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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Driver Says He Didn’t Expect Killing Alleged Accomplice Says He Thought Murder Suspect Just Wanted To Scare Teen Victims

Bonnie Harris Gita Sitaramiah Contrib Staff writer

An 18-year-old accused of driving the getaway car in Wednesday’s double homicide told Spokane police he thought a friend orchestrated the shooting to scare a group of teens, not kill them.

Police said John “Doug” Champagne and Christopher McIlveen, 17, sat in a station wagon at Haven and Columbia just before 2 a.m. that day.

Another youth, Kenneth Comeslast, 15, got out of the car, walked around the corner and opened fire on four girls sitting on the front porch at 2928 E. Central, police said.

Kendra Grantham, 16, and Cindy Buffin, 17, were shot in the back of the head and died instantly. Amanda Denny, 13, was wounded in her side. The fourth girl wasn’t injured.

Police are calling the shooting gang-related and say Comeslast confessed to the killings when questioned Thursday.

Comeslast, who also goes by the name Junior Moses, was charged in juvenile court Friday with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of first-degree assault.

The skinny teenager with a military-style haircut looked nervously around the courtroom as Judge James Murphy explained the felony charges.

Comeslast glanced at his mother, Sharon Comeslast, and her boyfriend, Robert Chavez, before telling the judge he understood the allegations.

If convicted as a juvenile, Comeslast could be held in detention until he turns 21.

Prosecutors, however, are pushing for both Comeslast and McIlveen to be charged as adults.

Usually, a juvenile 16 or older charged with murder is automatically moved to the Spokane County Jail and treated as an adult. Because Comeslast is only 15, a hearing must be held.

It was set for Aug. 18. McIlveen’s hearing to be tried as an adult will be the same day.

By law, prosecutors cannot seek the death penalty for juveniles charged with murder, Spokane County Prosecutor Jim Sweetser said. “The death penalty is not an option for us here,” he said.

If Comeslast is convicted of first-degree murder as an adult, he faces 20-26 years in prison.

“Times that by two for two counts and he’s looking at up to 52 years,” Sweetser said. “Plus the first-degree assault charges.”

Prosecutors are considering whether to increase the charges to aggravated murder, which carries a penalty of life without parole.

Both Champagne and McIlveen were arrested on a North Idaho golf course Thursday afternoon while preparing to tee off with McIlveen’s grandfather.

They were charged Friday with first-degree criminal assistance.

As a juvenile, McIlveen faces between 10 and 20 days in detention, six to nine months of community supervision and at least 40 hours of community service.

During Friday’s hearing McIlveen - a short, thin teenager with bushy curls piled on his head - focused his eyes on the judge.

“He’s scared to death,” said his mother, Susan Hunstad.

Champagne’s relatives said the beefy ex-football player from Rogers High School was an unwitting accomplice who had no inkling there would be bloodshed.

Champagne told relatives he drove his father’s station wagon to the neighborhood because Comeslast said he had something he had to take care of.

“I honestly don’t think he knew what was going on,” said his mother, Roxie Champagne, adding the rifle used in the shooting was initially hidden in a duffle bag in the car.

Roxie Champagne also said her son is a childhood friend of shooting victim Grantham.

Grantham and Buffin stopped by the Champagne house on East Princeton at about 10 p.m. Tuesday - four hours before the shooting.

The girls “talked and laughed” with Doug Champagne on their way to the McDonald’s on North Division, Roxie Champagne said.

“Doug’s very sorry” about what happened, his mother said. “He’s not a mean or hurtful person. He’s always there to help anybody.”

But James Fanning, a 17-year-old friend of Grantham, said the girl told him she and Champagne fought about a month ago.

“They had a big fight and there was some hitting involved,” Fanning said. “He can play the role of playing all nice and sweet but when you get to know him, he’s not like that.”

Champagne, who is an adult, faces between nine and 12 months in jail for his part in the killings.

Court Commissioner Vance Peterson set bail for him at $100,000 and asked the teenager if he had a lawyer.

“I’m waiting to talk to my mom,” Champagne said.

Afterward, family members said Champagne is cooperating with police and sharply refuted allegations the shooting was gang-related.

“There’s no gang,” said Tina Kennedy, Champagne’s half-sister. “It’s just a circle of friends who hang out together.”

While police released little information about the shooting Friday, sources said all three suspects have confessed.

Champagne told police Comeslast intended the shooting to scare a group of teenagers partying at the Hillyard home, the sources said.

Police say Comeslast used a semiautomatic assault rifle to pepper the Hillyard home with bullets. As he headed back to the waiting car, witnesses said the gunman ripped off at least 11 more rounds into the air - five of which hit two nearby homes.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 Photos (1 Color)

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Bonnie Harris Staff writer Staff writer Gita Sitaramiah contributed to this report.

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