Pretrial hearing for East Jefferson double-murder retrial in Kitsap today

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ORCHARD — A pretrial hearing in the relocated murder retrial of Michael J. Pierce will take place today in its new venue.

The hearing will begin at 1:30 p.m. in Kitsap Superior Court, 619 Division St. in Port Orchard.

It is the first substantive hearing in the second retrial attempt for Pierce, 38, who is accused of killing Pat and Janice Yarr of Quilcene and setting their house afire to hide the deaths March 18, 2009.

Pierce was convicted in 2010 and was serving a life sentence in Walla Walla State Penitentiary when the state Court of Appeals reversed the conviction July 27 after Pierce's attorneys successfully argued that his post-arrest statements should be suppressed.

His first retrial, which was in July in Jefferson County, was stopped in its fourth day of testimony when a juror revealed that she may have witnessed a man, alleged to be Pierce, walking by the side of U.S. Highway 101 one evening, though she could not recall the exact date.

During the pretrial process, defense attorney Richard Davies had moved twice for a venue change. Both were denied by Jefferson County Superior Court Judge Keith Harper.

After the juror's revelation, Harper granted the motion, which was also supported by prosecuting attorneys.

The retrial is scheduled to begin Feb. 24 in Kitsap County and is expected to last about a month, according to Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Chris Ashcraft.

For today's hearing, the prosecution and defense teams will travel to Port Orchard while Pierce will appear through a Skype connection from the Jefferson County jail in Port Hadlock.

This setup was tested during a Sept. 20 meeting where the attorneys first met the judge and had no significant glitches, according to Ashcraft.

Among the material to be discussed are the pretrial rulings by Harper made Oct. 25, ruling on 19 defense and 10 prosecution motions.

At that time, Harper split his decision on the prosecution motions, with five granted and five denied.

He granted five defense motions, denied six and split or deferred decisions on eight.

Of these, Harper granted a defense motion to suppress statements Pierce made in the intensive care unit April 4, 2009.

Harper also ruled that only Jefferson County Sheriff's Detective Mark Apeland could provide an opinion that a person seen on an ATM video was Pierce. Three other deputies are not allowed to do so.

Harper denied a defense motion to exclude references to Pierce's alleged theft of a pellet gun on the day of the murder but excluded allegations that Pierce attempted to purchase methamphetamine later that day.

The trial schedule also will be addressed at today's hearing, according to Prosecuting Attorney Scott Rosekrans.

Currently, the trial is scheduled for full days Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, with a half-day Thursday, Friday or both, Rosekrans said.

The final schedule will be subject to the Kitsap court's existing schedule, he said.

During the trial, attorneys will travel between Port Townsend and Port Orchard, but Ashcraft, who lives in Kitsap County, will have a shorter commute.

Whether Pierce will be transferred to the Kitsap County jail for the trial or be shuttled between Port Hadlock and Port Orchard has not been determined, Ashcraft said.

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: October 31. 2013 8:35PM
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