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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Crime/Public Safety

Prosecutor: Murder suspect killed homeless man to practice before killing ex-wife in Browne’s Addition

UPDATED: Fri., May 7, 2021

Spokane police cordoned off several blocks of the Browne’s Addition neighborhood on Aug. 8 following reports of a woman found dead in a vehicle. Detectives later arrested 35-year-old Nathan A. Beal on suspicion of second-degree murder. Police report 17 homicides in 2020, close to a record-setting annual pace.  (Ted McDermott / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane police cordoned off several blocks of the Browne’s Addition neighborhood on Aug. 8 following reports of a woman found dead in a vehicle. Detectives later arrested 35-year-old Nathan A. Beal on suspicion of second-degree murder. Police report 17 homicides in 2020, close to a record-setting annual pace. (Ted McDermott / The Spokesman-Review)

Months before Nathan Beal’s ex-wife was shot in the head in her car in Browne’s Addition, Andrew Bull, a homeless man, was shot in the head just a few blocks away.

Prosecutor Dale Nagy argued Friday that Beal killed Bull as practice for killing his ex-wife.

Beal is charged with premeditated murder for allegedly killing his ex-wife, Mary Schaffer, last August. He has been held in the Spokane County Jail on a $1 million bond since September.

Schaffer’s body was discovered outside the Browne’s Addition home where she was supposed to be picking up her two children from Beal. Investigators found a shell casing outside of her vehicle that was later linked to a 9mm Ruger handgun found in Beal’s residence, according to court documents.

A shell casing from Schaeffer’s death was linked to a shell casing found at the scene of Bull’s homicide on April 3.

“We believe the killing was done by Mr. Beal as practice,” Nagy said in court Friday.

Beal and his girlfriend at the time purchased the handgun connected to the two homicides from the White Elephant a few months before Bull’s death, Nagy said.

Last fall, prosecutors argued the two cases should be combined so that Beal would stand trial for both murders at once, but Judge John Cooney ruled combining the cases would unfairly prejudice the jury.

Since then, the prosecution received information from a jailhouse informant that Beal said he shot Bull because he was “curious” and that it was for “practice,” Nagy said. On Friday, Nagy argued again to combine the two cases.

Shane Phillipy was in jail with Beal and reported his statements to law enforcement, along with providing them a copy of a “contract” that Beal wrote to him.

The contract said Beal would sell property to Phillipy if he produced enough money to pay Beal’s bail, according to court documents. The document was found to match Beal’s handwriting by forensic investigators from Washington State Patrol.

The prosecutor said this new evidence and testimony from Phillipy indicates that Beal did kill Bull as practice for killing his ex-wife. Beal also allegedly took his two children to a homeless camp a few months before the murders and made comments about killing people camped there, Nagy said.

Beal’s public defender, Stephanie Cady, argued that Phillipy is “very likely not a credible witness” due in part to his “significant criminal history.”

She also argued a jury would be unduly prejudiced and conflate the two separate incidents if they were tried as one case.

“There is going to be undue prejudice if these cases are joined,” Cady said.

Judge Michelle Szambelan agreed that Nagy had not provided enough evidence that the motives of the two killings were linked and should be tried together.

The judge denied the motion to try the two cases together. Szambelan also granted the public defender’s motion to continue the trial until October, despite Beal’s protest.

Beal has written to the court multiple times since his arrest complaining about his defense attorneys and opposing postponing his trial date.

Cady was assigned to the case in March and stated she would need until at least the end of the summer to prepare if she were to provide adequate representation to Beal.

Beal said he had no problem with Cady as his attorney but feared “indefinite detention” if the trial were postponed, noting Cady is his fourth attorney.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant delays in the court system, with jury trials put on pause for long periods .

Beal’s trial for Schaffer’s death is currently scheduled for October 4.

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