminding him it was his only opportunity to speak.
“That’s correct. I understand that your honor,” said Crenshaw, dressed in a blue jail jumpsuit and sporting newly buzzed hair and scruffy facial hair. “Thank you.”
Crenshaw sat stoically through more than three hours of emotional testimony from Clark and Pehl’s loved ones.
He watched witnesses but typically sat with his chin resting on a closed fist, appearing uninterested.
At least five jurors attended the sentencing; the group of 12 took four hours to convict Crenshaw of two counts of aggravated first-degree murder July 27.
Eitzen sentenced the recovering heroin addict from Las Vegas to two consecutive life terms this afternoon, the only punishment available other than the death penalty, which prosecutors already ruled out.
Eitzen said she felt the grief in this case “more acutely than I have before, ever.”
“To look at the mothers, and to see the pain on Ms. Pehl and Mrs. Clark’s faces for all these weeks, it was an extraordinary experience in my life,” the judge said.
“I can’t make it any better,” she said. I can’t give you closure. There isn’t any. There won’t be any.”
Etizen said that anyone who sat through the trial “won’t forget.”
“That’s all I have to tell you, that nobody will forget,” she said.
Eitzen said her sympathy extends to Crenshaw.
“Because I think, Mr Crenshaw, you’re just, you’re a damaged person that you could find yourself in these circumstances,” Eitzen said. “I don’t know how someone could be that hurt and damaged. You’re so young. And I think it’s a terrible, terrible tragedy for anyone to sit in a courtroom…with someone your age and to look at the destruction and havoc that’s been caused by your behavior.”
She said she sentenced Crenshaw to lief terms because the law requires and “because it’s the right thing to do.”
“I think you are a dangerous person,” Etizen told Crenshaw. “I don’t say that with animosity or hatred.”
Deputy Prosecutor Jack Driscoll said the murder case was the most brutal he’d seen.
“I’d look at the pictures, I’d have to go for long walks just because it was horrible,” Driscoll said.
Judge Tari Eitzen requested the break after more than 2 1/2 hours of emotional testimony from grieving family and friends of Sarah A. Clark, 18, and Tanner E. Pehl, 20, who Crenshaw, now 22, stabbed to death on Feb. 28, 2008. A few more people are expected to speak, and Crenshaw will have a chance to address the court.
State law allows only two punishments for aggravated first-degree murder, of which Crenshaw was convicted of July 27: The death penalty or life in prison without parole. Prosecutors already decided not to seek the death penalty.
The packed courtroom this morning included at least four jurors from the two-week trial. Testimony came from Pehl and Clark’s parents, their siblings, other relatives and close friends, including Clark’s piano teacher of five years.
Tanner’s aunt described how surreal it is to hear Tanner’s grandmother say that visiting his grave “is part of her routine.”
She said “she visits Tanner’s grave every couple of days because that’s what grandmas should do.”
“No,” Tanner’s aunt said. “That’s not what grandmas should do.”
Tanner’s aunt ended with a message for Crenshaw, who sat next to his lawyer, Chris Bugbee, wearing a blue jail jumper and sporting newly buzzed hair and scruffy facial hair.
“Justin you’ve taken two precious lives and I hope you suffer the rest of your life,” she said. “I hope you have nightmares the rest of your pathetic life…I do not believe you deserve the air you breathe….Long after the world has turned its back on you, Tanner and Sarah’s memory will live on.”
Sarah’s sister, Emily Gant, said Crenshaw not only murdered Sarah and Tanner, “he also murdered what would have been our lives.” She cited what her mother, Teesha Clark, said after the July 27 verdict: “The murders gave us a life sentence, and he deserves no less.”
Gant said Crenshaw “shows no remorse” and displays an “arrogant smile for the friends and families of Sarah Clark and Tanner Pehl.” Teesha Clark said her life has become consumed with thoughts of her daughter’s murder, and irrational fear that her five other children may be hurt.
Losing her child to such horrific violence “has become my living nightmare.”
Tanner’s brother-in-law, a deputy with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, said he was working as a police officer in Medical Lake when he learned of a fire at the Pehl home on TV. Soon, he and his wife learned of Tanner’s death, and he saw the crime scene. The bloody scene was “just like out of a horror film.”
