Posts Tagged ‘Chris Gregoire’

I am here, in Olympia. Just in the nick of time, after sleeping in an hour later than I intended to. Looks like we’re starting a little late, though, so thank goodness for small, small favors. Looks like we have the full five-member contingent of the board present today (last time there were just two present, with a third participating by speakerphone) and fewer cases (eight today, twelve when we last did this in September).

One thing I forgot to do, in rushing out of the house, was to grab my camera. So I’ll have pictures today, just via BlackBerry. I’ll post those as time allows.

We’re just about to start.


10:11 a.m.

First up is the case of Leon Toney, 32, who is seeking a commutation of his prison sentence. As before, I should note, I was not able to review the petition files beforehand, so I’ll be learning about these cases along with you.

Not sure what Leon’s crime is, but he is completely disabled and needs 24/7 care. Right now, he’s on an “extraordinary medical placement” in a Tacoma nursing home. His family wants his out of DOC jurisdiction so they can take care of him without the hassle of DOC rules.

The prosecutor’s office in Pierce County does not object.

But how did a 32-year-old criminal become this disabled?

Here’s the story. Wow. He was hanged in his McNeil Island Corrections Center cell in 2008. But was it a murder attempt or suicide? He’d been in prison since 1996, on a 28-year sentence for shooting a man in the stomach during a home-invasion-style robbery.

It’s been established, however, that as a result of the hanging, Toney is in a “persistive vegetative state.”

The board votes 5-0 to commute Toney’s sentence. As board member Cheryl Terry noted, “he’s clearly no threat.” Toney is here today, and one look at him in an extended wheelchair makes that obvious.


10:24. a.m.

Next up is John Coleman, who is seeking the restoration of his right to run for public office after being convicted of a felony. But he’s not here. Not good form.

He was convicted of “using the telephone to facilitate the sale of cocaine” in 1995. He was released from prison in 1997, and was was released from DOC supervision in 1999.

His petition is granted by a 5-0 vote.


10:29 a.m.

Next up is Emery Krahn, who is also absent. He was convicted of a marijuana offense in 2002. He’s satisfied all his post-release requirements. He’s now a community activist, and hopes to hold a school board post someday.

Another unanimous “aye” vote.


10:31 a.m.

Next up is the case of Morris Goldberg, who’s seeking a commutation of his prison sentence. Here’s his story. (Short version: He participated in a 1991 murder in Spokane County, though he didn’t actually pull the trigger. He has said that he believed he was helping stopping a child molester within the family.) His advocate, a prison counselor named John O’Connell, says “he’s turned his life around.” He’s now an elderly man, O’Connell said. (He’s now 78.)

Goldberg, from prison, speaks. At the time, he felt his actions were justified. Now, at board chairwoman margaret Smith’s prompting, he says “I don’t know.” He says he felt that he was easily susceptible, “a dupe.” Sounds like he’s questioning the premise of his crime.

Interesting case. He wasn’t convicted for nearly 10 years after the crime, and even though he said at trial that he would do the crime again, he says now that he was under the influence of his then-wife (who actually pulled the trigger). Now he says he give anything to give life back to the victim, in keeping with his newfound Christian beliefs.

“I have radically changed,” he says.

He says that while he has no information that the victim, Peter Zeihen, wasn’t molesting his 2-year-old granddaughter, it doesn’t matter now. He would not now be influenced by the people who influenced him to that belief then, and as a result, he might now make different choices.

During the eight years between the crime and the trial, his ex-wife was threatening him and other family members to keep quiet, Goldberg said.

Several letters have been put forth in opposition to Goldberg’s clemency. And Cheryl terry isn’t impressed by the way he distances himself from the murder, and isn’t expressing accountability. Goldberg’s answer, basically: You may not understand, but God gets it. “He has forgiven me, and I am asking mercy from man. … I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’m saying that My Father is right.”

He further says: “Whether or not you let me out of prison is irrelevant … in a few short years, I will be underground myself.”

