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Plea deal accepted in March murder

A man who rejected a plea deal last month in connection with a fatal stabbing changed his mind and will spend the next year in prison after pleading guilty today.

Christopher R. Harper, 28, had been charged with second-degree murder following the March 3 stabbing death of 19-year-old Michael “Mickey” Lyng. However, prosecutors agreed with assistant public defender Al Rossi to allow Harper to plead guilty to two felony charges of riot.

Superior Court Judge Annette Plese approved the deal this morning and accepted Harper’s plea. As a result, Harper was sentenced to 24 months in jail, but that time will be cut in half because Harper will be credited for having already spent about a year in jail awaiting trial.

Rossi said he believed he could have won Christopher Harper’s acquittal. But if he didn’t, Harper would have faced a much longer prison sentence.

Read the rest of Thomas Clouse’s story by clicking the link below.

Past coverage:

Accused killer backs out of deal

Man gets 6 years in fatal stabbing

Bloody knife could hold clue to March murder

No death penalty for Deer Park man

A Deer Park man accused of murdering a witness in an assault case against him will avoid the death penalty because of prosecutors mismanaged the case, a judge ruled today.

Spokane County prosecutors failed to disclose for months pertinent statements from suspect Christopher H. Devlin’s alleged accomplice that raise questions about where the slaying occurred.

Although a legal technicality, the statements from co-defendant Carl A. Hoskins that the victim, 52-year-old Daniel D. Heily of Chattaroy, was killed in Stevens County instead of Spokane County are critical to the question of proper jurisdiction.

Devlin’s defense lawyers weren’t told of the discrepancy until months after he requested to move his case to Stevens County.

Meanwhile, the county spent tens of thousands of dollars on defense lawyers qualified for death penalty cases, and a legal debate raged over the proper county to hold the expensive trial.

Hoskin’s statements about the location of the murder could have been used to support Devlin’s change-of-venue request, lawyers Mark Vovos, of Spokane, and Roger Hunko, of Yakima, argued.

Superior Court Judge Jerome Leveque agreed, ruling this morning that the mismanagement by prosecutors was inadvertent but affected Devlin’s right to a fair trial. Devlin’s trial is set for July 19.

Prosecutors are expecting to to take longer because Vovos, a longtime trial lawyer, is involved.

“Normally, I would say 1 to 2(weeks),” said Larry Steinmetz. “With Mr. Vovos, I would say 3 to 4.”

Read the rest of my story: No death penalty in Deer Park case

Read a declaration from John Rodgers, director of the Spokane County Public Defender’s Office, here.

Past coverage: County balks at case transfer

Homicide victim was Chattaroy man

Police: Gun in homicide belonged to felon

A gang member involved in a fatal shooting five years ago is accused of possessing the gun that was used to kill a man outside a north Spokane party 10 days ago, newly filed documents alleged.

ahdwEric Burton Jr.,Ö is charged with illegal weapons possession after police determined a semiautomatic rifle used to kill John S. Williams, III on Jan. 17 belonged to Burton. Burton, 24, has previous felony convictions that prohibit him from possessing owning firearms.

Burton was arrested two days after the slaying murder but is free on $10,000 bail. No charges have been filed in Williams’ death — the city’s first homicide this year — and detectives haven’t determined who killed him.

Police found Williams, 38, dead in an alley outside an apartment building at 5405 N. Crestline about 3:40 a.m., then spotted Burton running into an apartment, according to court documents.

He volunteered to be taken to the police station for questioning, where he told police he’d driven a rented 2008 Nissan Altima to the party. Police had found the gun used to kill Williams in the back of that Altima.

The car was rented to Burton’s girlfriend, Lacey L. MeachamÖ, 27, according to court documents. Burton reportedly told police he’d driven the car back to the party alone.

About 40 people had gathered at 5405 N. Crestline, apartment 3, for a birthday party that night before fights broke out and shots were fired, witnesses told police.

