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Accused witness killer on trial in Colville

Opening statements are expected today in the case of a Deer Park man accused of murdering a witness in an assault case against him.

Christopher H. Devlin had faced the death penalty for the May 2008 shooting death of Daniel D. Heily, 52, of Chattatory, but a judge took it off the table last February because of mismanagement by prosecutors.

Devlin now faces life in prison without parole if he’s convicted of aggravated first-degree murder.

A co-defendant, Carl A. Hoskins, had faced the same charge but has been offered a plea deal for second-degree assault if he testifies against Devlin. He left jail on Aug. 31 and will be sentenced to 27 months in prison with credit for time served if he continues cooperating, according to court documents.

Heily, who was disabled, disappeared on May 13, 2008, the night before he was to testify against Devlin at a second-degree assault trial.

Heily’s body was found in the cab of his pickup truck behind a Deer Park liquor store the next day. Hoskins and Devlin were arrested that night. The slaying qualified for the death penalty because the victim was a state witness.

A jurisdictional squabble broke out between Stevens and Spokane counties regarding where the murder took place. Spokane County prosecutors are handling the case, but the trial will be held before a Stevens County jury in Colville.

Family: Murder-suicide suspect was unstable

The man who fatally shot his ex-fiancée and her 9-year-old son in Spokane Valley this week had been suicidal in the past and owned several guns, new court documents say.

Jan R. DeMeerleer’s brother-in-law, John F. Schweitzer, told police DeMeerleer (pictured) “is bipolar and you never know what he is going to do,” according to a warrant used to search DeMeerleer’s home at 8324 E. Briant Lane on Sunday.

“Schweitzer said that he knows Jan DeMeerleer has been suicidal in the past,” according to the warrant prepared by Spokane County sheriff’s Detective Michael Drapeau and filed this week in District Court. “Schweitzer told (detectives) that if DeMeerleer has not committed suicide ‘he soon will.’”

Read the rest of my story here.

Past coverage:

July 20: Credit union to match donations after slaying

July 20: Homicide victim had overcome much

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

Charges against Steele carry 30+ years

A former lawyer for the Aryan Nations jailed in an alleged murder-for-hire plot is to appear in federal court in Coeur d’Alene next week on three additional charges related to jailhouse phone calls and explosives discovered after his arrest. 

The new charges against Edgar J. Steele, 65, could put him in prison for at least 30 years. Steele already faced a possible 10 years in prison for an alleged plot federal agents say began in December and targeted his wife, Cyndi Steele, and mother-in-law.

Read the rest of my story here.

Past coverage:

June 20: Arrest puts Steele back in public eye

June 16: Steele: ‘This is a very emotional situation’

Crenshaw: You can call 911 after I leave

When admitted killer Justin Crenshaw stabbed a friend in 2004, he did so after his friend refused to drive him to buy methamphetamine from a man named Spike. 

Crenshaw, who served 18 months for the attack, stabbed the teen in the upper shoulder as he tried to walk away, then handed the friend a towel to control the bleeding.

After the victim pleaded for Crenshaw to leave him alone, the killer grabbed his car keys and said, “You can call 911 after I leave,” according to court testimony.

Psychiatrist Dr. Jerry Larsen testified about that incident Wednesday as one of just two witnesses for Crenshaw’s defense.

The 22-year-old is charged with two counts of aggravated first-degree murder for the stabbing deaths of Tanner E. Pehl, 20; and Sarah A. Clark, 18; on Feb. 28, 2008.

The charges carry life in prison without parole; defense lawyer Chris Bugbee will ask juror to convict him of a lesser charge like manslaughter.

The defense hinges on the argument that Crenshaw, who started using drugs and alcohol at age or 12 or 13, suffers from a disorder known as pathological intoxication, or alcohol idiosyncratic intoxication.

Along with a childhood friend who spoke of a strange incident with Crenshaw as a teen, Larsen spoke of another incident at a casino where Crenshaw was beating his own head with a rock and then put a knife to his throat and threatened to kill himself while claiming that his girlfriend had broken up with him.

A friend later told authorities that Crenshaw was mistaken – that the girlfriend had not ended the relationship.

Read Thomas Clouse’s story on the defense case, which ended Wednesday, here. 

An expert for the prosecution is expected to testify today to refute Larsen’s testimony. Closing arguments are expected Monday, then the jury gets the case.

Past coverage:

July 20: Crenshaw defense could begin this week

July 13: Jurors see swords used in double slaying

July 12: Killer: Trust no one, broken hearts, knives

July 12: Crenshaw double-murder trial begins today

Homicidal rampage leaves layers of tragedy

Tragedy struck Rebecca Schiering early and often in life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of my story here.