“It brings me peace that you will be in there forever, never having the opportunity to crush two families again,” he said.
Sarah’s father, Steve Clark, described harrowing grief. “It’s agonizing, debilitating, incomprehensible grief…It makes you dizzy,” he said. “You can never understand it unless you experience it yourself.”
“I try not to think about her pain from the stab wounds; her screaming,” Clark said. “How cold someone do that to another person?”
A close friend of Sarah’s told Eitzen that she spoke with Sarah about Crenshaw a few days before the murder.
“She told me Justin was receiving a new start in the midst of her world, and she was eager to give that to him. She invested her heart into helping him start over,” she said. “…Evil now has a face, and he is unremorseful.”
Tanner’s sister, Katie Pehl (pictured left with brothers Matt and Cameron after the verdict last week,) recalled a conversation Tanner told her he’d had with Crenshaw. Tanner had said he wanted to donate his organs if he died. Crenshaw apparently felt differently.
“Not me,” Katie Pehl recalled Crenshaw saying. “When I die, I’m taking all my s**t with me.”
Katie Pehl told Crenshaw she hopes to someday forgive him.
“That is something I will try for the rest of my life,” Pehl said. “I know that’s what Tanner would want me to do.”
The hearing, set to begin at 9:30 a.m. could last about two hours. Family and friends of victims Sarah A. Clark, 18, and Tanner E. Pehl, 20, are expected to speak, as are members of Crenshaw’s family.
Crenshaw’s mother and grandmother attended the two-week trial, which ended when 12 jurors convicted the 22-year-old of two counts of aggravated first-degree murder on July 27. Crenshaw has been in Spokane County Jail since Feb. 29, 2008, one day after he stabbed Clark and Pehl to death in Pehl’s home at 512 E. Elm Road, then torched the home.
The only punishment for aggravated first-degree murder in Washington state is the death penalty or life in prison without parole; prosecutors already have decided not to seek the death penalty.
So the pressing question this morning is: What will Crenshaw say?
Eitzen will give the young man a chance to address the court before she sentences him.
The California native, who moved to Las Vegas as a young teen or preteen and is a recovering heroin addict, has spoken to her at court hearings against the wishes of attorneys, including a rejected request just before the trial to undergo a test in which he drinks alcohol and an expert analyzes how drunk he becomes .
Four months after his arrest, he successfully asked Eitzen for a new attorney, saying an employee with the public defender’s office is close friends with Clark’s family.
Crenshaw maintained his innocence early on, but he never denied his responsibility at the trial. His lawyer, Spokane County prosecutor candidate Chris Bugbee, told jurors Crenshaw suffers from a rare alcohol disorder that cause bizarre and violent behavior and asked for a manslaughter conviction.
Jurors took about four hours to reject that argument last week. Check my Twitter page for occasional updates from the courtroom.
“Right now, everyone’s looking at me like I’m guilty.”
Justin Crenshaw told a reporter that in July 2008, nearly five months after the brutal slayings of 20-year-old Tanner E. Pehl and 18-year-old Sarah Clark.
“It’s hard to look at people with them thinking I’m guilty of taking their son or daughter’s life, when I didn’t do it,” he said after a court hearing attended by the victims’ families. “I can’t even imagine how they feel. As much as I got to know them, they (Clark and Pehl) were great people.”
Two years later, Crenshaw faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole after a jury convicted him of two counts of aggravated first-degree murder.
The 22-year-old never denied his responsibility for the deaths of Clark and Pehl during the two-week trial.
But he blamed a rare alcohol disorder, and his lawyer, Spokane County prosecutor candidate Chris Bugbee, argued he couldn’t have premeditated the crimes.
It took a jury of five men and seven women about four hours to reject that claim on Tuesday. Family and friends of Pehl and Clark cried after the verdict and shared hugs. (Tanner’s sister, Katie, is pictured hugging Deputy Prosecutor Jack Driscoll.)
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 investigator.
Crenshaw, described by a childhood friend after his arrest as “the nicest, sweetest guy”, served 18 months for an assault conviction in Nevada after he stabbed a man in the neck.
In June, Judge Tari Eitizen rejected a request from Crenshaw to allow him to undergo a test in which he drinks alcohol and an expert analyzes his bizarre or violent tendencies. Eitzen also had to order Crenshaw to be examined by an expert for the prosecution after he refused to meet with the doctor.