One man told police he’d heard two or three gunshots “and then heard someone saying ‘What did I do? What did I do?,’” according to a search warrant.

The man then saw a man matching the description of Burton try to enter apartment 3 three before entering a nearby unit.

A defense lawyer listed in court records for Burton, Christian Phelps, did not return an after-hours phone call seeking comment.

Burton was convicted of second-degree assault in 2005 for the New Year’s Day murder of 24-year-old Calvin Banks, who police said was a rival gang member. Burton was first charged with second-degree murder but took a plea deal that gave him a year in prison.

This year’s shooting victim, Williams, was at the birthday party on Crestline with his 21-year-old son, police said.

Williams was enrolled at the Spokane Community College Apprenticeship and Journeyman Training Center, according to a March 2009 newspaper article. He joined the painters union and praised the training he’d received but told the newspaper he needed to “clock hours” to have insurance coverage for his family.

“It’s hard right now,” he said. “There’s no work out there.”

Accused killer backs out of deal

A man arrested in a fatal stabbing last year turned down a plea deal today that would have sent him to prison for two years on riot charges.

Instead, Christopher Harper, 28, will go to trial on one count of second-degree murder for the March 3, 2009, stabbing death of Michael ” Mickey” Lyng, 19. He was scheduled to be sentenced today but backed out, said his public defender, Al Rossi.

Trial is set for late February. Harper is the last of three defendants facing charges for Lyng’s death.

His younger brother, Joseph T. Harper, 25, was sentenced to 75 months in prison after pleading guilty to first-degree manslaughter in December. Robert T. Waters, 28, was sentenced to 65 months on Wednesday after pleading to the same charge.

“Each person who was arrested was in a little bit of a different circumstance,” Rossi said.

Joseph Harper stabbed Lyng in the upper back, but the fatal stab wound came from a larger knife wielded by one of his co-defendants, Harper’s public defender, Dick Sanger, said last month.

Chris Harper’s wife, Amie C. Schott, 20, is accused of driving the Harper brothers from the scene of the crime. She’s scheduled to go to trial next month on three counts of first-degree rendering criminal assistance.

Schott married Christopher Harper after he was in jail and unsuccessfully asked a judge in July to lift a no-contact order between them.

Lyng was at Joseph Harper’s home, 1008 W. Spofford Ave., when he stepped into a fight between Harper and another man over allegations that Harper had hit the man’s girlfriend.

Shortly after the fight, Lyng was at an apartment at 916 W. Augusta Ave. when he had a threatening telephone conversation with one of the defendants.

The three men showed up outside the apartment, and a brawl ensued before Lyng was stabbed.

Detectives recovered two knives – one from under the Maple Street Bridge – believed to be used in the killing.

Wife killer in MySpace case gets 18 years

A Spokane man who killed his estranged wife, then impersonated her on MySpace to try duping family members into thinking she was still alive, will spend 18 years in prison, a judge ruled today.

Uriah J. Brosnan, 34, (pictured above, courtesy KHQ) pleaded guilty to the Jan. 28, 2009, beating death of Becky Brosnan, 32, in December in a plea deal that called for him to serve 220 months, the most possible for second-degree murder.

Spokane County Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen imposed that sentence today after about two hours of testimony from family, including Uriah Brosnan’s current girlfriend.

“This was a vicious murder that went on for some period of time,” said Eitzen. “220 months is all the law allows me to impose, and I apologize for that because I don’t think it’s long enough.”

The Brosnans were married for about 10 years and had two children before a contentious divorce sparked the ongoing custody dispute that court documents say led to Becky Brosnan’s murder.

Detectives found her body Feb. 9 in a debris pile behind a roofing company where Uriah Brosnan worked.

Past coverage:

Man faces 18 years in wife’s death

Man impersonated wife online after killing her

Brosnans had no contact order in 1997

One dead in weekend shooting

Police have seized guns and drugs as part of their probe into the city’s first homicide this year, a suspected gang-related shooting early Sunday in a north Spokane alley.

