A man convicted 11 years ago in the murder of an 18-year-old Moses Lake woman has a right to a new trial because he was unable to confront two witnesses - his co-defendants, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Judge Robert Whaley ordered a new trial for Stephen C. Whelchel, who has served 11 years in prison for the October 1986 slaying of Emargo McKee.
In his order signed Nov. 18, Whaley concluded Whelchel, 31, did not receive a fair trial because he was effectively denied his constitutional right to confront in court the two co-defendants who made statements against him.
The men’s statements were admitted as evidence, but under cross-examination, they refused to testify, citing their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
The co-defendants - Jeffrey Flota and Jerry McKee, the husband of the victim - pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. In their statements against Whelchel, then 20, they implicated him as the ringleader in the murder.
Whelchel was convicted of first-degree murder in June 1987 and sentenced to nearly 28 years in prison.
Emargo McKee, more than five months pregnant, was stabbed in the chest and beaten on the shore of Moses Lake. The case received heavy publicity because of purported links to satanic ritual.
Grant County Prosecutor John Knodell said the ruling would be appealed.
Whaley said the statements were not reliable enough to have been admitted into evidence, thus undermining Whelchel’s conviction because the co-defendants refused to talk in court under cross-examination.
“McKee and Flota had a strong incentive to misrepresent their role in the murder and shift the blame,” Whaley wrote. The trial judge made a mistake in allowing the statements as evidence when Whelchel was unable to cross-examine the co-defendants, he wrote.
Flota and McKee both were sentenced to 20 years in prison in April 1987.
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