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Spokane woman sues Walmart, claiming she was profiled

A Spokane jury will hear the civil case filed against Walmart by a woman who claims she was profiled as a shoplifter and humiliated by a store employee in December 2011.

 

Beyonce Nieves sued the Arkansas-based retailer in Spokane County Superior Court, asking for damages resulting from assault, unlawful imprisonment and outrage for an incident that took place at the Shadle Park location on Dec. 9, 2011. Attorneys for Walmart claim their employee, a store loss prevention officer, acted reasonably when he confronted Nieves outside the store, alleging she’d secreted some stockings in a backpack and walked out without paying.

 

The confrontation led to Nieves allegedly disrobing in the parking lot in an attempt to prove her innocence, pulling up her shirt and pulling down her pants, according to court documents. The police were called and charges against her were later dropped when investigators could not prove she’d stolen anything.

 

The employee said in court filings he witnessed Nieves place the stockings in the pocket of her hooded sweatshirt. Attorneys for Walmart also want jurors to hear about a previous incident at a Fred Meyer store in which Nieves was captured on video “engaging in a crime of dishonesty” similar to the alleged Walmart shoplifting, according to court documents.

 

Nieves claims that she was singled out for surveillance because of her physical appearance. Security video will be played at trial, in which Nieves claims there is no evidence she took any items without paying.

 

Walmart has denied the allegations against itself and its employee through an attorney. The company claims Nieves was responsible for whatever consequences, physical or otherwise, resulted from the incident.

Attorney blasts McGill probe

Were detectives just doing their job or did they go too far?

A Spokane attorney has accused detectives of misrepresenting facts surrounding a homicide investigation in order to obtain permission to search the belongings of the victim's daughter.

Recently unsealed court documents show Spokane police detectives seeking search warrants told a judge the daughter, Billie McKinney, 25, was an uncooperative witness who hindered the investigation into the May stabbing death of her mother, Sharlotte McGill.

She has since been cleared of any involvement.

Jeffry Finer, who is representing McKinney, released a statement Wednesday stating he would seek an explanation of the alleged misstatements from authorities, but did not specify what those misstatements were.

Authorities were looking into a possible connection between McKinney and 20-year-old Steven Lewis, who matches the physical description given by McGill just before she died. Lewis was dating the mother of troubled teenager Avondre Graham, 17, who now faces charges for McGill's murder and two separate assaults.

Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer DeRuwe said detectives have a duty to look at anyone close to the investigation.

The story surrounding the recently released documents is sparking a lively discussion in the comment section.

Read more here.

Heidi Stanley’s discrimination lawsuit against Sterling Bank is still active

The discrimation lawsuit filed by former Sterling Bank CEO Heidi Stanley remains active in Spokane's County Superior Court.  Stanley is suing her former employer for wrongful termination, saying she lost her job after being diagnosed with breast cancer in spring 2009.

Sterling officials say the illness has nothing to do with Stanley leaving the company.

That departure or dismissal occurred right in the middle of Sterling's efforts to dig out of a deep financial pit. It ended up taking a huge investment through the TARP  (troubled assets relief program).

The recent legal development worth noting is a U.S. District Court ruling against Sterling, who had made a motion to dismiss the suit, arguing that the bank could not provide Stanley any compensation for her departure because of conditions imposed by virtue of the TARP money Sterling took from the feds.

But the court didn't buy the Sterling legal argument. The net result is that Stanley's wrongful termination suit can proceed.

Read to the next section to get a segment from the recent U.S. District Court ruling (the issue of TARP condition dragged this motion into federal court, while the termination action can be pursued at the state court level).

Robber gets 41 years for ‘92 murder

A serial bank robber and protected federal witness has been sentenced to 41 years in prison for the 1992 murder of a Spokane Valley furniture store owner.

Patrick Kevin Gibson, 60, was convicted of first-degree murder of the Nov. 7, 1992, shooting death of Brian Cole, 48, at Cole's Furniture Store on East Sprague Avenue in July after a bench trial before Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen.

Cole was killed during a botched robbery after the gunman said he was willing to hurt Cole's wife, who was in a scooter and witnessed the murder.

The crime went unsolved for 19 years before DNA from a fake beard left at the crime scene prompted detectives to arrest Gibson, who served 12 years in federal prison for a string of bank robberies that began in 1992.

He enrolled in the federal witness protection program after helping authorities convict his former cellmate of murdering a mother and her two children in Iowa in the early 1990s. That man, Dustin Honken, is now on federal death row.

Gibson also was convicted of robbing convenience stores and raping clerks in the late 1970s, about the same time he was shot in the face by a law enforcement official during a chase in Utah.

Gibson testified a partner in his bank robberies must have reused the beard, but Eitzen concluded he was the killer and had also robbed a children's store in Coeur d'Alene hours before the murder.