Having sat through many of these hearings before, I can tell that Goldberg isn’t going to get clemency. His age isn’t enough, nor is his good works, nor is his Christian faith. Just as in other cases, accountability and ownership of the crime trumps all, and I can tell the board members just aren’t getting what they want to hear from Goldberg.

“I am tired. I am tired of life itself,” Goldberg says in conclusion.

Now comes three people speaking on his behalf. First up is a daughter. She apologizes for his seeming defiant tone. She is citing, heavily, his declining health. And now, also, his change. “We believe that this is a horrendous act that should never have happened,” she says.

Hers is a simple plea for mercy.

“He will be a financial burden on the prison system, and I offer my home to care for him in his final years,” she says.

Next up is Jesara (?) Goldberg, who is the granddaughter. She says “the abuse did happen.”

“That man saved my life,” she says simply, and walks away.

Next up is a 20-year friend, in from West Virginia, speaking about his pal “Mel.”

Here’s more about the case. I now recall that I actually covered this 2004 hearing for the hometown weekly paper (Newport News-Miner? Something like that.). I remember getting paid $75 for it, anyway.

“He was rather henpecked by his wife. She wore the pants in the family,” the friend says.

Another friend says: “He’s a wonderful man. He’s no threat.

Now comes the opposition, in the form of Steve Tucker, the Spokane County prosecutor.

“This was one of the more sensational murder murders in Spokane County,” because he was wearing a bulletproof vest at the time he took a 12-gauge shotgun blast — in the head.

“They did a great job of covering it up because they covered it up and nobody would talk,” Tucker adds. None of the evidence could be directly traced back to the perpetrators.

Tucker insists that there was no sexual abuse, that his now-deceased daughter made up the story.

Goldberg’s trial quote is memorable in law-and-justice circles, Tucker says: ‘”I’ll make this easy for you. I did it, and I’d do it again.'”

Goldberg’s serving 26.6 years, “and that’s what I would ask that he serve.” The ex-wife, JoAnn Peterson, is serving 25 years.

Next up: Dave Salsman, a first cousin of the victim, Peter Zeihen.

“He had the chance to set the record straight for his granddaughter … and he didn’t do it,” Salsman says of Goldberg.

Also: Salsman says the family took pictures of Zeihen’s corpse as “family show-and-tell.” He says that should Goldberg get out, “I’m afraid, not just of him but what he’ll bring out on the streets with him. … For God’s sake don’t let him out.”

Board member John Turner moves that the clemency petition be denied. Board member Raul Almeida seconds it.

Board chair Margaret Smith says that successful cases should be “extraordinary,” and this case just doesn’t meet that threshold. His health problems aren’t grave, she says, and his good conduct in prison is only what’s to be expected. But mostly, “I don’t believe that Mr. Goldberg has expressed remorse,” she says.

Terry agrees. And Smith isn’t impressed by the age arguments, pointing out that he chose to particpate in murder when he was 60 years old. She still thinks he’s a threat to society. “I don’t think we’re in any position to be taking any chances,” she says.

The vote to deny is unanimous.


11:33 a.m.

Next up: The case of Kevin Bingaman, who’s asking for a commutation of his prison sentence. Can’t find anything on the case, but his mother is here , pleading for mercy on medical grounds. Bingaman apparently was in a serious accident, “and his life expectancy is that he won’t live to be 25 because of the pressure on his brain.”

Odd case, timingwise. He was convicted of his latest offense in April 2008, and his earliest release date is July 2010. The board is historically unkind to petitioners who can’t hold their water and serve out their time when there’s so little time left to serve.

But the board’s concern right now is a pattern of criminal behavior dating back to his juvenile days.

His mom: “I believe that since Kevin has been incarcerated, his thought processes have changed.” Which doesn’t make sense: If his previous choices were about neurological impairment, how can behavior modification change that?

