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In the end, after 2 1/2 years and a two-week trial, the killer had nothing to say.
“No thank you, your honor,” said Justin Crenshaw when Judge Tari Eitzen asked him if he had anything to say for the murders of Sarah Clark and Tanner Pehl. “I don’t want to take away anything from the families. My attorney covered it, and I’ll leave it at that.”
Eitzen pressed the 22-year-old, reminding him it was his only opportunity to speak.
“That’s correct. I understand that your honor,” said Crenshaw, dressed in a blue jail jumpsuit and sporting newly buzzed hair and scruffy facial hair. “Thank you.”
Crenshaw sat stoically through more than three hours of emotional testimony from Clark and Pehl’s loved ones.
He watched witnesses but typically sat with his chin resting on a closed fist, appearing uninterested.
At least five jurors attended the sentencing; the group of 12 took four hours to convict Crenshaw of two counts of aggravated first-degree murder July 27.
Eitzen sentenced the recovering heroin addict from Las Vegas to two consecutive life terms this afternoon, the only punishment available other than the death penalty, which prosecutors already ruled out.
Eitzen said she felt the grief in this case “more acutely than I have before, ever.”
“To look at the mothers, and to see the pain on Ms. Pehl and Mrs. Clark’s faces for all these weeks, it was an extraordinary experience in my life,” the judge said.
“I can’t make it any better,” she said. I can’t give you closure. There isn’t any. There won’t be any.”
Etizen said that anyone who sat through the trial “won’t forget.”
“That’s all I have to tell you, that nobody will forget,” she said.
Eitzen said her sympathy extends to Crenshaw.
“Because I think, Mr Crenshaw, you’re just, you’re a damaged person that you could find yourself in these circumstances,” Eitzen said. “I don’t know how someone could be that hurt and damaged. You’re so young. And I think it’s a terrible, terrible tragedy for anyone to sit in a courtroom…with someone your age and to look at the destruction and havoc that’s been caused by your behavior.”
She said she sentenced Crenshaw to lief terms because the law requires and “because it’s the right thing to do.”
“I think you are a dangerous person,” Etizen told Crenshaw. “I don’t say that with animosity or hatred.”
Deputy Prosecutor Jack Driscoll said the murder case was the most brutal he’d seen.
“I’d look at the pictures, I’d have to go for long walks just because it was horrible,” Driscoll said.
Judge Tari Eitzen requested the break after more than 2 1/2 hours of emotional testimony from grieving family and friends of Sarah A. Clark, 18, and Tanner E. Pehl, 20, who Crenshaw, now 22, stabbed to death on Feb. 28, 2008. A few more people are expected to speak, and Crenshaw will have a chance to address the court.
State law allows only two punishments for aggravated first-degree murder, of which Crenshaw was convicted of July 27: The death penalty or life in prison without parole. Prosecutors already decided not to seek the death penalty.
The packed courtroom this morning included at least four jurors from the two-week trial. Testimony came from Pehl and Clark’s parents, their siblings, other relatives and close friends, including Clark’s piano teacher of five years.
Tanner’s aunt described how surreal it is to hear Tanner’s grandmother say that visiting his grave “is part of her routine.”
She said “she visits Tanner’s grave every couple of days because that’s what grandmas should do.”
“No,” Tanner’s aunt said. “That’s not what grandmas should do.”
Tanner’s aunt ended with a message for Crenshaw, who sat next to his lawyer, Chris Bugbee, wearing a blue jail jumper and sporting newly buzzed hair and scruffy facial hair.
“Justin you’ve taken two precious lives and I hope you suffer the rest of your life,” she said. “I hope you have nightmares the rest of your pathetic life…I do not believe you deserve the air you breathe….Long after the world has turned its back on you, Tanner and Sarah’s memory will live on.”
Sarah’s sister, Emily Gant, said Crenshaw not only murdered Sarah and Tanner, “he also murdered what would have been our lives.” She cited what her mother, Teesha Clark, said after the July 27 verdict: “The murders gave us a life sentence, and he deserves no less.”
Gant said Crenshaw “shows no remorse” and displays an “arrogant smile for the friends and families of Sarah Clark and Tanner Pehl.” Teesha Clark said her life has become consumed with thoughts of her daughter’s murder, and irrational fear that her five other children may be hurt.