The trial began in May but was delayed when prosecutors learned “America’s Most Wanted” used the hat worn by the killer when re-enacting the murder in a 1993 episode. The trial resumed after authorities tested DNA samples from host John Walsh, a retired sheriff's detective and the actor who played the killer, Spokane County native Trevor St. John.

Eitzen sentenced Gibson on Friday to 493 months in prison. His lawyers have appealed his conviction.

Past coverage:

July 20: Gibson's bravado as robber didn't help

Woman gets 18 1/2 years for murder

The woman convicted of killing a Spokane man in December has been sentenced to 18 ½ years in prison.

Melinda R. Barrera, 32, was convicted last month of killing Robert A. Nelson following a bizarre altercation where Barrera was struck in the face with a cell phone and her boyfriend struck Nelson with a baseball bat.

The same jury acquitted 22-year-old David C. McLaughlin of killing or assaulting Nelson but found that Barrera was guilty of second-degree murder after she admitted firing the shot that killed Nelson.

Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen sentenced Barrera to a total of 224 months in prison with credit for 239 days already served in the Spokane County Jail.

McLaughlin was sentenced recently to a year in prison for felony drug possession.

Past coverage:

July 5: Couple convicted, aquitted in murder

June 22: Trial starts for couple in shooting death

May 8: Murder suspect now facing meth charges

Dec. 10: Shooting suspect recalls chaos

Neglected animals include duck, sheep

A woman has been charged with felony animal cruelty after emaciated animals, including a duck, were seized from her property near Long Lake in April.

Sigrid Birgitta Winney, 63, pleaded not guilty on Wednesday and is scheduled for trial on Oct. 22.

SCRAPS Animal Protection Officer Darlene Brumley responded to complain of five goats with no foot or water at Winney's property at 29116 W. Long Lake Road on April 9.

A confidential informant showed Brumley another property at 15857 N. Coyote Ridge Road where six goats were being kept without food and water, and two dogs were tethered to a tree. Officer Francisca Rapier spoke with Winney on April 11, and Winney said she felt terrible when she realized the terrible condition “of the goats and pregnant sheep,” according to court documents.

Winney said “she had not actually put her hands on the animals over the winter, as she had been feeding in the dark at night,” according to court documents. Officers also observed about 10 cats living in filth. Some of the animals had to be euthanized.

Winney is charged with first-degree animal cruelty, second-degree animal cruelty, confining animals in an unsafe manner and operating a dog kennel without a license.
  

Jury convicts father of severe abuse

A Spokane father has been convicted of severely abusing his infant daughter.

Tyler L. Jamison, 20, has been in the Spokane County Jail since April 2010, when his 2-month-old daughter, SkyeLynn suffered what Spokane police initially feared would be fatal injuries but has since been adopted through a foster family.

A jury convicted Jamison of first-degree assault after a trial before Spokane County Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno. The girl has been adopted.

Jamison is to be sentenced Sept. 28. He remains in jail without bail.

Past coverage:

April 12, 2010: Injured baby improving at Spokane hospital

April 8, 2010: Police: Baby brain dead after assault by father

Man pleads guilty in deadly ‘10 crash

A college student has pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide for a 2010 crash that killed a Lewis and Clark High graduate and Eastern Washington University student.

Taylor D. Marean is to be sentenced Sept. 20 by Superior Court Judge Jerome Leveque. He pleaded guilty before Leveque Thursday morning for the Feb. 14, 2010 crash that killed Jacoby N. Bryant, 19 (pictured).

Marean faces 31 to 41 months in prison under Washington's standard sentencing range guidline, said Deputy Prosecutor Mary Ann Brady. The sentence is for someone with no criminal history convicted under the drunken driving prong of the vehicular homicide statute.

Another driver, Brooke A. Reese, was sentenced last November to about a year in jail for vehicular homicide statute under the disregard for the safety of others prong.

Reese and Marean were racing when they crashed on on southbound Hatch Road near 54th Avenue.

Bryant was a passenger in Reese's 1999 Pontiac Grand Am (pictured). Marean was driving a 2005 BMW.

Past coverage:

May 28, 2010: Documents give new details on deadly crash

April 27, 2010: Charges in deadly crash on hold for school

April 5, 2010: Charges recommended in crash that killed teen

Gibson’s bravado as robber didn’t help

In the end, Patrick Kevin Gibson's bravado as a professional bank robbery didn't exactly contribute to his defense in the 1992 murder of a Spokane Valley furniture store owner.

Spokane County Superior Court Judge Tari Etizen said he appeared to be bragging about his exploits and gave more detail than necessary when he testified at his murder trial last week. 

Gibson, 60, also didn't sway Etizen with his claims that the robbery at Cole's Furniture store that ended with the shooting death of Brian Cole was sloppy and likely done by someone other than the man who robbed a children's store in Coeur d'Alene three hours earlier.