I don’t know much about his accident, but he was in a coma for seven days and everybody here seems to agree that it was a miracle that he survived. Mom wants her son to have access to medical marijuana. He had it at home before he was imprisoned, per a doctor’s prescription, she says. She says he gets nothing for the pain now.

His latest crimes were triggered by access to alcohol in the home, it comes out.

Mom has faith in her belief that Kevin has changed, and that if released, the old problems wouldn’t resurface.Margaret Smith empathizes, saying she has crippling migraines herself, but she’s thinking it would be better to work with the DOC to get him the pain meds he needs.

Bingaman speaks: “I’m in excruciating pain.” And: “I know what I did was wrong, and I’ve learned.”

Kevin’s grandmother speaks. She spends 4-6 hours a week with him in prison, and is convinced his turnaround is real.

Board members are still unconvinced that Kevin will have the structure he needs to stay out of trouble, supervised only by a mom who’s out of work and needs a job. The plan seems long on promises and short on safeguards. “Once you go back to work, who will be responsible for his structure?” Cheryl Terry asks. Respite Care, she answers. And grandma will be involved too, she says.

Apparently, he lives in Anacortes, and was in Harborview Medical Center in Seattle after his accident. I still has no specifics on that. The discussion has sidetracked into the minutiae of his medication.

And now we’re back on track. “Since Kevin’s been incarcerated, he has grown and matured,” his mom says.

A family friend says that she’s seen him grow and become more accountable for his actions. Kevin himself speaks up and says he’s learned to make better choices about friends (apparently, it was old friends that got him the alcohol that got him in the trouble that got him in prison today).

The Thurston County Prosecutor’s Office, where Bingaman was sentenced and apparently committed his crimes (burglary and theft with a firearm, among other charges), says it already has shown leniency through reduced charges and lenient sentencing recommendations. They ask that the punishment not be reduced any further. He’s serving 24 months now

His current release date is March 2010, Turner says. Mom says July; DOC agrees.

Amanda Lee, of the board, is leaning toward clemency on medical grounds. she’s be OK with it if he were put on an ankle bracelet to provide the accountability and structure the board seems concerned about. She doesn’t want the discussion to devolve into a referendum on medical marijuana.

But Almeida and Turner stand against it, citing the criminal history and the short sentence, as well as concerns about community safety. Terry agrees, citing the role of prison structure in Bingaman’s turnaround. Smith concurs.

The vote: 4-1 to deny Kevin Bingaman’s plea for commutation.


12:13 p.m.

Next up: Margaret Haines. Again, I’ve been able to find no background on her. She’s here, seeking a pardon.

She was born in the slums of Calcutta, abandoned by parents into orphanages in the 1970s. She knew neglect, abuse and poor nutrition, her attorney says. Nobody even knows her real age. But she was adopted by an American family. That didn’t end her troubles, as she had trouble adapting to American ways.

Add “teenagers, alcohol and boys,” the lawyer says. She got pregnant, collided with her family, ran away, “got picked off by predatory elements” and pushed into prostitution. But she eventually met her husband, slowly got out her lifestyle, got good jobs, and became educated with managerial jobs. She earned certification as a nursing assistant, lives in the Seattle area.

Her convictions are for prostitution, and the felony convictions prevent her from performing more than limited duties as a nursing assistant.

“Two words describe her: Resilience … I’m impressed that she’s not embittered toward life considering where she came from. The second is compassion.”

Haines speaks: “I believe I have gotten the fairytale that many people dreamed about … having a great home, a great job and a great family.” She doesn’t blame her adoptive mom, and has repaired that relationship.

“I do have a dream, and that is to become a nurse someday. I believe in my heart and soul that nobody should be alone in life.”

What are her goals? Smith asks.

She wants to get into the nursing program at Shoreline Community College and then to the University of Washington, to become a registered nurse.