Crenshaw will be sentenced to life in prison next Thursday.
Check out our full coverage of the case:
COLVILLE – Defense attorney Mark Vovos on Monday told a jury of Stevens County residents that the murder trial they are about to decide amounts to a “classic cover-up” by detectives who willingly bought the shaky story of a co-defendant.
But Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Dale Nagy said 57-year-old Christopher Devlin killed a longtime-friend, 52-year-old Daniel Heily, who was just about to testify against Devlin in a trial where he was charged with breaking into Heily’s home and assaulting him on Aug. 2, 2007.
“Mr. Devlin told people that he was looking at four to eight months in prison if he was convicted in that case,” Nagy said. “He told people, ‘Mr. Heily will be 6 six feet under before I ever go to jail.’”
Read the rest of Tom Clouse’s story here.
Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker once told a reporter that questions about motive contributed to his decision not to seek the death penalty against Justin W. Crenshaw.
Investigators initially suspected Sarah Clark’s growing interest in Tanner Pehl may have motivated Crenshaw to kill, but testimony never pointed to that. (In fact, witnesses said Pehl was excited about an upcoming date with a new girl.)
During his closing argument on Monday, Deputy Prosecutor Jack Driscoll told jurors motive has no bearing in a first-degree murder case but suggested Crenshaw became enraged because Clark wasn’t interested in having sex with him.
But Crenshaw’s lawyer, Chris Bugbee, said there is no motive for the crimes, because Crenshaw didn’t have the ability to think about what he was doing.
The ransacked Pehl home showed signs of Crenshaw’s bizarre behavior: family photos were overturned and candles were stacked from smallest to largest.
Driscoll didn’t explain the candles but offered a simple explanation for the overturned photos: “He knew what he was doing was wrong, and he didn’t want those people looking at him.”
Bugbee said Crenshaw suffers from a rare disorder called pathological intoxication, or alcohol idiosyncratic intoxication, that causes bizarre and sometimes violent behavior.
But Driscoll said the explanation is a bit more simple: Crenshaw is a sociopath.
“He lacks a conscience,” Driscoll said. “The crime scene photos show you that.”
The question for the jury of five men and seven women: Were the murders premeditated?
Bugbee, who urged jurors to convict Crenshaw of first-degree manslaughter, said the possibility of Crenshaw having the disorder is enough to raise reasonable doubt. Jurors also have the option of a second-degree murder conviction.
Driscoll, who asked for a conviction of aggravated first-degree murder, reminded jurors that Crenshaw chose to fetch a knife from the kitchen, constituting premeditation.
“It doesn’t have to be an elaborate plan. It doesn’t have to be a good plan. It doesn’t have to be a well thought out plan. It just has to be that moment in time when you decide you’re going to do it,” Driscoll said.
Bugbee pointed to testimony from Crenshaw’s aunt, Kate Crenshaw, who said her nephew told her he was the happiest he’d ever been the day before the murders.
“Is he just somebody, who, on the happiest day of his life, just decided in a very horrendous and gruesome fashion, to kill two of the only people he could consider friends in Spokane, Washington?” Bugbee said. “Or does it make sense that his brain was overcome with this condition?”
Read much more from the closing arguments in my story here: Grisly double-murder case goes to jury
The jury reconvenes in the morning. I’ll update my Twitter page as soon as I hear a verdict has been reached.
A Spokane County jury is expected to begin deliberating this afternoon in the case of confessed killer Justin Crenshaw.
Crenshaw faces life in prison without parole if convicted of two counts of aggravated first-degree murder for the Feb. 28, 2008 s
tabbing deaths of 20-year-old Tanner E. Pehl and 18-year-old Sarah A. Clark. His defense law
yer, Chris Bugbee says the 22-year-old suffers from a rare disorder that causes him to behavior bizarrely after drinking alcohol and is asking the jury to convict him of a lesser offense like second-degree murder or first-degree manslaughter.
Closing arguments were scheduled to begin today at 9:30 a.m., but delays in getting jury instructions ready pushed them to this afternoon after 1:30 p.m.
Family and friends of Clark and Pehl have been at the courthouse since early this morning, as well Crenshaw’s grandmother, Sandy Morningstar, and mother, who are here from Las Vegas.