Gibson suggested during testimony last week that the robbers were perhaps partners but initiated the heists separately - Eitzen rebuked that theory Thursday when she convicted him of Cole's murder and said the killer was the same man who robbed Teresa and Steve Brenner's store in Coeur d'Alene.

He also theorized that a man named Tim whom he'd hired to assist in bank robberies in Oregon and California in the early 1990s reused a disguise from one of the robberies to commit the Cole's Furniture Store robbery.

Gibson said Tim was one of two men secured a storage facility for him in the Portland area where he disguises and a police scanner to be used in the robberies. He also stored there a bank directory and a mailing list of all the police department sin the United States. He said he used the material to research potential small-town banks to rob. Gibson said he didn't know Tim's last name and Tim did not know his identity.

Gibson described the Cole robbery as “completely inept.”

“The store is supposed to be closed at 5 pm., so this was a spur of the moment crime,” Gibson said. “Both crimes, it's probably the only furniture store and kid's clothing sore that's ever been robbed in either town.”
Gibson described the “personnel” he hired out of Portland, Ore. to assist in the robberies.

“I used a total of eight males and four females for the operation, but only five of the males were involved in the bank robberies themselves. The other people were only involved in obtaining cars or acting as props so that I could stay in that town. Sometimes I had to stay right in the town. There was no way to get out.”

Gibson also described his involvement in the federal witness protection program, which occurred after he shared a federal prison cell with Iowa methamphetamine dealer Dustin Honken and told authorities that Honken had bragged about getting way with the murder of two confidential informants, a mother and her two young daughters. Honken is now on fedearl death row. Gibson said he became a protected witness in 1999.

“They do investigating for a year. Polygraph tests. It's very strenuous. You can't get into the witness protection program unless they verify you're telling the truth,” he said.

Gibson said he would tell the truth if he had killed Cole. He pointed to the fact that he's been diagnosed with stage 2 prostate cancer.

“I know I'm gong to die from cancer,” Gibson said. “I've almost always pled guilty to everything I have done. If I did this crime, I would give the Cole family some closure. I would admit to it and I would give them closure, because they need closure.”

On cross-examination, Gibson told Deputy Prosecutor Tony Hazel he “learned his lesson” about robbing small places after he robbed a Taco's John's in Portland and a gas station in Carterville, Nevada. (He and his partner also raped two clerks.) Gibson said he only targeted bank in towns with no law enforcement presence whatsoever. Coeur d'Alene had a police department so it “wouldn't qualify,” Gibson said.

Hazel pointed out that Gibson had been laid off just before Cole was murdered and was angry at society. He'd only started planning bank robberies and didn't successful rob one until December 1992. Before then, he'd only targeted small stores like gas stations.

Gibson said he wasn't proud of the robberies but he made about $840,000 in cash and more than $1 million in traveler's checks that he destroyed.

“The FBI said I was one of the most successful bank robbers going, sophisticated bank robbers operating at that time, but I regret it,” Gibson said.

After Eitzen convicted him Wednesday of first-degree murder, as the now convicted killer walked down the third floor hallways of the Spokane County Courthouse, a reporter asked him: “Patrick, did you do it?”

“No I did not,” Gibson replied. “Do I look 5-8?”

Cole's wife, Michele Cole, had described the killer as being about 5-foot-8 or 5-foot-9. She said she recognized a scar on Gibson's face when she saw a picture of him in 2011. That scar is from being shot by a sheriff's deputy in Utah in 1998. The bullet went though Gibson's face.er it c

Gibson was arrested last year after his DNA was found on a piece of beard worn by Cole's killer.

His bench trial began in May but was delayed after prosecutors learned “America's Most Wanted” host John Walsh and a TV actor handled the killer's actual hat in a 1993 reenactment of the Cole murder

Authorities obtained DNA samples from Walsh, actor Trevor St. John and tried sheriff's Detective Mark Henderson and compared it to the hat. Doing so helped forensic analysts determine that the chance of the DNA on the hat not belonging to Gibson was one in 10 million.

Plea hinges on murder trial testimony

A 20-year-old woman originally charged with a death penalty eligible crime for the brutal murder of a Spokane man faces 6 1/2 to 8 1/2 years in prison if she follows a plea agreement approved today.

Breeanna C. Sims (pictured left) is to testify at the trial of accused killer Taylor J. Wolf (pictured right), which is scheduled to begin Aug. 20.

Sims, who was involved in a home-invasion robbery with her mother in 2009, pleaded guilty today to first-degree kidnapping with a firearm. Her plea agreement is sealed and hinges on her future testimony.

Spokane County Superior Court Judge Sam Cozza today approved the plea deal negotiated by Deputy Prosecutor Mark Cipolla and Deputy Public Defender Tom Trageser. Sims backed out of a potential plea in May.

