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Tip on text in arson fire gets teens $1,500

Two teenagers will receive $750 each today for tipping fire investigators to a text message that helped arrest five people, including a man now accused of murdering his pregnant girlfriend, for an arson fire at a Spokane Valley elementary school last June.

The fire, which began in a garbage can under a play area at Adams Elementary School, 14707 E. Eighth Ave., caused $1,500 in damage, according to the Spokane Valley Fire Department. 

Robbie W. Bishop, 20, is charged with second-degree arson; four girls also were arrested.

The NW Insurance Council and Arson Alarm Foundation are providing the rewards. Adams Elementary Principal Jeff Dufresne will be receiving the money on their behalf at a ceremony today at 9:30 a.m.

Bishop remains in jail on the arson charge as well as two counts of second-degree murder for the July 22, 2009, stabbing death of 33-year-old Robin M. Anderson, who was pregnant with Bishop’s child.

Bishop has mental health problems and was released from jail before the murder because Eastern State Hospital officials said they didn’t have room for him.

Informant forgets to tell FBI about pipe bomb

A man who approached federal agents last week about an alleged murder-for-hire plot hatched by a former lawyer for the Aryan Nations may have left out a key detail: He’d already rigged an explosive to the intended victim’s car.

 Larry Andrew Fairfax, 49, remains in federal custody after appearing in U.S. District Court in Coeur d’Alene on Wednesday on firearms charges related to a pipe bomb attached to the bottom of Edgar Steele’s wife’s SUV Tuesday. Auto shop employees found the explosive Tuesday during an oil change.

Although federal agents won’t confirm whether it was Fairfax who tipped them last week to the alleged murder plot, citing rules for protecting the identity of confidential informants, they said Wednesday they are not looking for any additional suspects in the case.

“There’s no pending public safety threat,” said Don Robinson, supervisory agent for the FBI’s Coeur d’Alene office.

Fairfax was arrested Tuesday at Coeur d’Alene police headquarters after he told investigators he made the bomb at his home on Ponderosa Road near Sagle, about six miles from Steele’s Talache Road home, which was raided by federal agents Friday.

Read the rest of my story here.

Past coverage:

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

June 16: Bomb found on SUV registered to suspect

Killer’s death by firing squad set for tonight

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

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

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

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

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

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

Past coverage:

June 14: Clemency denied for killer facing firing squad

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

April 23: Utah killer will be executed by firing squad

Steele: ‘This is a very emotional situation’

Appearing for the first time on federal charges related to an alleged murder-for-hire plot, Edgar Steele described himself Tuesday as a “frail” and “elderly” man who’s undergone four surgeries in the past six months, including open heart surgery. He also blasted the federal agents for seizing what he said were attorney-client files regarding federal cases with pending appeals.

The 64-year-old attorney, known for his unsuccessful defense of the Aryan Nations in the landmark 2000 case that bankrupted the racist group, represented himself during the hearing and pleaded “absolutely, completely not guilty” to a charge that he hired a man to kill his wife and mother-in-law.

The charge, use of interstate commerce for the commission of murder for hire, carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Steele is reportedly on voice record telling an FBI informant “to make sure that they were dead after the accident because Edgar Steele did not want to take care of a paraplegic” and promising to compensate the informant’s family if he got caught, according to a probable cause affidavit prepared by the FBI.

In court Tuesday, Steele said he’s not a flight risk and dispute an apparent claim from the government in confidential records that his writings show he would flee prosecution. He said his writings show just the opposite, that he will stand for what he believes in and respects “the American way.”

Steele appeared most passionate when arguing against the no contact order between him and the alleged victims. At one point, Assistant U.S Attorney Traci Whelan asked Judge Candy Dale to order Steele to address the judge instead of her. Dale did.

After the no contact order was issued, Steele pointed in the direction of his wife and son, prompting Whelan to say to Dale: “Your honor I just ask that the record reflect that Mr. Steele just pointed at his wife and directed her to get up and talk to me.”

