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Child killers walk free after Washington Supreme Court vacates convictions
Longview Daily News ^ | Jan 29, 2005 - 11:57:02 pm PST | By Associated Press

Posted on 01/30/2005 1:37:13 PM PST by No phonys allowed

SEATTLE -- Yvonne Roberts used to take comfort in knowing the killer of her 3-year-old son was behind bars. That was before two recent state Supreme Court decisions let him out this month, four decades early.

And that man, David Crane, isn't alone. Noreen Erlandson served 12 years instead of 40 for killing her 2-year-old daughter, and Keith Whitling was supposed to serve another 15 for the death of his 6-week-old girl in 1992. In all, at least two dozen child killers could end up walking after the court found that they were improperly convicted.

"I'll never accept it," said Roberts, as she sobbed in a recent interview. "These justices need to go. They didn't just create a loophole; they opened the cell door to these killers."

The court's rulings concerned the state's law on felony murder, defined as a homicide that occurs -- even by accident -- during or "in furtherance of" another felony, such as robbery. For decades, prosecutors charged defendants with second-degree felony murder if an assault led to someone's death.

In 2003, the court decided that the law didn't allow for felony murder charges in cases of assault. In a 5-4 ruling, the majority reasoned that in such cases, the assault and the homicide are the same act: The homicide does not occur "in furtherance of" assault -- it is the assault.

Last fall, it said it was applying the decision retroactively. The result was to invalidate felony murder convictions based on assaults from 1976 to 2003, when the Legislature changed the law to explicitly allow second-degree murder charges in fatal assault cases.

About 280 prisoners may be entitled to have their convictions vacated, as well as an unknown number of people who already served their time. Prosecutors face the choice of filing new charges of manslaughter, which carries a lesser penalty; finding another felony on which to base a felony murder charge; or trying to prove that the killing was intentional -- a daunting task years after the fact. In cases where children were impulsively shaken or beaten to death, intent is especially difficult to prove.

"When a court overturns 30 years of precedent to set hundreds of murderers free, that's a terrible ruling," said Snohomish County Deputy Prosecutor Seth Fine. "The court doesn't seem to recognize the impact this is having on victims' family members -- how wrenching it is to have these cases reopened years or decades after they were closed."

Crane's murder conviction for killing 3-year-old Steven Collins in 1986 was vacated earlier this month, and prosecutors could only file manslaughter charges. Though Crane has long insisted on his innocence, he pleaded guilty to the lesser charge, was sentenced to 20 years -- not exactly a slap on the wrist, his lawyer noted -- and walked free, with credit for good behavior. Crane declined to be interviewed for this story.

"Sex offenders have to register where they're at," said Roberts, a 45-year-old waitress from Clinton. "David Crane doesn't. How many more children is he going to have access to? It's spitting on the memory of my son."

Defense attorneys argued that in many cases, convicting someone of murder when the intent to kill wasn't proved resulted in unfairly long sentences. Keith Whitling, of Puyallup, was 21 and admittedly unprepared for the stresses of parenthood when he shook his crying baby to death in 1992. Last month his murder conviction was vacated, he pleaded guilty to manslaughter, and he was released 15 years ahead of schedule.

In a phone interview from central California, where he was helping his sister and her husband refurbish their church, Whitling said he doesn't feel worthy of his second chance at life, but is honored to have it.

"For the victims' families having to rehash this, it's awful. I don't have any answers for them. I'm sorry for their loss," Whitling said. "I talked to my own family, and if they wouldn't have been supportive, I don't know if I would have pursued my own release in the manner I did.

"There's not a day I don't wake up feeling that, that I caused the loss of my daughter. I would have a beautiful 13-year-old today, but I don't."

Ninety-nine of the cases -- 10 involving child killers -- are in King County, where the prosecutor's office has set up a team of 10 lawyers to deal with them.

"I think it's crazy and it's very unfortunate," said Senior Deputy Prosecutor Melinda Young, who's heading the team. "I've never heard of creating a unit to deal with a court decision."

