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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Judge forced to cut sentence in 2001 death

One of two men who beat a homeless man to death with a 7-foot, 10-pound pipe in 2001 got his 30-year prison sentence reduced to 13 1/3 years Tuesday because of a Washington Supreme Court ruling.

Superior Court Judge Kathleen O’Connor gave Jonathan E. Michel an above-standard sentence when a jury convicted him of second-degree murder 4 1/2 years ago in the death of George “Rick” Rice, whose skull was crushed while he slept downtown, near the corner of Third Avenue and Monroe Street.

Judge Tari Eitzen was limited to a standard-range sentence Tuesday when Michel, now 31, pleaded guilty to the same charge.

The state Supreme Court last fall overturned scores of murder convictions, including Michel’s, on grounds that state law failed to list assault as one of the felonies that can lead to a murder charge if a victim dies. A U.S. Supreme Court decision last year precluded above-standard sentences unless a jury found aggravating circumstances, and the state Supreme Court said new juries can’t be impaneled in cases like Michel’s.

Saying he has found Jesus in prison and wants to be with his three sons from two marriages, Michel requested a minimum 101/2-year sentence, but Eitzen gave him the standard maximum. Michel can prove his Christianity when he is released, the judge said.

Deputy Prosecutor Shane Smith acknowledged that co-defendant Justin D. White was responsible for most of the violence against Rice, but said such a “brutal, savage crime” cried out for a maximum sentence.

Court documents indicate White and Michel sought out Rice, having assaulted him several days earlier in an attempted robbery. The suspects had gotten drunk to celebrate White’s 21st birthday, and White wanted to cap the day by beating someone, according to the documents.

White’s 40-year sentence for first-degree murder was unaffected by the ruling that overturned Michel’s conviction.

Michel’s father, Gerald Michel, said his son is a “good man” whom he would like to take home to their family orchard in Adams County. But Rice’s ex-wife, Karen Wright, and his former father-in-law, Angelo Bomben, said Eitzen couldn’t give the defendant enough prison time.

“We don’t get to see Rick no more, but (Michel’s) still here,” Bomben said. “That’s not right.”

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