Sims' brother, Justice E.D. Sims (pictured left), was sentenced in March to about 33 years in prison for first-degree murder and kidnapping.

The three are accused of the brutal torture slaying of Nicholas J. Thoreson (pictured right), who was found dead in the trunk of his burning Thunderbird on Forker Road April 13, 2011.

Detectives say Wolf made incriminating statements to Britney Bjork, girlfriend of jailed Hells Angel Ricky Jenks, just after his arrest in April, leading them to charge her with conspiracy to commit perjury, rendering criminal assistance and arson. Bjork is scheduled to begin trial Sept. 4.

Detectives say Wolf told Bjork he was going to shoot Thoreson but “I couldn’t do it, so me and Justice did it together,” according to court documents, which cite recorded jailhouse phone conversations. “But we had gloves on and stuff.”

All three suspects were charged with aggravated first-degree murder. The charge is eligible for the death penalty, but prosecutors said from the beginning they would not be seeking that.

Justice Sims is serving his sentence at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. Breeanna Sims will stay at the Spokane County Jail without bail. Her sentencing has not yet been scheduled as prosecutors await Wolf's trial.

Thoreson's family and friends attended Sims plea hearing today, including his girlfriend and toddler son.

Past coverage:

Dec. 6: Murder suspect's love letters seized

May 20, 2011: Sibling murder suspects plead not guilty

May 3, 2011: Homicide victim remembered in obituary

April 21, 2011: New details released in Forker Road homicide

Man in Facebook robbery gets 15 years

A 23-year-old man who robbed a boy lured to Spokane through Facebook avoid a life prison sentence recently when a judge approved a plea deal.

David Michael Martinez was sentenced to 15 years in prison for first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm and third-degree assault. He was arrested in June 2011 for first-degree robbery and conspiracy to commit first-degree robbery and faced life in prison without the possibility of parole under Washington's three-strikes law.

Martinez has previous convictions for attempted second-degree robbery and second-degree assault, which are strike offenses. He also has convictions for attempting to elude police.

His lawyer prepared a mitigation package, and prosecutors agreed to reduce the charges “given the difficult circumstances of defendant's childhood upbringing,” according to court documents.

Spokane County Superior Court Judge Sam Cozza approved the 180-month sentence on Thursday, which is exceptionally high for the gun and assault convictions.

Martinez admitted to robbing a Post Falls boy who arranged to meet a girl through Facebook.

The victim said he agreed to meet the girl at Corbin Park with $75, but when he got in her Chevy Tahoe, two men later identified as Martinez and Brendan T. Dalla pointed handguns at him and demanded his money, according to court documents.

Dalla was sentenced in November to four years in prison for second-degree robbery. The girl was charged as an adult, but her charges later were moved to juvenile court.

‘92 Valley murder case goes to judge

Patrick Kevin Gibson made big money robbing banks. A dozen gunpoint heists in the 1990s netted him $850,000.

He was a professional robber who didn’t need to bother with a small-time holdup at a furniture store, claims the attorney representing him in a murder trial.

Gibson, 60, was arrested in Western Washington last year in connection with the 1992 killing of Spokane Valley furniture store owner Brian Cole. The arrest came under unusual circumstances: Gibson had stopped to complain to a police officer about a speeding motorcycle.

Read the rest of my story here.

Past coverage:

June 12: Report details Gibson's criminal history

June 11: TV host's DNA sample delays Spokane murder trial

Accused killer gives riveting testimony

In what longtime Spokane County court officials described as riveting testimony, accused killer Patrick Kevin Gibson described Thursday his years as a big-time bank robber who earned about $850,000 before heading to federal prison.

Gibson's 12-year prison sentence led him to the federal witness protection program after he ratted out cellmate Dustin Honken, an Iowa methamphetamine dealer who bragged to Gibson about getting away with the murder of a mother and her two daughters. Honken is now on federal death row. His girlfriend, Angela Johnson, also was sentenced to death for the crimes but her sentence was overturned on appeal.

Gibson, arrested last year after DNA evidence on the killer's beard was linked to him, discussed Thursday taking polygraph tests to be part of a member of the secretive program. He denied murdering Spokane Valley furniture store owner Brian Cole on Nov. 7, 1992 - saying essentially that he was a professional robber who wouldn't mess with such a sloppy heist at a place with little cash. He suggested that a partner in his bank robberies might have committed the crime using a disguise from past bank heists.

Gibson said if he killed Cole, he would confess. But prosecutors pointed out that the bank robberies began after Cole's murder, and that Gibson also robbed convenience stores in Oregon. He also did so not just for the money but for the thrill, according to testimony.

Gibson, a level 3 sex offender, is charged with first-degree murder. He made the unusual decision to have his case heard by a judge instead of a jury. Superior Court Judge Tari Etizen is to hear closing arguments on Monday.