Losing her child to such horrific violence “has become my living nightmare.”
Tanner’s brother-in-law, a deputy with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, said he was working as a police officer in Medical Lake when he learned of a fire at the Pehl home on TV. Soon, he and his wife learned of Tanner’s death, and he saw the crime scene. The bloody scene was “just like out of a horror film.”
“It brings me peace that you will be in there forever, never having the opportunity to crush two families again,” he said.
Sarah’s father, Steve Clark, described harrowing grief. “It’s agonizing, debilitating, incomprehensible grief…It makes you dizzy,” he said. “You can never understand it unless you experience it yourself.”
“I try not to think about her pain from the stab wounds; her screaming,” Clark said. “How cold someone do that to another person?”
A close friend of Sarah’s told Eitzen that she spoke with Sarah about Crenshaw a few days before the murder.
“She told me Justin was receiving a new start in the midst of her world, and she was eager to give that to him. She invested her heart into helping him start over,” she said. “…Evil now has a face, and he is unremorseful.”
Tanner’s sister, Katie Pehl (pictured left with brothers Matt and Cameron after the verdict last week,) recalled a conversation Tanner told her he’d had with Crenshaw. Tanner had said he wanted to donate his organs if he died. Crenshaw apparently felt differently.
“Not me,” Katie Pehl recalled Crenshaw saying. “When I die, I’m taking all my s**t with me.”
Katie Pehl told Crenshaw she hopes to someday forgive him.
“That is something I will try for the rest of my life,” Pehl said. “I know that’s what Tanner would want me to do.”
The hearing, set to begin at 9:30 a.m. could last about two hours. Family and friends of victims Sarah A. Clark, 18, and Tanner E. Pehl, 20, are expected to speak, as are members of Crenshaw’s family.
Crenshaw’s mother and grandmother attended the two-week trial, which ended when 12 jurors convicted the 22-year-old of two counts of aggravated first-degree murder on July 27. Crenshaw has been in Spokane County Jail since Feb. 29, 2008, one day after he stabbed Clark and Pehl to death in Pehl’s home at 512 E. Elm Road, then torched the home.
The only punishment for aggravated first-degree murder in Washington state is the death penalty or life in prison without parole; prosecutors already have decided not to seek the death penalty.
So the pressing question this morning is: What will Crenshaw say?
Eitzen will give the young man a chance to address the court before she sentences him.
The California native, who moved to Las Vegas as a young teen or preteen and is a recovering heroin addict, has spoken to her at court hearings against the wishes of attorneys, including a rejected request just before the trial to undergo a test in which he drinks alcohol and an expert analyzes how drunk he becomes .
Four months after his arrest, he successfully asked Eitzen for a new attorney, saying an employee with the public defender’s office is close friends with Clark’s family.
Crenshaw maintained his innocence early on, but he never denied his responsibility at the trial. His lawyer, Spokane County prosecutor candidate Chris Bugbee, told jurors Crenshaw suffers from a rare alcohol disorder that cause bizarre and violent behavior and asked for a manslaughter conviction.
Jurors took about four hours to reject that argument last week. Check my Twitter page for occasional updates from the courtroom.
“Right now, everyone’s looking at me like I’m guilty.”
Justin Crenshaw told a reporter that in July 2008, nearly five months after the brutal slayings of 20-year-old Tanner E. Pehl and 18-year-old Sarah Clark.
“It’s hard to look at people with them thinking I’m guilty of taking their son or daughter’s life, when I didn’t do it,” he said after a court hearing attended by the victims’ families. “I can’t even imagine how they feel. As much as I got to know them, they (Clark and Pehl) were great people.”
Two years later, Crenshaw faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole after a jury convicted him of two counts of aggravated first-degree murder.
The 22-year-old never denied his responsibility for the deaths of Clark and Pehl during the two-week trial.
But he blamed a rare alcohol disorder, and his lawyer, Spokane County prosecutor candidate Chris Bugbee, argued he couldn’t have premeditated the crimes.
It took a jury of five men and seven women about four hours to reject that claim on Tuesday. Family and friends of Pehl and Clark cried after the verdict and shared hugs. (Tanner’s sister, Katie, is pictured hugging Deputy Prosecutor Jack Driscoll.)