Steele said he pointed at his son - not his wife. “I know better than that, your honor,” he said. He added, “Understand that this is a very emotional situation for me.”

Steele has been in custody since Friday after a raid at his home at 1569 Talache Road, about 10 miles south of Sandpoint and just east of Shepherd Lake.

On Tuesday, just hours after a grand jury indicted him, Steele said federal authorities seized “our life savings” during the raid and that he hopes to hire private counsel but isn’t sure he’ll be able to. A public defender will be assigned for his bail hearing, set for next Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. in Coeur d’Alene.

His court appearance yesterday came just hours after a bomb was discovered on his wife’s SUV.

Read the full story: Bomb found on wife’s car just before Steele appears in court

Past coverage:

June 14: North Idaho attorney charged in murder-for-hire plot

Man in wife’s murder is competent for trial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1st on Sirens: Edgar Steele’s mugshot

 Edgar J. Steele, the lawyer who represented the Aryan Nations, is due in U.S. District Court in Coeur d’Alene at 3:30 p.m. today on a felony charge of using interstate commerce to commission murder for hire.

Steele was arrested Friday at his Sagle home, accused of trying to hire someone to kill his wife and mother-in-law. He was booked into the Kootenai County Jail.

Read the story here.

Clemency denied for killer facing firing squad

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

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

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

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

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

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

Past coverage:

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

April 23: Utah killer to be executed by firing squad

Ex-Aryans lawyer arrested in murder plot

A North Idaho attorney who defended the Aryan Nations and its founder, Richard Butler, is scheduled to appear in federal court today on charges he arranged to have his wife and mother-in-law killed.

Edgar J. Steele, 64, (left, in 2001) was arrested Friday at his Sagle home and charged in the murder-for-hire plot.

That was the day the women were to be killed in a car crash meant to look like an accident, according to a probable-cause affidavit.

Read the rest of the story here.

Man set to die by firing squad pleads for life

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

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

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

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

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

Past coverage:

April 23: Utah killer to be executed by firing squad

Judge rejects murder suspect’s booze test

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

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

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

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

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

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

Past coverage:

April 26: Crenshaw double-murder trial delayed, again

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

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

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

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

July 9, 2008: Murder defendant will get new attorney

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

March 1, 2008: Friends remember slain Mead High senior

Husband gets 30 years in Valentine’s murder

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

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

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

Killer’s lover admits to weapons charges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read past coverage of the Stark/Moore case here.

Murder charges filed in gang slaying

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read my full story on the murder investigation here.

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

Past coverage:

March 9: Homicide case ‘not a simple investigation’

Killer gets life in prison under 3 strikes law

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

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

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

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

Past coverage:

Past coverage:

April 21: Jury convicts career burglar of murder

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

Nov. 19, 2008: Accused killer pleads not guilty

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

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

PM: West Valley Grad Sentenced To Die

James Biela, glances toward the courtroom gallery at the start of the penalty phase on the murder conviction in Reno, Nev., in this May 28 file photo. A jury sentenced a Biela to death this afternoon for raping and killing a college coed after sexually assaulting two others in a string of attacks that had the city of Reno on edge for most of 2008. Story here. (AP Photo/Marilyn Newton, Pool, File)

Holloway suspect sought in Peru murder

LIMA, Peru (AP) — A young Dutchman previously arrested in the 2005 disappearance of Alabama teen Natalee Holloway is the prime suspect in a weekend murder of a Peruvian woman, police said Wednesday.

Joran van der Sloot is being sought in the Sunday killing of 21-year-old Stephany Flores in a Lima hotel, Criminal police chief Gen. Cesar Guardia told a news conference. He said the suspect fled the country the next day by land to Chile.

The Dutch government said Interpol has issued an international arrest warrant for Van der Sloot. Guardia said the 22-year-old Dutchman, who was in the country for a poker tournament, appears with the young woman in a video taken at a Lima casino early Sunday.