The lawyer says it’s impossible to completely trace Haines’ complete criminal history, as many aliases were used during arrests from 1988 to 1993. She had no ID, no valid birthdate. Six convictions are included in the record, per the Washington State Patrol’s WATCH report.

The husband is a MUCH older man. I’d say there’s at least 25 years between them. She has a child who just graduated from high school. They’ve been married 14 years

King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg personally wrote a letter supporting a pardon for Haines. Smith calls that “extraordinary.”

Says Lee: “You’ve done amazing things with your life. It’s clear that you’ve left your criminal history behind.”

Says Turner: “Sixteen years crime-free … that to me speaks mountains.”

The vote is 5-0.

Last case coming up shortly, as one apparently dropped off the docket.


12:42 p.m.

Last up: James McMillan. Again, I can find nothing on this case online. He’s seeking a pardon.

He is here. Nice-looking, well-groomed man in his early 30s, I’d say. (Boy was I wrong; he’s 46.) He’s got a 2004 conviction for fourth-degree assault.

He wants to join the District 17 fire department out of Roy, in southeast Pierce County, but the conviction’s in the way. “They don’t want people who might explode under pressure,” he says. He not only wants to join the fire service but he wants to rejoin the National Guard, as he’s otherwise eligible to do as befitting his age and prior military service.

He cites a horrifically abusive childhood, and the inevitability that it would surface within him. But he’s taken medication, gone into counseling, changed his nutrition so he could get off the meds. He says he’ll live if he doesn’t get the fire department job, as he currently owns a painting business. “I’ll just keep trying to build that up,” he says.

The victim, a former girlfriend, has forgiven him. They even got back together after he made amends. “It was important to me to be a good parent and break that cycle of abuse,” he says. The relationship later ended for other reasons, and his current girlfriend is here with him today.

Turner, however, is hestitant because “we don’t know much about you. Your file is pretty thin. And, as you know from the news these days, we can’t give pardons very easily.”

The board voted no, but encouraged him to come back soon with a stronger petition.

And that’s a wrap. The last meeting went till almost 6:30 p.m. Today’s ends at 12:56 p.m.

Read Full Post »

Things are picking up.

I’ve gotten clearance from the state to visit two prison inmates who have agreed to talk with me for separate books I’m preparing, and will be seeing both within a couple of weeks: Aaron Borrero, who’s doing 22 years for kidnapping and attempted murder at McNeil Island; and Jeannette Murphy, who’s in her 27th year at the Washington Corrections Center for Women for shooting her parents in the head as a teenager and setting the house on fire to cover up the crime.

I’m also planning to meet next Monday with Les Lemieux, the victim of Borrero’s attack. I’ve received the entire Clemency and Pardons case file on Borrero — 857 pages’ worth — from the state and am picking my way through some frankly fascinating reading. By week’s end, I expect to have the transcript from the Sept. 10 hearing in which the Borrero petition was successfully heard. I’ve been calling and setting up appointments with a list of former-inmate friends Jeannette gave to me, because I want the story about her to be rich in behind-the-scenes looks at the culture of the women’s prison.

And, when time allows between all that and my regular job and, oh, you know, sleep, I’ve been working on my outline for my National Novel Writing Month project. I’m going to make time for it that I don’t really have, which will be extremely interesting. Do I have at least 50,000 words of a novel in me ready to come out of me by Nov. 30? I’ll be really surprised if I do … and really pissed at myself if I don’t. Hoo boy.

And, in the last few weeks, I’ve been building up to a whole new project that will, in all likelihood, be ready to roll by Nov. 10 or so. (As metro editor Michael Keaton’s secretary said to him in The Paper when he tried, and failed, to juggle too many people at once: “Are you completely psychotic?” To which, he replied, with dry distraction: “Eh, I have occasional episodes. Nothing serious.”)

You’ll like this one. It concerns a third story I hope to develop into a book (though it’s the one I’ve been working on the longest — nearly a year, in fact). It’s slightly self-destructive. And it’s on slightly soggy ground where journalism ethics are concerned.