Crenshaw has been in the Spokane County Jail since the day after the murder.
He’s had several attorneys and successfully argued for his case to be transferred from the county public defender’s office because Clark’s family is close friends with an office investigator.
Crenshaw, described by a childhood friend after his arrest as “the nicest, sweetest guy”, served 18 months for an assault conviction in Nevada after he stabbed a man in the neck.
In June, Judge Tari Eitizen rejected a request from Crenshaw to allow him to undergo a test in which he drinks alcohol and an expert analyzes his bizarre or violent tendencies. Eitzen also had to order Crenshaw to be examined by an expert for the prosecution after he refused to meet with the doctor.
Crenshaw will be sentenced to life in prison next Thursday.
Check out our full coverage of the case:
Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker once told a reporter that questions about motive contributed to his decision not to seek the death penalty against Justin W. Crenshaw.
Investigators initially suspected Sarah Clark’s growing interest in Tanner Pehl may have motivated Crenshaw to kill, but testimony never pointed to that. (In fact, witnesses said Pehl was excited about an upcoming date with a new girl.)
During his closing argument on Monday, Deputy Prosecutor Jack Driscoll told jurors motive has no bearing in a first-degree murder case but suggested Crenshaw became enraged because Clark wasn’t interested in having sex with him.
But Crenshaw’s lawyer, Chris Bugbee, said there is no motive for the crimes, because Crenshaw didn’t have the ability to think about what he was doing.
The ransacked Pehl home showed signs of Crenshaw’s bizarre behavior: family photos were overturned and candles were stacked from smallest to largest.
Driscoll didn’t explain the candles but offered a simple explanation for the overturned photos: “He knew what he was doing was wrong, and he didn’t want those people looking at him.”
Bugbee said Crenshaw suffers from a rare disorder called pathological intoxication, or alcohol idiosyncratic intoxication, that causes bizarre and sometimes violent behavior.
But Driscoll said the explanation is a bit more simple: Crenshaw is a sociopath.
“He lacks a conscience,” Driscoll said. “The crime scene photos show you that.”
The question for the jury of five men and seven women: Were the murders premeditated?
Bugbee, who urged jurors to convict Crenshaw of first-degree manslaughter, said the possibility of Crenshaw having the disorder is enough to raise reasonable doubt. Jurors also have the option of a second-degree murder conviction.
Driscoll, who asked for a conviction of aggravated first-degree murder, reminded jurors that Crenshaw chose to fetch a knife from the kitchen, constituting premeditation.
“It doesn’t have to be an elaborate plan. It doesn’t have to be a good plan. It doesn’t have to be a well thought out plan. It just has to be that moment in time when you decide you’re going to do it,” Driscoll said.
Bugbee pointed to testimony from Crenshaw’s aunt, Kate Crenshaw, who said her nephew told her he was the happiest he’d ever been the day before the murders.
“Is he just somebody, who, on the happiest day of his life, just decided in a very horrendous and gruesome fashion, to kill two of the only people he could consider friends in Spokane, Washington?” Bugbee said. “Or does it make sense that his brain was overcome with this condition?”
Read much more from the closing arguments in my story here: Grisly double-murder case goes to jury
The jury reconvenes in the morning. I’ll update my Twitter page as soon as I hear a verdict has been reached.
A Spokane County jury is expected to begin deliberating this afternoon in the case of confessed killer Justin Crenshaw.
Crenshaw faces life in prison without parole if convicted of two counts of aggravated first-degree murder for the Feb. 28, 2008 s
tabbing deaths of 20-year-old Tanner E. Pehl and 18-year-old Sarah A. Clark. His defense law
yer, Chris Bugbee says the 22-year-old suffers from a rare disorder that causes him to behavior bizarrely after drinking alcohol and is asking the jury to convict him of a lesser offense like second-degree murder or first-degree manslaughter.
Closing arguments were scheduled to begin today at 9:30 a.m., but delays in getting jury instructions ready pushed them to this afternoon after 1:30 p.m.
Family and friends of Clark and Pehl have been at the courthouse since early this morning, as well Crenshaw’s grandmother, Sandy Morningstar, and mother, who are here from Las Vegas.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.