The team will retry as many cases as it can, Young said. On Tuesday, her office refiled a murder charge against Jason Twyman, who was supposed to spend 25 years in prison for the beating death of Joey Levick in 1994. The office believes it can prove Twyman and another man intended to kill Levick when they beat him and left him in a ditch.

Some counties are hoping to keep child killers behind bars by refiling second-degree felony murder charges against them. Instead of the charges being based on the felony of assault, they will be based on criminal mistreatment.

Spokane County has already had one defendant go back to prison after pleading guilty to a charge refiled that way, and Clark County has tried the same approach -- which requires prosecutors to show that the defendant withheld the child's necessities of life.

In cases where prosecutors can show a pattern of abuse, they could also seek a conviction of homicide by abuse.


TOPICS: Crime/Corruption; Culture/Society; Front Page News; Government; News/Current Events; US: Washington
KEYWORDS: corruption; crime; supremecourt; washingtonstate
SEATTLE -- Yvonne Roberts used to take comfort in knowing the killer of her 3-year-old son was behind bars. That was before two recent state Supreme Court decisions let him out this month, four decades early.

And that man, David Crane, isn't alone. Noreen Erlandson served 12 years instead of 40 for killing her 2-year-old daughter, and Keith Whitling was supposed to serve another 15 for the death of his 6-week-old girl in 1992. In all, at least two dozen child killers could end up walking after the court found that they were improperly convicted.

"I'll never accept it," said Roberts, as she sobbed in a recent interview. "These justices need to go. They didn't just create a loophole; they opened the cell door to these killers."

The court's rulings concerned the state's law on felony murder, defined as a homicide that occurs -- even by accident -- during or "in furtherance of" another felony, such as robbery. For decades, prosecutors charged defendants with second-degree felony murder if an assault led to someone's death.

In 2003, the court decided that the law didn't allow for felony murder charges in cases of assault. In a 5-4 ruling, the majority reasoned that in such cases, the assault and the homicide are the same act: The homicide does not occur "in furtherance of" assault -- it is the assault.

Last fall, it said it was applying the decision retroactively. The result was to invalidate felony murder convictions based on assaults from 1976 to 2003, when the Legislature changed the law to explicitly allow second-degree murder charges in fatal assault cases.

About 280 prisoners may be entitled to have their convictions vacated, as well as an unknown number of people who already served their time. Prosecutors face the choice of filing new charges of manslaughter, which carries a lesser penalty; finding another felony on which to base a felony murder charge; or trying to prove that the killing was intentional -- a daunting task years after the fact. In cases where children were impulsively shaken or beaten to death, intent is especially difficult to prove.

"When a court overturns 30 years of precedent to set hundreds of murderers free, that's a terrible ruling," said Snohomish County Deputy Prosecutor Seth Fine. "The court doesn't seem to recognize the impact this is having on victims' family members -- how wrenching it is to have these cases reopened years or decades after they were closed."

Crane's murder conviction for killing 3-year-old Steven Collins in 1986 was vacated earlier this month, and prosecutors could only file manslaughter charges. Though Crane has long insisted on his innocence, he pleaded guilty to the lesser charge, was sentenced to 20 years -- not exactly a slap on the wrist, his lawyer noted -- and walked free, with credit for good behavior. Crane declined to be interviewed for this story.

"Sex offenders have to register where they're at," said Roberts, a 45-year-old waitress from Clinton. "David Crane doesn't. How many more children is he going to have access to? It's spitting on the memory of my son."

Defense attorneys argued that in many cases, convicting someone of murder when the intent to kill wasn't proved resulted in unfairly long sentences. Keith Whitling, of Puyallup, was 21 and admittedly unprepared for the stresses of parenthood when he shook his crying baby to death in 1992. Last month his murder conviction was vacated, he pleaded guilty to manslaughter, and he was released 15 years ahead of schedule.

In a phone interview from central California, where he was helping his sister and her husband refurbish their church, Whitling said he doesn't feel worthy of his second chance at life, but is honored to have it.

"For the victims' families having to rehash this, it's awful. I don't have any answers for them. I'm sorry for their loss," Whitling said. "I talked to my own family, and if they wouldn't have been supportive, I don't know if I would have pursued my own release in the manner I did.