Past coverage:

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

Crenshaw defense could begin this week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 13: Jurors see swords used in double slaying

July 12: Crenshaw double-murder trial begins today

AM: Murder Victim Had Overcome Much

Rebecca  Schiering is shown (in this 2005 file photo) restocking racks at the Reclothery consignment store in Spokane, Wash. Schiering and her son Phillip died in what authorities are calling a violent domestic dispute in Spokane Valley Sunday. Read Meghann Cuniff’s SR story here. (AP Photo/The Spokesman-Review)

Murder Victim Had Overcome Adversity

Becky Schiering knew adversity in her lifetime; she had battled drug addiction and had bounced back to become a person who was passionate about giving back to the community. Becky’s life was cut tragically short when she and one of her sons were murdered Sunday by her ex-fiancée. Friends and family members say Becky was no stranger to adversity; she overcame an addiction to methamphetamine in order to better provide for her three young children. Becky was not afraid to talk about the problems in her past; in 2008 she talked to KXLY about how CPS had helped her with her drug addiction when she was pregnant with her twin sons Jack and Phillip. “It was a Godsend that somebody called, it was a Godsend that somebody stepped in and said something finally,” she said during that 2008 interview/Tori Brunetti, KXLY. More here.

Question: Do you know anyone who has beaten meth addiction?

Crack addict gets 10 years for murder

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ferry Co. man convicted in ‘07 fatal shooting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Past coverage:

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

Cable show to feature Yates serial killer case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fatal gang shots fired outside activist’s home

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of my story here.

Jurors see swords used in double slaying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Past coverage

July 13: Crenshaw defense admits slayings

July 12: Crenshaw double murder trial begins today

Steele seeks to keep feds out of client files

A former lawyer for the Aryan Nations is asking a judge to stop federal investigators from searching materials seized from his North Idaho home law office.

Edgar J. Steele is concerned government searches may compromise attorney-client privilege, according to documents filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Coeur d’Alene. 

“There is a concern that Mr. Steele represents clients and groups that are of interest to the government,” wrote Steele’s federal public defenders, Roger Peven and Kailey Moran.

Steele is accused of hiring someone to kill his wife and mother-in-law. He’s being housed at the Spokane County Jail after a raid June 11 at his home on Talache Road, east of Shepherd Lake near Sagle, where the FBI believes he plotted with Sagle resident Larry Fairfax to use pipe bombs kill Cynthia Steele and her mother-in-law. Fairfax went to the FBI and secretly recorded Steele talking of the plot, leading to Steele’s arrest, according to court documents.

Fairfax was arrested June 15 after Coeur d’Alene auto shop workers found a pipe bomb under Cynthia Steele’s car - the FBI says Fairfax put it there but never told investigators.

Fairfax waived a grand jury indictment last week and is charged through complaint with possession of an unregistered firearm and unlawful manufacturing of a firearm. He’s being held without bail.

Steele’s lawyers say they’ve received copies of conversations between Fairfax and Steele, but no other evidence, including the items seized from Steele’s home, has been provided. The motion filed Monday seeks a preliminarily injunction to stop the search of Steele’s computers and files “until the warrant can be received to determine if proper procedures are in place to protect the privacy of the information seized.”

Moran did not return a phone call seeking comment. The U.S. Attorney’s Office hasn’t yet filed a response, and no hearing for the motion has been scheduled.

Past coverage:

June 22: Steele’s phone calls to wife, son released

June 20: Arrest puts Steele back in public eye

June 16: Steele: ‘This is a very emotional situation’

Killer: Trust no one, broken hearts, knives

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

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

The belt belonged to Crenshaw.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Investigators initially believed jealousy may have motivated Crenshaw.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crenshaw double-murder trial begins today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Past coverage:

June 8, 2010: Judge rejects murder suspect’s

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

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

2 plead innocent to murder-related charges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Past coverage:

June 24: Witness in gang murder agrees to secret deal

June 3: Seven charged in January gang murder

March 9: Homicide case ‘not a simple investigation’

Homicide victim’s funeral set for Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Man deported in Jan. charged with murder

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of my story here.

Past coverage:

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

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

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

Oct. 26: Homicide victim linked to drug sales

Murder for $7.25 gets man 31 years in prison

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

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

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

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

Conner was sentenced to 31 years in prison Tuesday.

Read Tom Clouses’s story on the sentencing here.

Past coverage:

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

Mont. man arraigned in Grant Co. murder

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

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

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

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

He was extradited to Washington on Thursday.

Past coverage:

June 26: Love triangle alleged in Grant Co. murder

Suspects in gang murder: 1 jailed, 3 to go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love triangle alleged in Grant Co. murder

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of my story here.

Witness in gang murder agrees to secret deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Past coverage:

June 3: Seven charged in January gang murder

March 9: Homicide case ‘not a simple investigation’

Man in Helena arrested for Grant Co. murder

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

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

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

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

Steele’s phone calls to wife, son released

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Edgar Steele’s call to his son
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Edgar Steele’s call to his wife

Federal murder-for-hire suspect Edgar Steele will stay in jail pending trial after a judge found he had attempted to intimidate potential witnesses in the case – his wife and son.

In a detention hearing Tuesday, federal prosecutors played two tapes of phone conversations Steele had with his wife, Cyndi, and his son, Rex, while being held at Kootenai County Jail on June 13.

