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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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No tears over this guy’s death

Doug Clark The Spokesman-Review

Overcrowding at Washington prisons is at such a crisis that we must export excess inmates to out-of-state lockups to ease the convict crush.

But the news isn’t all bad here in the Ball & Chain state.

Just last week, in fact, a vacancy opened up at the Airway Heights Corrections Center thanks to Melvin Harris Briggs who checked out of prison – permanently.

Lung cancer claimed the 65-year-old inmate on May 30, confirmed an official at the facility west of Spokane.

Go ahead. Call me calloused.

But you won’t find one lonely teardrop trickling down my cheek for a child-murdering piece of filth like Briggs.

My sympathy remains focused on poor 12-year-old John Siverts and his surviving loved ones.

Wednesday marks the 40th anniversary of the Briggs-caused nightmare.

“Forty years. Can you imagine?” said Siverts’ mother, Connie, who lives in Southern California.

Like me, Connie was not broken up to learn about the death of the sexual psychopath who killed her child.

Briggs is dead. Never again will this fine woman live in dread that some screwballs on a parole board will set this monster free.

Spokane was still a sleepy “Leave It to Beaver” kind of town in 1965.

What happened on June 8 went a long ways toward shattering that image.

The Siverts family lived on the South Hill near Cannon Hill Park. John’s father (also named John) was a doctor. The boy had just finished the sixth grade at a Catholic school.

John was headed downtown to buy a belt the day he died. He was supposed to take the bus. Instead he accepted a ride from a friendly stranger who cruised by Ninth and Monroe in a Nash Rambler.

The boy’s body was discovered in a wooded area seven miles south of the city. He had been strangled, the rope still knotted around his neck.

It is likely John was fooled by Briggs’ innocuous appearance.

A photograph that appeared in the newspaper shows Briggs to be a skinny man with a weak chin and pencil moustache. He looked younger than 25.

But he was anything but harmless.

Briggs had been placed in Eastern State Hospital after choking a 7-year-old King County boy. The hospital released him after three years despite a psychologist’s prediction that Briggs was “likely to repeat.”

Prior to the King County case, Briggs choked and sexually molested another young boy, in Arizona.

Unlike John Siverts, Briggs’ earlier victims survived their attacks.

Briggs’ criminal history put him at the top of the suspect list. He was quickly picked up and eventually copped a plea to second-degree murder.

He was sentenced to 99 years in prison. That seemed like the end of the Briggs story until the sentencing system changed. Briggs then began making appearances before the Indeterminate Sentence Review Board, which had the power to grant freedom or keep the predator locked away.

“Every couple of years we were forced as a family to relive the whole thing,” said John’s brother, George Siverts, 55.

“I can’t say I feel elation or anything like that. I’m just glad that it’s over.”

Briggs’ horrific crime had a devastating and lasting impact on his family. George believes it played a significant role in his parents getting a divorce.

The pain that comes with something like this is unimaginable.

Connie told me a story about how her slain son once climbed a pine tree, cut off the top and then proudly presented it to her as if it were a bouquet. Johnny “was such a dear, dear little boy,” she added. “He was a delightful little person.”

Back in 1999, when I tried to lead the charge to keep Briggs where he was, I wrote the following sentence:

“This is a man who deserves to take his last breath behind high walls and razor wire.”

I’m glad this wish came true.

Good riddance, Melvin.

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