Multiple shots were fired after fighting partygoers spilled from an apartment at 5403 N. Crestline St. into the muddy alley. The gunfire killed a 38-year-old man, whom friends and neighbors identified as John Williams.

Neighbors said it sounded like fireworks as at least 15 bullets riddled garages and fences.

“I sprang out of bed when I realized it was gunshots. It freaked me out, so I made sure my doors were locked,” said Aimee Kowell, who lives with her three school-age boys across the alley.

Read the rest of John Stucke’s story here.

Decision soon on accused killer’s mental state

A judge will decide Friday if accused murderer Cole Strandberg is competent to stand trial for the crossbow killing of a 22-year-old Spokane woman two years ago.

During a two-day hearing this week in Spokane County Superior Court, prosecutors argued Strandberg was faking signs of a mental condition.

Doctors from Eastern State Hospital said if he ever was afflicted with anything it was because of his methamphetamine use. (Strandberg's shown left in a December 2007 family photo, but he's lost a lot of weight in jail.)

His defense lawyer, Chris Bugbee, says those doctors ignored key details about Strandberg in order to fit their preconceived opinions. He argues that Strandberg is mentally incompetent to stand trial and needs treatment. 

Doctors from Sacred Heart Medical Center have for years diagnosed Strandberg as a paranoid schizophrenic.

Strandberg's mother, Barbara Strandberg, testified on Tuesday that his problems seemed to begin when he reached puberty. "His interests were bizarre and different," she said.

"Talking to him would be impossible."

Her testimony echoed much of what she said about a week after her son's arrest in 2008. (Read the story here.)

Strandberg is charged with first-degree aggravated murder for the brutal slaying of 22-year-old Jennifer M. Bergeron on Jan. 7, 2008. (Read past coverage here )

He faces additional charges of second-degree assault, third-degree assault and harassment for four alleged incidents with jailers, his former attorney and a psychologist.

Judge Tari Eitzen is expected to rule on Strandberg's mental competency Friday afternoon.

Killer faces 18 years in MySpace impersonation case

A Spokane man who killed his estranged wife, then impersonated her on MySpace to dupe try duping family members into thinking she was still alive, faces about 18 years in prison when he’s sentenced next month.

Uriah dwJ. BrosnanÖ, 33, pleaded guilty to the Jan. 28 beating death of Becky BrosnanÖ, 32, last week. The plea in a plea deal that calls for him to serve 220 months, the high end of the standard sentence for second-degree murder, said Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor John LoveÖ.

“I’m just glad we don’t have to put the kids through a trial,” said Tina Crone, Becky Brosnan’s stepmother. Crone is caring for the Brosnans’ children, ages 6 and 11. “It’s the easy way out for him, but what else is new?”

Read the rest of my story in tomorrow’s Spokesman-Review.

Past coverage:

Man impersonated wife online after killing her

Brosnans had no contact order in 1997

Charge reduced in Mead murder

A Mead man accused of killing his wife in front of their 11-year-old son has been charged with second-degree murder.

Sheriff’s detectives recommended charging Jeffery N. Canino, 46, with first-degree murder for the Dec. 2 stabbing death of Michelle Canino at their Mead home, but prosecutors felt evidence only supported the lesser charge.

The difference in charges means prosecutors won’t be trying to prove that Canino planned to kill Michelle Canino but that he did intend to kill her when he stabbed her.

“It didn’t appear that this was any kind of huge thought out plan; it was something he thought to do that morning,” said Deputy Prosecutor John Love.

Canino appeared in Spokane County Superior Court via video today, where his bail was set at $1.5 million, a reduction from the $2.5 million imposed at his first court appearance Dec. 7.

The second-degree murder charge includes domestic violence and weapons enhancements which Love said can put Canino behind bars just as long as a first-degree murder charge can, 20 years to life.

Man, 60, dies after alley beating

A Spokane man badly beaten in an alley late last month died this week and two teenage suspects have been charged with his murder.