The victim’s father, Ricardo Flores, told reporters she was killed about 8 a.m. in a hotel room in the upscale Miraflores neighborhood that was splattered with blood, indicating a struggle.

The killing occurred exactly five years after the May 30, 2005, disappearance of Holloway in Aruba, a Dutch Caribbean island.

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

Jury: Ex-Spokanite should die for murder

 A 1999 West Valley High graduate convicted of rape and murder in Reno, Nevada should die for his crimes, a jury ruled today. 

James Michael Biela, whose mother lives in Spokane Valley and sister works for the Spokane Police Department, will be sentenced to death for the murder of 19-year-old Brianna Denison instead of life in prison as the defense asked.

The same jury convicted Biela last week of Denison’s death and of sexually assaulting two other young women in a string of attacks from October 2007 to January 2008.

One piece of evidence in the case was a Toyota truck seized from a Coeur d’Alene resident shortly after Biela’s arrest. Police believe Biela used the truck in the crimes, then sold it to a car dealership up here while working in Moses Lake.

His family was in Reno for the trial, including his mother, Kathy Lovell, who testified about abuse endured at the hands of her ex-husband and Biela’s father, and a sister, Kristi Jackson, who works in the records division of the Spokane Police Department.

Past coverage:

Today: Victim’s grandma embraces killer’s mother

May 28: WV grad guilty of rape, murder

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

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

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

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

Victim’s grandma embraces killer’s mother

RENO, Nev. (AP) — It was a single act of compassion in a courtroom chamber of horrors for the families of a convicted rapist and killer, his victims and their families.

Minutes after the guilty verdict was read, Brianna Denison’s grandmother extended her hands to the mother of the man convicted of kidnapping the petite 19-year-old, raping her, strangling her, then — as prosecutors said — dumping her naked body in a field “like garbage.”

A jury returned to Washoe District Court today to hear more testimony as it decides whether James Biela should be sentenced to death for Denison’s murder and the sexual assault of two other women.

Denison’s grandmother, Barbara Zunino, slowly walked across the courtroom aisle to come face-to-face with Biela’s mother, Kathy Lovell (right), of Spokane Valley, after the verdict was announced Thursday.

Lovell grasped Zunino’s outstretched hands, and they looked at each other through tear-filled eyes.

While their words were inaudible from a few steps away, their body language suggested an expression of sorrow and sympathy.

“I’m a mom, she’s a mom,” Zunino told The Associated Press later, declining to comment further.

That Lovell deserved some sympathy became clear the next day as she and Biela’s siblings, including a sister who works for the Spokane Police Department, described the torment Biela’s abusive father put them through growing up in poverty in the Chicago area and later Reno.

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

Biela shows emotion at death penalty trial

RENO, Nev. (AP) — James Biela gave a short but emotional statement today to jurors who will decide whether he gets the death penalty for the murder of a college coed and the sexual assault of two others near the University of Nevada, Reno.

“First off, I’m sorry. This is very difficult for me,” Biela said while standing at the defense table. “I just wanted to say I’m sorry that this incident has destroyed several families. “I regret that no matter what you decide is my fate that I will never be able to see my son grow up and be a father to him.” 

Biela, a 1999 graduate of West Valley High School whose sister works for the Spokane Police Department, said he was sorry if he failed his son, but he wanted him to know, “this might not be the time or place, but I love you. That’s it. I don’t know what else to say. I’m sorry.”

Before he spoke, Biela was asked by Washoe County District Judge Robert Perry if he understood he would be subjected to cross-examination by prosecutors if he denied his guilt or disputed the facts of his case. 

“Yes,” Biela replied. 

The judge said Biela had a right to address the jury on limited subjects without being sworn in and subjected to cross-examination. Biela chose to limit the scope of his statement.

The same jury that will decide Biela’s penalty convicted him last week of the murder of 19-year-old Brianna Denison and the sexual assault of two other women.