The trial began in late May but was delayed when prosecutors discovered at the last minute that America's Most Wanted host John Walsh and a TV actor handled the actual hat worn by the killer during a taping of the show in 1993.

Police obtained a sample of Walsh's DNA, as well as the actor and the detective who handled the hat, and submitted it to the state crime lab for testing.

Trial begins in horrible child abuse case

A jury trial began this week for a young man accused of brutally assaulting his infant daughter.

Tyler L. Jamison, 20, has been in the Spokane County Jail since April 2010, when his 2-month-old daughter, SkyeLynn suffered what Spokane police  initially feared would be fatal injuries but has since been adopted through a foster family.

Jamison is charged with first-degree assault. Police say he described weeks of horrible abuse that was sparked by the baby's crying.

He cut off her breathing until she turned pale “a couple times a day until his fingernails started leaving scratches and cuts on SkyeLynn’s skin,” according to court documents. He didn’t want anyone to notice what he was doing, so “he started cupping his hand over SkyeLynn’s nose and mouth when she would cry.”

Jamison also reportedly told police that he sometimes squeezed SkyeLynn and may have broken ribs. Medics said the girl’s ribs appeared to have been broken at different times.

Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno is presiding over the trial, which began Monday. Sharon Hedlund is prosecuting. Jeff Compton is defending Jamison.

Past coverage:

April 12, 2010: Injured baby improving at Spokane hospital

April 8, 2010: Police: Baby brain dead after assault by father

Spokane man guilty of tire-iron attack

A jury of seven men and five women found a Spokane man guilty Tuesday of attacking a refugee from Iraq with a tire iron during a gruesome attack that left the victim with severe head injuries.

Sentencing has not yet been set, but 25-year-old Grant T. McAdams faces somewhere between 17 and 22 years in prison after he was convicted of first-degree assault and first-degree robbery for the May 9, 2011, attack that nearly killed an Iraqi man who had come to the United States as a refugee after helping the U.S. military.

Read the rest of my story here.

Past coverage:

June 6: Tire iron assault trial begins

May 24, 2011: Tire iron assault, car theft leads to assault

Judge in DNA case: ‘I got it wrong’

Spokane County Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen said today that her misunderstanding of how DNA evidence was handled led her to initially make the wrong decision about whether it can be used in a murder suspect's trial.

  Eitzen originally was going to prohibit prosecutors from mentioning the presence of DNA from “America's Most Wanted” host John Walsh (pictured right) and actor Trevor St. John unless defense lawyers opened the door for the testimony by questioning the DNA profile of the hat.

But she made that decision under the erroneous belief that the DNA sample from the hat that was tested in 2004 was taken before Walsh and St. John handled the hat. That wasn't the case.

She reversed her decision Thursday, prompting John Whaley, defense lawyer for suspect Patrick Kevin Gibson (pictured left), to file a motion asking her to reconsider, which she denied to do today.

Gibson is charged with first-degree murder for the Nov. 7,1992, shooting death of Valley furniture store owner Brian Cole.

Eitzen today delayed the rest of the trial until July 10 to allow for lawyers to prepare for the newly discovered DNA evidence from Walsh, St. John, and the detective who handled the case. Read much more here.

Eitzen spoke candidly today about her original lack of understanding.

“I just got it wrong,” she said.

“This isn't about retesting the hat,” she said. “It's about for the first time getting the DNA profiles of others who touched it. I did not understand that sequence the first time I rule on this issue.”

“Those profiles are in evidence and I'm going to be really curious what the experts say,” she continued.

She said Whaley's motion implied that she did understand and simply changed her mind.

“I appreciate Mr. Whaley's kindness in thinking I did understand what was going on that day. Because I did not,” she said.

“And that happens,” Eitzen continued. “And courts have to be able to say 'we mad mistake' and reverse themselves. Because it happens everyday. We reverse ourselves on evidentiary rulings every day.”

She said the issue does not warrant a mistrial.

“There has been no prosecutorial misconduct,” she said. “No ineffective assistance of counsel…I don't want to over speak, but these counsels are on the top end of prepared and diligent for criminal cases that I've tried.”

CdA robbery linked to Spokane cold case

Investigators believe a sex offender on trial for the 1992 murder of a Spokane Valley furniture store owner robbed a children's apparel store at gunpoint three hours before the fatal shooting.

A judge has heard testimony from Steve and Teresa Benner, who owned the Kid's Fair clothing store in the Sunset Mall in Coeur d'Alene.

The store was robbed at gunpoint Nov. 7, 1992, about 5 p.m. The couple's two children, ages five and two, were present. The robber ordered employee Kathy Ward to handcuff Steve Benner, then handcuff herself to Benner. He stole their money and credit cards and left.

