Skip to comments.Triple murder suspect pleads to firearms and stolen property charges
Posted on 10/10/2012 4:00:13 PM PDT by mdittmar
YAKIMA, Wash. The latest twist in the triple murder case against Kevin Harper case may be the most stunning: all but two minor charges against the man accused of beating to death the Goggin family during a burglary were dismissed today.
"Im just blown away," Mike Morrisette, a friend of victims Bill and Pauline Goggin, said moments after court adjourned. "When will we know who committed those murders?"
Harper instead pleaded guilty to a single count of unlawful possession of a firearm and one count of possession of stolen property.
In exchange for his plea and a sentence of just over seven years in prison, prosecutors dismissed all other charges against Harper, including three counts of the most serious crime in Washington: aggravated first-degree murder.
The plea deal stunned the packed courtroom, which included friends of the Goggin family as well as numerous lawyers and courthouse personnel on hand for the proceedings.
Harper, 30, had been charged with had been charged with the February 2011 slayings of Bill Goggin, owner of a civil engineering firm in Yakima; his wife, Pauline; and his 98-year-old mother, Bettye. They were found beaten to death in their home in the gated Falcon Ridge community, west of Yakima.
In a hearing this afternoon in Yakima County Superior Court, prosecutors said they believe murder charges against Harper could not be proven.
Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Ken Ramm told Judge Ruth Ruekauf the plea deal stemmed from the emergence two weeks ago of a new witness that "shifted the timeline" by several hours and thus affected Harpers alibi.
Ramm left the courtroom via a side door and was not available for comment after the hearing and clarification on the plea deal. His boss, County Prosecutor Jim Hagarty, did not attend the hearing and also was not immediately available for comment.
Ramms statement to the court appeared to be coincide with a new motion by Harpers attorneys in which they accused sheriffs detectives of failing to take heed of suspicious activity reported by a neighbor of the Goggin family.
Harpers attorneys said a woman who lived directly across the street from the Goggin home not only witnessed suspicious activity at the home on the night of the attack but was told by detectives that her observations did not "fit" their theory of the crime.
Her statement was not turned over to Harpers defense team in violation of fair-trial rules and may not have even been turned over to prosecutors, Harpers attorneys said.
The plea deal spares Harper from an automatic sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole had he been convicted of aggravated murder. The only other sentence for aggravated murder is the death penalty, a possibility that was rejected earlier by prosecutors.
For the prosecution, it avoided not only the certainty of an appeal but the strong possibility that a conviction might be overturned due to allegations of misconduct by prosecutors and investigators.
It was just the latest but certainly the most stunning development in a case that has transfixed the public ever since it became clear in late August that prosecutors were struggling to prepare for trial.
In addition to complaints that prosecutors were slow to turn over evidence in the case, the case was further roiled by the disclosure that lead detective Brian Jackson of the Sheriffs Office accessed at least eight recordings of privileged phone calls from jail between Harper and his attorneys.
The allegations of eavesdropping were serious enough that Reukauf appointed former Yakima County Prosecutor Jeff Sullivan to investigate. The status of that investigation, and whether it is now necessary to continue, remains unclear.
Lost in all the procedural skirmishing has been the fact that the states case against Harper relies heavily on circumstantial evidence.
Oh snap, game over