On the tapes, Steele warns his wife that she will be contacted by government officials the following morning and will be asked to authenticate his voice on recordings that he tells her are doctored to sound as if he’s hiring a hit man to kill her. He pleads with her to say that it’s not his voice she hears on the tapes.

Listen to the recordings above.

Read Alison Boggs’s story on today’s hearing here.

Past coverage:

June 21: No bail for suspect in pipe bomb murder plot

June 20: Arrest puts Steele back in public eye

June 17: Pipe bomb suspect in federal custody

June 16: Steele: ‘This is a very emotional situation’

June 16: Bomb found on SUV registered to suspect

Suspect in murder plot held without bail

A suspected hitman-turned-informant who federal investigators say didn’t tell them he’d already planted a bomb on the car of a murder-plot target was ordered held without bail on Monday.

U.S. Magistrate Candy Dale called her decision to keep Larry A. Fairfax, 49, behind bars “very difficult” but said he was a danger to the community.

Fairfax has been in jail since June 11 after auto shop employees found a pipe bomb attached to a car brought in by Steele’s wife Cyndi Steele for an oil change. The Sagle man told investigators the week before that he’d been hired by Steele to murder Steele’s wife and mother-in-law but didn’t tell them about the pipe bomb, federal agents testified on Monday.

The two-hour hearing included testimony from Fairfax’s 26-year-old son, wife of 31 years and a retired judge and lawyer, Jim Michaud, who called Fairfax “about the hardest working guy I know.”

Read the rest of my story here.

Past coverage:

June 20: Arrest puts Steele back in public eye

June 17: Pipe bomb suspect in federal custody

June 16: Steele: ‘This is a very emotional situation’

June 16: Bomb found on SUV registered to suspect

Suspect in murder admits to crack charge

A Spokane man accused of lying to police his knowledge of a fatal shooting in January faces at least 20 months in prison for a crack cocaine conviction when he’s sentenced later this summer.

Eric “Smalls” Burton, Jr., recently pleaded guilty to one count of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. He’s to be sentenced Aug. 9. 

Burton had 26 baggies of crack cocaine when Spokane police stopped him last August. The officers knew Burton had a Department of Corrections warrant for his arrest, said Burton’s lawyer, Chris Phelps.

Phelps said the arrest was “ripe for pretrial suppression” because of issues with the police search, but “we have voluntarily declined to pursue those.” Phelps said the case had been sent to federal prosecutors, but they declined to pursue it unless Burton didn’t plead guilty as charged.

Burton’s standard sentencing range calls for 20 to 60 months; Deputy Prosecutor Eugene Cruz said last week he’ll recommending the low end.

Burton also is charged with first-degree rendering criminal assistance for allegedly lying to police about what he knew about the murder of John S. Williams on Jan. 17.

Burton was arrested the day of the murder after police found the Ruger mini-rifle used to kill Williams in a rental car Burton drove to the scene, but the first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm charge was dismissed in April because Deputy Prosecutor Mark Cipolla said “there is insufficient evidence to proceed with the prosecution of this case until further investigation,” according to court documents.

The new rendering criminal assistance charge was filed against Burton early this month. He was arrested June 2 and posted $50,000 bail the next day.

His cousins, Cedric E. “Dirty” Burton and James C. Henderson, remain in jail on charges connected to the murder.

The accused triggerman, Edward “TD” Thomas, remains a fugitive, as do Marc A. “Bookie” Carter, John E. Burton, 27, and Christopher J. Route, 23.

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

Suspect in Steele’s murder plot due in court

 The man accused of planting a pipe bomb under Edgar Steele’s wife’s SUV is due in federal court in Coeur d’Alene this afternoon for a bail hearing.

Larry A. Fairfax, 49, has been in custody since last Monday night.

The Sagle man apparently told federal agents about an alleged murder plot hatched by Steele against his wife, Cyndi Steele, and his mother-in-law but didn’t tell them about the pipe bomb. He was arrested after employees at an auto shop found it when Cyndi Steele came in for an oil change about 12:30 p.m. lat Tuesday. Her son picked her up, and the two were at Edgar Steele’s first court appearance at 4:30 p.m.

Steele is being housed at the Spokane County Jail. He’s due in court tomorrow morning for a bail hearing. He has a public defender but said last week that he hopes to hire Coeur d’Alene attorney Glen Walker, former Kootenia County prosecutor.

As I explain in this Sunday story, Steele (pictured right in 2000) calls himself “the attorney for the damned,” has gained national attention for his work with high-profile clients and was a coveted speaker in the national racist movement for years.

Check out photos of Steele over the years here.

Past coverage:

June 17: Pipe bomb suspect in federal custody

June 16: Steele: ‘This is a very emotional situation’

June 16: Bomb found on SUV registered to suspect

Man dies in hail of gov.-sanctioned gunfire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Past coverage:

June 14: Clemency denied for killer facing firing squad

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

April 23: Utah killer will be executed by firing squad