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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Questions linger after courthouse evacuation; letters sent by felon’s wife

The Spokane County Courthouse was evacuated Thursday, June 7, after county workers claimed they felt ill after a package was opened. (Jonathan Glover / SR)
By Chad Sokol and Jonathan Glover The Spokesman-Review

The Spokane County Courthouse was evacuated for more than an hour Thursday morning amid fears that a poison-laced envelope had sickened county workers.

Two court employees and a sheriff’s deputy felt scratchy throats, headaches and chest pains at about 10:30 a.m. after one employee opened a letter in a room on the third floor, Spokane Fire Assistant Chief Brian Schaeffer said. Initial reports suggested the envelope released a “puff” of noxious fumes.

After testing the air in the building, however, officials said there was no sign of a hazardous substance. The workers reportedly felt fine after walking outside but were taken to a hospital as a precaution. Several others were evaluated, and the courthouse was reopened.

“No lives were at risk today,” Schaeffer said.

The letter was addressed to Judge Annette Plese from Christopher A. Cain, 51, who is preparing to stand trial on drive-by shooting charges later this month. Plese is the judge assigned to his case. Her bailiff reportedly opened the letter.

A second letter was found in the county prosecutor’s office but was not opened. Addressed to Deputy Prosecutor Thomas Treppiedi, it too listed Cain as the sender.

But according to KHQ, neither letter was sent from the Spokane County Jail, where Cain is being held on a $200,000 bond. Cain said he sent one letter to Prosecutor Larry Haskell, and his wife took credit for the two found Thursday, the TV station reported. The couple said the envelopes contained messages and court documents, but no poison.

“I wrote a letter, but I didn’t put nothing on it,” Cain said in an interview at the jail.

Officials also evacuated and reopened the Public Safety Building adjacent to the courthouse. Letters were bagged and removed from the premises.

Deputy Mark Gregory, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, said Thursday evening that there didn’t appear to be any suspicious boxes – only flat envelopes.

“I heard ‘packages’ and I heard ‘letters.’ Those terms have been used interchangeably throughout the day, but I heard they were letters,” Gregory said.

The FBI and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service now are leading the investigation. It’s not clear whether investigators suspect criminal behavior. No arrests have been made and no suspects have been identified.

Cain, who has 11 felony convictions, is charged with first-degree assault and drive-by shooting for a March 11 incident at a north Spokane gas station. He allegedly fired a single shot at a man who had pulled up to the gas pumps at the Zip Trip at 2005 N. Hamilton St.

Cain was arrested at his home on April 5. The next day, he refused to speak during an initial court appearance, forcing the prosecutor to reschedule.

On a similar note, Cain decided to stop speaking with a KHQ reporter on Thursday. Pressed with questions, he said, “I’m done,” and yanked a microphone off his yellow jumpsuit.