The Benners told police at the time that he was wearing a fake beard and a black baseball hat that said “Solid Gold.” That hat and a piece of the beard was found at the scene of the murder and robbery at Cole's Furniture Store in Spokane Valley, which occurred about 8 p.m. on Nov. 7, 1992.

Store owner Brian Cole was fatally shot when he tried to overpower the robber after the robber said he might harm Cole's wife, who uses a scooter.

Spokane County detectives submitted that beard for DNA testing in late 2010, and it matched a DNA sample from Patrick K. Gibson, who was arrested in May 2011. The Benners identified him from a photo montage as the man who robbed their store.

Gibson's bench trial resumes today before Spokane County Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen.

Gibson's extensive criminal history includes convictions for rape and robbery in Multnomah County, Ore., in 1979, as well as kidnapping in Nevada in 1978. He was convicted of bank robbery in federal court in California in 1996 and served 12 years in prison.

Trial begins in brutal tire-iron assault

A Spokane County jury on Tuesday saw graphic photographs and heard descriptions of the tire-iron attack last year against a man who came to the United States as a refugee from Iraq after helping the U.S. military

 Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Larry Steinmetz told the jury how the gruesome beating took place. But, Steinmetz did not say why Grant T. McAdams, 25, is alleged to have committed attempted first-degree murder and first-degree robbery on May 9, 2011.

Read the rest of Tom Clouse's story here.

Deer Park man guilty of vehicular assault

Spokane police released this photo of the March 29 crash.

A Deer Park man pleaded guilty today to a hit-and-run crash earlier this year that injured three people in Spokane.

Christopher L. Smith, 52, told Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno that he blacked out when he approached the intersection of Mission Avenue and Greene Street on March 29. The crash took out a light pole and damaged three other cars. One of those drivers suffered a broken leg.

“I remember turning the wheel and I blacked out,” Smith said. “I don't know why I walked away. I think about that every day.”

But Smith came to his senses long enough to ask his ex-wife to tell police that he wasn't driving her car. He was arrested later that day at his Deer Park home.

Spokane County Prosecutors initially charged Smith with vehicular assault and three counts of failure to remain at the scene of an injury accident. As part of the plea bargain, two of the latter charges were dropped.

Moreno sentenced Smith, who had no prior felony convictions, to eight months in jail. She noted that if his story were true — that a blown front tire caused the crash — he likely would have faced a citation.

Trial begins in ‘92 cold case murder

Trial began Tuesday for a career criminal sex offender linked to a 1992 Spokane homicide by DNA on a fake beard.

 Patrick K. Gibson, 60, is charged with first-degree murder for the shooting death of Brian Cole, 48, of Nov. 7, 1992, during a robbery at Cole’s Traditions in Oak, a furniture store on East Sprague in Spokane Valley.

The case was featured on “America's Most Wanted” in 1993, but the investigation went cold until detectives in the last few years re-tested evidence and Gibson's DNA was found on the beard, which was left at the murder scene.

Gibson, a level 3 sex offender living in Stanwood, Wash., was arrested in May 2011.

Records show he was convicted of rape and robbery in Multnomah County, Ore., in 1979 after robbing a Portland restaurant, forcing a waitress into his car and raping her at a rest stop. He also was convicted in federal court in Nevada of kidnapping, aiding and abetting and conspiracy to kidnap. He also was convicted in Douglas County, Nev., of robbery after holding up a gas station in 1978, kidnapping a 17-year-old boy and a 19-year-old woman, then sexually assaulting the woman and leaving both tied up.

He served prison time, then was convicted in 1996 of bank robbery and aiding and abetting in federal court in the Eastern District of California. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

According to previously published reports, on the night of Cole's homicide in 1992, police allege Gibson entered the store about 8 p.m. and demanded money, then became angry when he was told they didn't have any cash.

Cole asked the armed assailant if he would harm a handicapped woman, referring to his wife, who used a scooter due to multiple sclerosis. The man replied he “just might,” the sheriff’s office said.
In an apparent attempt to protect his wife, Cole tried to overpower Gibson, authorities said, who fired three shots, hitting Cole in head and chest.

Gibson chose a bench trial instead of a jury trial, meaning Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen will hear the case against him and decide whether there's enough to convict. Testimony began Tuesday.
  

Suspected serial burglar gets 9 years

One of two brothers suspected in a series of Spokane County burglaries has been sentenced to nine years in prison.

Donald G. Myhren, 30, pleaded guilty to residential burglary for a break-in last year and was sentenced this week to 108 months. He still faces additional robbery and burglary charges for break-ins at home this spring, along with his brother, Dustin J. Myhren, 26.

The men were out of jail awaiting trial for last year's case when detectives arrested them for the new burglaries in April. Investigators reviewing burglary reports noticed that the description of suspects in a series of Spokane County burglaries matched the brothers, and that a suspect vehicle was registered at their address.