"There's not a day I don't wake up feeling that, that I caused the loss of my daughter. I would have a beautiful 13-year-old today, but I don't."

Ninety-nine of the cases -- 10 involving child killers -- are in King County, where the prosecutor's office has set up a team of 10 lawyers to deal with them.

"I think it's crazy and it's very unfortunate," said Senior Deputy Prosecutor Melinda Young, who's heading the team. "I've never heard of creating a unit to deal with a court decision."

The team will retry as many cases as it can, Young said. On Tuesday, her office refiled a murder charge against Jason Twyman, who was supposed to spend 25 years in prison for the beating death of Joey Levick in 1994. The office believes it can prove Twyman and another man intended to kill Levick when they beat him and left him in a ditch.

Some counties are hoping to keep child killers behind bars by refiling second-degree felony murder charges against them. Instead of the charges being based on the felony of assault, they will be based on criminal mistreatment.

Spokane County has already had one defendant go back to prison after pleading guilty to a charge refiled that way, and Clark County has tried the same approach -- which requires prosecutors to show that the defendant withheld the child's necessities of life.

In cases where prosecutors can show a pattern of abuse, they could also seek a conviction of homicide by abuse.

1 posted on 01/30/2005 1:37:14 PM PST by No phonys allowed
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To: No phonys allowed

So when does the star chamber meet?


2 posted on 01/30/2005 1:42:22 PM PST by samadams2000
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To: No phonys allowed
In a 5-4 ruling, the majority reasoned that in such cases, the assault and the homicide are the same act: The homicide does not occur "in furtherance of" assault -- it is the assault.

So how do they stand on extra sentencing for "hate crimes"

3 posted on 01/30/2005 1:44:49 PM PST by digger48
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To: No phonys allowed

Yeah, the Seattle liberals are at it again.


4 posted on 01/30/2005 1:49:28 PM PST by Libertina (CPAC here we come! Send me your FR photos for CPAC!)
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To: No phonys allowed
For people who have a moral objection to the death penalty - here's a poster-boy reason for putting these people under the needle.

No sentence, even life without the possibility of parole, is ever absolute, as long as courts reserve the right to re-open cases. The only option is to fry the bastards.
5 posted on 01/30/2005 1:51:49 PM PST by BobL
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To: No phonys allowed
Some public spirited citzens should form a special needs charity that meets each released murderer at the prison door with $500 cash, and a coupon good for 30 days where they can redeem three hots and a cot at the home of a Justice on the WarshState Supreme Court.

Oh, yes, provide them with a pre-paid cab ride to the home of a Justice of their choice.

Now obviously the Justices aren't going to go along with this, but $500 can buy a lot of things on the way over to the home, and these guys are going to be really, really pi$$ed when they find out there's no place to stay.

Odds are good the new governor, whoever that might be, will get an early shot at filling one or more vacancies.

Did I say "shot"? Oh, my! Must be freudian or something.

6 posted on 01/30/2005 1:56:40 PM PST by muawiyah
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To: No phonys allowed

Every one of these vermin must be killed. It is not hard to see the day when armed posses will again need to take the place of the law in this land.


7 posted on 01/30/2005 1:57:32 PM PST by montag813
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To: No phonys allowed

Is this the same court that some delusional Freepers believe is going to order a re-vote?


8 posted on 01/30/2005 1:57:55 PM PST by ambrose (.)
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To: BobL
>>For people who have a moral objection to the death penalty - here's a poster-boy reason for putting these people under the needle.

No sentence, even life without the possibility of parole, is ever absolute, as long as courts reserve the right to re-open cases. The only option is to fry the bastards.>>

Absolutely right. Only the death penalty assures that these slugs of humanity will not kill again.
9 posted on 01/30/2005 1:58:08 PM PST by VOX9 (Stolen History & Stolen Heritage - Closed Records for Adult Adoptees!)
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To: CyberCowboy777; Libertina


10 posted on 01/30/2005 2:01:55 PM PST by Libertarianize the GOP (Make all taxes truly voluntary)
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To: BobL
For people who have a moral objection to the death penalty - here's a poster-boy reason for putting these people under the needle.