Read the following and tell me what you think.

In December 2008, when I first decided to write a book about the most dramatic and interesting cases before the Clemency and Pardons Board, I attended a hearing in Olympia in which the case of Robert Holmes was aired.

In 1979, when he was 19, Holmes played a secondary, somewhat passive role in the rape and murder of a teenage prostitute in rural Snohomish County. He went on a drunken joyride with his older cousin, David Duhaime, whose idea of fun was to pick up a couple of prostitutes in downtown Seattle and rob them. One girl got away; the other wasn’t so lucky. Too drunk to act and too intimidated to protest, Holmes sat mute as Duhaime drove them to a remote spot and ordered Holmes and the girl to have sex.

Duhaime then hauled the girl out of the car, raped her and cut her throat.

The two were caught a few days later. A few months down the road, Holmes agreed to plead guilty to first-degree rape and second-degree murder, and testify against his cousin. Duhaime just missed getting the death penalty, thanks to a juror who balked at the last minute, and Holmes was sentenced to 20 years to life.

Holmes did good time, however, and was paroled after just 8 1/2 years behind bars. He went home to his native South Dakota, married his childhood sweetheart, had two daughters and scrapped about for several years in search of subsistence-level work. Several years ago, he landed a good job as a freight hauler for FedEx, and hasn’t been in a scrap of trouble since.

But Holmes has been hit by a series of setbacks in the last couple of years.

One, newly tightened Homeland Security regulations brought about a new look at everybody who held a commercial driver’s license with a hazardous-materials endorsement. Holmes, with rape and murder on his resume, was told that his CDL likely wouldn’t be renewed when it comes up again in 2010.

Two, in the wake of Megan’s Law, Holmes was required to register as a sex offender, and his neighbors were notified that they had a convicted rapist in the neighborhood.

And three, the sex-offender status caused Holmes a big problem this year, when South Dakota child protective services took his 2-year-old grandson away from his oldest daughter when he wandered away from her home a couple of times. Holmes and his wife tried to become custodial parents, but that effort went nowhere when Holmes’ criminal record came to light. The grandson remains in foster care, and Holmes gets to see him “maybe for an hour every other month,” he told me.

Talking with South Dakota authorities got Holmes nowhere, either. The answer was the same everywhere: As long as he’s got murder and rape convictions hanging over his head, the hands of bureaucracy are tied.

So, with the encouragement and help of his 1979 attorney, Holmes set about trying to get those convictions off his record, reasoning that his cooperation then and his unblemished record since was a strong basis for requesting a pardon from Gov. Christine Gregoire. After several months of preparation — digging up his past court records, recruiting several people to write letters of reference for him, verifying that his record from his 1987 release on was clean — he was granted a hearing before the governor’s five-member panel.

The centerpiece of his presentation was a surprising letter of support from Russ Juckett, the Snohomish County prosecutor who had initially pursued the death penalty against Holmes three decades before.

The hearing went well for Holmes. Despite the opposition expressed by the parents of the murdered girl, the members of the board voted, 4-to-1, to recommend that Holmes receive a pardon. I sat just a few rows behind as Holmes turned to embrace his wife and daughters.

Impressed by the story’s dramatic heft, I got hold of a copy of the petition packet, and went to Snohomish County to dig up the 1979 court file as well as clippings from the The Herald of Everett’s coverage of the case. I then approached Holmes for an interview, and we wound up meeting in May at his home in Sioux Falls.

Then, in August, came stunning news: Holmes’ petition had been denied by Gov. Gregoire. The letter sent by her office offered no explanation. I felt one was needed for my story, so I spent the next couple of months banging on doors at the state Capitol in search of a short interview with Gregoire. I was rebuffed at every turn, however. And the last door was slammed in my face when the governor’s senior legal counsel — who advises Gregoire on matters having to do with the Clemency and Pardons Board — told me last week that he wouldn’t comment because the governor is his client, and their deliberations on Clemency and Pardons Board cases are covered by attorney-client privilege.