They've both been jailed on $250,000 bond ever since and are scheduled to begin trial July 16 for the latest burglaries, some of which included the theft of sports cards.

Donald Myhren resolved last year's case Monday in Spokane County Superior Court; Dustin's still is pending.

Jodie Sinclair, whose home was burglarized by the brothers last year said she walked into her home to find one of the brothers running through her living room. The home was ransacked. Her husband chased after the man and his brother “and they in turned pulled a gun to get him to back off,” Sinclair said in an email.

The brothers are accused of again confronting a homeowner at a gunpoint just months ago.

Sinclair said she was disappointed in the sentence and said she hopes the pending robbery and burglary charges will put Myhren away for much longer.

“The material items he took that day can be replaced for the most part,” she said. “But what he stole from us is our sense of security and ability to feel comfortable in our own home.”

Rapist’s civil commitment overturned

Appellate judges ordered a new trial today for Spokane man convicted in 2009 of being a sexually violent predator because the note he wrote, detailing his desire to rape, kidnap and dismember a woman, was never communicated to anyone and thus did not meet the required legal definition of a threat.

 As part of the elements to qualify him as a sexually violent predator, the state must show that convicted rapist Shawn D. Botner committed an “overt act” toward committing another sex crime. Because of the decision Tuesday, Botner is expected to face another trial to determine whether he will remain in state custody indefinitely.

Read the rest of Tom Clouse's story here.

Past coverage:

Aug. 25, 2009: Sex offender's fate rests with jury

Man gets 15 years for Valley bar shooting

A Spokane man who shot a man outside a Spokane Valley bar last November has been sentenced to about 15 years in prison.

 Aaron Phillip Williams, 31, already has a conviction for second-degree assault, so his first-degree assault conviction counts as a second strike under Washington's three-strikes law.

A conviction for a third violent crime will put him in prison for life with no chance of parole.

Williams will have plenty of time to think about that - he was sentenced last week in Spokane County Superior Court to 178 months for the shooting Nov. 20. Williams shot a man in the parking lot of Goodtymes Pub, 9214 E. Mission Ave., during a confrontation between two groups of men

A police dog found Williams hiding in a backyard koi fish pond nearby.

Williams has previous convictions for second-degree assault, unlawful possession of a firearm and harming a police dog, all in Kitsap County. He also has juvenile convictions for first-degree robbery, first-degree theft, residential burglary, second-degree burglary and obstructing law enforcement.

Man, 20, sentenced for 2nd strike

Dressed in long shorts, sneakers with no socks and a collarless shirt, Cole M. Kendall stood before a judge Wednesday and entered an Alford plea for stabbing two people last year at an underage drinking party.

Still six months shy of legal drinking age, Kendall is now one conviction away from facing life in prison under Washington’s three-strikes law.

Read the rest of Tom Clouse's story here.

Attack suspect to undergo mental exam

A man accused of a bizarre attack in downtown Spokane earlier this month is to undergo a mental health examination.

 Justin T. Betts, 29, is due back in Spokane County Superior Court next month to determine if he's competent to stand trial. An arraignment scheduled for last Thursday was cancelled.

Police say Betts, who had just been released from jail, was high on methamphetamine when the owner of Thompson's Food Mart at 1208 W. 3rd St., saw him get into a customer's car April 7 about 9:30 a.m.

Betts threatened the owner with a gun when confronted, police say, and also threatened several other people in the area. Betts also walked into the nearby Honda dealership and threatened employees, police say.

He told police his name was “Jimmy Jake Franks,” but officers eventually identified him as Betts, whose criminal convictions include third-degree child molestation in 2004.

Betts remains in jail on charges of first-degree robbery, two counts of felony harassment and possession of controlled substance.

Chronic drunken driver gets 17 months

A retired Spokane firefighter with a history of impaired driving and a conviction for vehicular homicide has been sentenced to 17 months in prison for drunken driving.

A jury convicted David W. Batty, 56, of drunken driving after a short trial in Spokane County Superior Court earlier this month.

He was booked into the Spokane County Jail on Friday, where he's awaiting transport to prison to begin his sentence. He'll be credited for time already spend in jail, which includes the month he was there after his arrest in January.

Batty had a blood-alcohol level of twice the legal limit for driving when he was stopped for speeding about 11:30 a.m. in January 2011 at milepost 310 on U.S. Highway 2.  Batty told police that he had two drinks early that morning and had taken four prescription medications, according to court documents.

The charge was a felony because Batty has a previous conviction for a fatal, alcohol-related car crash in 1993.

Batty was rehired by the Spokane Fire Department after serving time in prison for vehicular homicide but was on medical leave when he caused a crash in January 2007 that killed three people. He was not charged in that crash but never returned to the Fire Department.