Perry said he expects the jury to begin deliberations on the sentence later today. Denison’s mother was expected to address the jury before then.

Prosecutors said the 28-year-old pipe fitter from Sparks, whose mother and sister live in the Spokane area, deserves to be executed. His public defenders said he should be sentenced to prison with no chance for parole.

The sexual assaults began in the fall of 2007 around the UNR campus just north of the downtown casino district and culminated in Denison’s strangulation in January 2008.

Detectives said it was the work of a serial rapist who stalked petite women and had a fetish for thong underwear.They believe Biela lived in the Moses Lake area for a few months after the attacks and sold the truck used in the crimes to a car dealership, where a Coeur d’Alene resident bought it.

Jurors also heard Thursday morning from Biela’s sister Kristi Jackson, a records specialist with the Spokane Police Department, who testified how Biela’s abusive father terrorized the family.

“We pretty much spent our whole childhood afraid of the men in our lives,” she said, adding that her brother was a good father to his son.

Past coverage:

May 28: WV grad guilty of rape, murder

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

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

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

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

Spokanite’s Calif. murder trial delayed, again

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Killer’s Spokane family to testify in Reno

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

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

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

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

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

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

Past coverage:

May 28: WV grad guilty of rape, murder

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

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

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

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

CdA killer sentenced to prison, deportation

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

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

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

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

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

Read more on the sentencing here.

Past coverage:

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

Ex-Spokane man convicted of murder, rape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Past coverage:

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

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

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

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

Defense rests in ex-Spokanite’s murder trial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The truck was seized shortly after Biela’s arrest.

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

Past coverage:

Today: Prosecution rests in WV grad’s murder trial

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

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

Prosecution rests in WV grad’s murder trial

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

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

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

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

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

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

The jury is expcted to begin deliberations this week.

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

Past coverage:

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

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

Jury acquits gunman in rapper Dolla’s killing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full story by clicking the link below.

Suspect arraigned in Dishman Hills murder

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

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

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

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

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

His next court appearance is set for June 22.

Past coverage:

Police: Suspect admitted Dishman killing to friend

Homicide suspect left jail just before murder

Homicide victim hoped for fresh start

Ex-Spokane man on trial for murder in Reno

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

Past coverage:

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

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

Tabloid looks at Brosnan MySpace murder

A 2008 Spokane Valley murder in which the killer impersonated his victim on MySpace to try to cover the crime is featured in the National Enquirer this month.

Sandwiched between an appalling story speculating about the health of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s children and an equally trashy story about Dale Earnhardt Jr. reportedly running off with a football coach’s wife is an article rehashing the tragic story of Uriah (top) and Becky Brosnan (right).

That’s right, the publication that actually thought it deserved a Pulitzer Prize for exposing John Edwards’ love child apparently sent a staffer to Spokane for Brosnan’s sentencing back in January (he’s pictured above at that hearing).

The article by Philip Smith describes Uriah Brosnan as a “coldblooded” killer whose “desperate” and “fiendish scheme” to cover his crime by sending Becky’s family MySpace messages from her account failed miserably.

The article includes quotes from Enquirer interviews with Becky Brosnan’s sister, Tina Crone, and Spokane County Deputy Gayle Ervin. It also quotes Judge Tari Eitzen lamenting the fact that she could only give Brosnan 18 years for the Jan. 28, 2009, killing because prosecutors amended his charge to second-degree murder instead of first-degree.

The article is in the May 10 issue.

Past coverage:

Jan. 22. 2010: Wife killer receives 18-year sentence

Dec. 29, 2009: Brosnan pleads guilty to beating death of wife

Feb. 11, 2009: Man impersonated wife online after killing her

Gunman in Halloween shooting gets 35 years

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

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

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

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

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

Past coverage:

April 26, 2010: Shooter pleads guilty in Halloween murder

June 11, 2009: Man pleads guilty in killing

Nov. 3, 2008: Shooting victim always wore smile