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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Star witness in robbery case was trio’s getaway driver

OxyContin user agreed to testify to get plea deal

The state is hanging its felony case in the armed robbery of two Spokane drug dealers on an 18-year-old OxyContin addict who borrowed his mother’s pickup to serve as the getaway driver for the April 2008 heist.

Matthew Dunham, 17 at the time of the robbery, is the state’s star witness in the trial of Tyler W. Gassman, Robert E. Larson and Paul E. Statler, who have pleaded innocent.

The trial has been marked with charges of prosecutorial misconduct, with the Spokane County prosecutor’s office drawing $8,000 in sanctions from a Superior Court judge for amending the charges the day before the trial to show that the crimes were committed April 17, not April 15.

In contrast to a series of disheveled witnesses from the drug underworld who’ve testified this week in the Superior Court jury trial, Dunham was a portrait of neatness as he arrived in court Wednesday.

He was brought from a juvenile detention facility in Cheney dressed in a tailored suit with his hair cut short to deliver the testimony he agreed to in a plea bargain with the prosecutor’s office.

Dunham is the only witness to place the three defendants at the scene of the drug deal gone bad on East Cataldo Avenue.

Gassman, Larson and Statler are charged with robbery, attempted murder, assault and drive-by shooting, and could go to prison for decades. In contrast, Dunham’s plea deal keeps him in juvenile detection only until he turns 19 in September. Then he’ll be released on probation for three years.

At issue before the jury is Dunham’s credibility. Under cross-examination Wednesday, he testified he was making $5,000 a week selling marijuana as a 17-year-old when he began to get involved in another drug underworld: buying, selling and using OxyContin.

He and his older brother Larry Dunham and two other men were also arrested in a violent home invasion of two other alleged drug dealers shortly after the incident on East Cataldo. In that robbery, Matthew Dunham said he kicked in the door of a couple’s East Broadway home and held a baseball bat to a woman’s head. Police arrested the four assailants shortly afterward, and they’ve taken plea deals.

Under questioning by deputy prosecutor Eugene Cruz, Dunham said he agreed to “testify truthfully” about the East Cataldo robbery in exchange for an exceptionally light sentence rather than go to prison for up to 40 years.

Lawyers for the defendants questioned his motives.

“Do you think it’s right that you’re getting less than 18 months for your involvement?” asked attorney Timothy Note.

“Yes, I believe it’s fair,” Dunham said.

Reach Karen Dorn Steele at (509) 459-5462 or by e-mail at karend@spokesman.com.
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