Then in 2009, he was sentenced to nine months in jail after he was stopped in July 2008 and tests showed he was impaired on prescription drugs and alcohol.

Plea replaces life sentence w/ 3 years

A Spokane man whose three-strikes trial was halted because of concerns about racist comments made by jurors has pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.

 Bobby S. Galloway, 24, was sentenced to three years in prison for third-degree assault after pleading guilty last week before Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno.

Galloway already has two convictions for violent felonies. Had he been convicted of first-degree assault as originally charged, a judge would have no choice but to sentence him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Galloway was arrested last May after stabbing a man outside the Top Hat Tavern, 6412 N. Division St.

He was on trial in February, but Spokane County Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen declared a mistrial after a juror reported inappropriate, racially toned comments being made in the jury room, court officials say.

Man, 20, gets 15 years for ‘07 murder

A 20-year-old man arrested for a 2007 murder was sentenced recently to 15 years in prison.

Derrick Gregory Martin-Armstead (right) also was ordered to pay $6,651 restitution after pleading guilty to second-degree murder for the Nov. 12, 2007, shooting death of Daniel Burgess, 30.

Burgess was killed while in the living room of a home at 2413 N. Dakota Ave.

Martin-Armstead, his girlfriend, Jaleesa D. Anderson, 22; and her brother, Marc A. Anderson, 20 (left), each were charged with a single count of first-degree murder. Martin-Armstead's charge was reduced as part of a plea deal.

The Andersons, who are out of jail on bond, are scheduled to go to trial in June.

Martin-Armstead was arrested Oct. 24 after an informant told police he'd implicated himself in the murder during conversations at the jail in May and June 2008.

20-year sentence for road rage murder

A man who shot a retired teacher to death in a 2002 road-rage case has been sentenced to 20 years in prison after an appellate court overturned his earlier conviction.

Christopher W. Conklin, 31, was sentenced last week to 240 months in prison with credit for nearly 10 years served in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder and second-degree assault before Spokane County Superior Court Judge Kathleen O'Connor.

The Washington Court of Appeals overturned his first-degree murder conviction last year because Superior Court Judge Linda Tompkins failed to tell Conklin that he could withdraw his plea after an error in his plea bargain was discovered.

Conklin was 21 when a Suburban he was driving struck a minivan that turned onto Division Street from Empire Avenue. Police said it wasn’t clear which driver was at fault, but Conklin then deliberately sideswiped the minivan and forced it to stop.

The minivan driver, Richard Laws, and three independent witnesses said Conklin pistol-whipped Laws and killed his passenger, 64-year-old Melvin J. Hendrickson, with a gunshot intended for Laws.

Past coverage:

March 11, 2011: Murder conviction in road rage case overturned

Teen gets 33+ years for torture slaying

A 19-year-old Spokane man was sentenced to more than 33 years in prison recently for his role in the murder and kidnapping of a 22-year-old man whose burned body was found in the back of a car last year.

Justice E. D. Sims, 19, (left) pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and kidnapping Friday in connection to the slaying of Nicholas J. Thoreson, who was found dead in the trunk of his Thunderbird on Forker Road April 13.

  Detectives believe Sims, his sister Breeanna C. Sims, 20, and Taylor J. Wolf, 21, brutally beat Thoreson (right) in a garage at the Knotty Pines apartment complex, 13615 E. Trent Ave., in Spokane Valley. Sims then fatally shot Thoreson.

In addition to 400 months in prison, Sims was ordered to pay $5,268 restitution.

Wolf is scheduled to begin trial Aug. 20. Breeanna Sims is scheduled to begin trial April 2.

Detectives say Wolf (left) made incriminating statements to Britney Bjork, girlfriend of jailed Hells Angel Ricky Jenks, just after his arrest in April, leading them to charge her with conspiracy to commit perjury, rendering criminal assistance and arson. Bjork is scheduled to begin trial April 16 and is represented by Chris Bugbee.

Detectives say Wolf told Bjork he was going to shoot Thoreson but “I couldn’t do it, so me and Justice did it together,” according to court documents, which cite recorded phone conversations. “But we had gloves on and stuff.”

Sims originally was charged with aggravated first-degree murder, which carries a mandatory sentence of death or life in prison without the possibility of parole. Prosecutors were not seeking the death penalty, and the charge was amended to first-degree murder as part of a plea deal.

Also charged in the case is the Simses' half-brother, who pleaded guilty in juvenile court to threatening a witness in the case. The teen is not being named because he was charged as a juvenile.

Emily K. Karlinsey, 19, who is accused of making threatening phone calls to a witness, pleaded guilty to fourth-degree assault in January and was credited for a day already spent in jail and given two years probation.

Past coverage:

Dec. 6: Murder suspect's love letters seized

May 20: Sibling murder suspects plead not guilty

May 3: Homicide victim remembered in obituary

April 21: New details released in Forker Road homicide