Police say a print on the face of Kent S. Moses, 60, matched a shoe worn by Nicholas A. Parrish, who is charged with first-degree murder. His alleged accomplice, Justin A. Summa, is charged with second-degree murder.

Both boys turned 17 in October.

Parrish is in Spokane County Juvenile Detention Center on $150,000 bond after appearing in court today; Summa is out on $100,000 bond.

Read the rest of my story here. Read past coverage here.

CdA Tribe Mourns Murder Victim

An apparent barroom altercation turned deadly early Saturday morning in Coeur d’Alene. Timothy I. Williams, who went by the name Timothy Wolfe, of Worley, Idaho, was shot in the head about 2:15 a.m. Saturday as he and a group friends were walking near Third Street and Indiana in downtown Coeur d’Alene. Wolfe, 21, a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, was taken to Kootenai Medical Center, where he later was declared clinically dead. Juan C. Aldana Villanueva, 22, of Post Falls, was arrested later Saturday on charges of first-degree murder. “The whole Coeur d’Alene Tribe is mourning (Wolfe’s) loss,” said Chairman Chief Allan. “He was a great young man. He had a lot of potential. A great smile, a great personality. He was loved by everybody”/SR. More here.

When will the mayhem end?

Good morning, Netizens…

As we creep forth from our repose in the beginning of yet another week, I cannot help but be mindful of the number of innocents that were killed last week in a flurry of murders across our country. The shootings came during a particularly violent three days across the U.S., with shootings that left 14 dead in Binghamton, N.Y., and six dead in Washington state, where a father shot five of his children, ages 7 to 16, using a rifle, and later, himself. It also follows just two weeks after four police officers were fatally shot in Oakland, Calif., in the deadliest day for U.S. law enforcement since Sept. 11, 2001. Last month, a North Carolina man shot and killed eight people before police shot him and ended the rampage, and a 28-year-old man killed 10 people, including his mother and four other relatives, across two rural Alabama counties before killing himself. When will the rampage end?

In this picture, Tina Nguyen, second from left, prays with relatives of shooting victims Lan Ho and Long Huynh outside the American Civic Association in Binghamton, N.Y. where Jiverly Wong killed 13 people in a shooting rampage at the immigrant community center on Friday. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) (April 05, 2009)

On one hand, I mourn the death of so many innocent people whose only sin, it seems, is that they were all trying to improve their plight in life through education, attempting to learn the English language so they could better integrate into American society. Mayhem and murder seems to be lurching around our country looking for their next victims, and one has to wonder when, where or how it can be stopped.

In another story, here: http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2009/apr/05/robbery-suspect-surrenders-in-yakima/ a man held up a convenience store with a gun while his 9 year-old daughter stood by his side. When he pulled the gun on the store clerk, did he ever once consider whether the clerk might pull his gun, thus beginning a deadly gunfight? Did he ask his daughter her opinion? He narrowly averted another tragedy, and I wonder if his daughter, now reunited with her mother, knows how to pray.

Some sociologists suggest the mayhem and murder will not stop until the economy improves, and perhaps that is true, for social unrest often does follow the path of financial hardships. This, of course, does little to sway the eternal question of which came first, the chicken or the egg.

However, the underlying message inherent in this picture is the young people themselves, who are praying. In an age when and where our offspring have lost sight of their relationships to God, where they seemingly have lost their ability to feel humility, when the only times they appear in the news media is shortly after they face arrests or indictment, it is refreshing to see them in a gentler light.

That seems like a good way to start the new week, hopefully free of more murder and mayhem as we approach the Easter Holiday.


Shellye Stark Verdict - Guilty

The jury has announced the verdict in the Shellye Stark murder trial:  Guilty of first degree murder and guilty of conspiracy to commit murder.

This is the case on which I was a potential juror.  I strived seriously and sincerely to wipe my mind clean of any preconceived thoughts and I felt that I would be objective and impartial.  This had to be a difficult decision to come to.