(This doesn’t strike me as being quite right, given that she’s an elected official and he’s a state employee, and they were discussing official state business. But I couldn’t find anything in the Revised Code of Washington statutes to contradict him, and the past case law I found online seems to indicate that it’s a deep dark gray legal area. Besides, who can afford a lawyer to argue this? I sure as hell can’t.)

Still, my sense of fair play is outraged to the point that I feel compelled to do something — even as the old-school journalist in me warns me to stand down, shut up and not monkey with the machinery. A journalist reports what happens, after all. He ‘s not supposed to make things happen to report on later.

That held me back for a few weeks until, recent and uncoincidentally, I watched All The President’s Men on DVD. (It just happened to be the next movie in line in my Netflix queue.) And as I watched, I realized that what Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein did was just what I was proposing to do — write a story in hopes of rattling some cages and spilling out some sunshine. At least half of their published stories in what turned out to be a Pulitzer-winning series appeared to be calculated to induce people to spill more information that would lead to more stories. And it worked.

That quelled one ethical dither. But another loomed: By proposing to write such a story, am I becoming Robert Holmes’ advocate rather than the objective chronicler of his story? Do I risk being seen that way?

After thinking about it a little, I’ve settled on two answers: No. And probably not.

First of all, I am the objective chronicler of Robert Holmes’ story. I’ve taken great pains to represent myself that way to him and to everyone else I’ve interviewed this year in the pursuit of this story. I like Robert, personally, but that’s not stopping me from revealing the painful details of what he did — and didn’t do — on the night of January 26, 1979. It’s not stopping me from interviewing the parents of the victim, who remain dead-set against any leniency for him and frankly think he and David Duhaime should both be on Death Row.

Second, I can’t control what other people may think.

Third, really … why would anybody think that, anyway? (Besides me in my whinier and more insecure moments?) What I’m proposing to do is write a factual story, with plenty of documents and recorded interviews to back me up, that in essence puts the question to the public: Does Robert Holmes deserve a break? Or, as a convicted rapist and murderer, did the governor give him what he deserved when she shot him down — even though she overrode the advice of her own handpicked panel in the process? Either way, does he deserve an explanation? Do the people of Washington state?

I think it’s fair and ethical for me to write a story that lays out the issue according to the facts and invites its readers raise that question on their own. The fact I that I’m trying to get readers to ask that question doesn’t ethically trouble me in the least any longer. Every day, there are newspaper stories that are published specifically for their potential to provoke public reaction.

In this case, I’ll be trying to provoke readers to provoke Gov. Gregoire into speaking publicly about the Holmes the case — or, at least, authorizing her senior legal counsel to do so. I suspect the reason she turned down Holmes was political, and I think political pressure (of a populist sort) could, just maybe, provoke her to change her mind. Or at least talk about why she won’t. Realistically, I believe the chances of getting her to talk about it are slim. But at least I’ll know I’ll have done everything I could possibly do to get her to do so. And that’s just good journalism.

(By the way, there is precedent for Gov. Gregoire turning down a clemency request from a convicted murderer — again, over the recommendation of her board — and later changing her mind. I’ll be getting into that in my story; trust me, it makes for a very intriguing sidebar.)

Not sure who will publish it, but I’ll approach the Everett paper first, and if they turn me down, there’s a decent-sized list of credible Seattle media outlets to approach. Someone will publish it, given a) how good a story it is on its own merits; b) my own credibility as a Pacific Northwest journalist; and c) the fact that I can back up the facts I cite with the interviews I’ve recorded and the documents I’ve gathered.

The worst-case scenario? I publish it on my blog and get as many blogs and news sites in the greater Seattle area to link to it as possible.

So, this is something I’ll be working on, on top of everything else I’ll be working on, for the next couple of weeks.

Good thing I have no life, isn’t it?

Read Full Post »