A point I have always brought up with such people, but they just don't care. Their own need to feel self-righteous on the issue trumps any facts.

11 posted on 01/30/2005 2:04:07 PM PST by hopespringseternal
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Comment #12 Removed by Moderator

To: montag813
It is not hard to see the day when armed posses will again need to take the place of the law in this land.

Again:

I have updated my FMCDH (From My Cold Dead Hands) sign-off with the addition of (BITS).....Blood In The Streets, which I foresee coming soon, due to the enormous increase of the Marxist progressive movement being shoved down the throat of this failing REPUBLIC through the Judicial tyranny of fiat law, the passing of unconstitutional laws by the Legislative and Executive branches of our government and the enormous tax burden placed upon the average American to support unconstitutional programs put forth by Marxist ideology.

FMCDH(BITS)

13 posted on 01/30/2005 2:12:11 PM PST by nothingnew (Kerry is gone...perhaps to Lake Woebegone)
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To: muawiyah; Southack; Cobra64; OldFriend; SierraWasp; CAluvdubya
Did I say "shot"? Oh, my! Must be freudian or something.

This is known as...Social JUSTICE Darwinism!

Kind of a Motel Sickxx approach....
14 posted on 01/30/2005 2:20:01 PM PST by The Spirit Of Allegiance (ATTN. MARXIST RED MSM: I RESENT your "RED STATE" switcheroo using our ELECTORAL MAP as PROPAGANDA!)
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To: hopespringseternal
For sure. What really irks me are the ACLU-type lawyers. They leave their gated communities (protected by armed guards), drive to "downtown", file a lawsuit on some scumbag's behalf, get that scumbag out of jail, drive back home to the gated community, and then throw a party to celebrate their success that day.
15 posted on 01/30/2005 2:20:27 PM PST by BobL
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To: No phonys allowed
To me this smells like a left-handed way to reduce the cost to the state for lengthy incarcerations...

Democraps probably figure the money could be better spent funding anti-American initiatives.

BTW...ever notice all leftist protesters are carrying paper or cardboard placards?
Don't they respect trees?
16 posted on 01/30/2005 2:20:30 PM PST by yer gonna put yer eye out (Gettin' a PhD (Prettyhard on Democrats) at FR)
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To: No phonys allowed

Does this mean that the "Green River Killer" will go free? Perhaps Kenworth will give him back his supervisors job.


17 posted on 01/30/2005 2:26:03 PM PST by fella
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To: No phonys allowed
what ever happened to jail House justice?

how did they make it this far? I thought they were supposed to have a midnight rondezvous with a broken broom handle or something.

sheesh, can't believe ANYTHING you see on TV anymore.
18 posted on 01/30/2005 2:51:34 PM PST by stompk
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To: No phonys allowed

Put them in General Population before their remains are let out.


19 posted on 01/30/2005 3:28:37 PM PST by -=Wing_0_Walker=-
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To: -=Wing_0_Walker=-

I'm with you. It crazy when the criminals can get out of jail by saying "I didn't mean to kill my 2 your old, your honor, I just meant to punch her"


20 posted on 01/30/2005 4:49:46 PM PST by No phonys allowed
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To: No phonys allowed

This is an un-fricken-real ping...

What the hell are these judges thinking? Here's another vote for the star chamber to take care of business.


21 posted on 01/30/2005 5:01:11 PM PST by islander-11 (Save Nantucket - Vote Republican!!!)
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To: No phonys allowed
In a 5-4 ruling, the majority reasoned that in such cases, the assault and the homicide are the same act: The homicide does not occur "in furtherance of" assault -- it is the assault.

Now that's logic for you. Time to throw the judges out of office.

22 posted on 01/30/2005 5:57:41 PM PST by TheDon (The Democratic Party is the party of TREASON)
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To: No phonys allowed

What the f*** ?? What... what


23 posted on 01/30/2005 10:12:50 PM PST by hasegawasama
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