Motions heard in pretrial hearing for double-murder retrial from Jefferson County
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Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Sally Olsen hears arguments from prosecutor Chris Ashcraft and defense attorney Richard Davies at a pretrial hearing in the murder retrial of Michael J. Pierce on Friday. Clerk Jami Hetzel is in the foreground. -- Photo by Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ORCHARD — A pretrial hearing in the relocated murder retrial of Michael J. Pierce focused on what issues can be resolved before the trial begins Feb. 24.

“It’s important to determine how many hearings we need to have before the trial,” said Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Sally Olsen at the beginning of the 10-minute hearing Friday.

It was the first procedural 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.

The first retrial, in July, 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.

A change of venue was granted, and the case is being heard in Port Orchard.

Pierce was present at Friday’s hearing through a Skype connection with the Jefferson County jail in Port Hadlock.

Before the hearing, Olsen received a list of pretrial motion rulings made by Jefferson County Superior Court Judge Keith Harper on Oct. 25. Harper had ruled on 19 defense and 10 prosecution motions.

The rulings were accepted by both Jefferson County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Chris Ashcraft and defense attorney Richard Davies, aside from the suppression of evidence presented by the defense at the 2010 trial that Pierce paid his bills on time and the testimony of an expert witness with regard to cellphones.

Ashcraft argued that Pierce’s financial status was irrelevant to whether he committed the crime.

Additionally, he argued that Harper’s ruling that excluded the subject of a phone conversation involving Pierce made the testimony of an expert witness about how cellphones operate unnecessary.

The defense motions that Harper characterized as “reserved” — requesting the disqualification of any hearsay testimony from police witnesses and prohibiting reference to uncharged crimes — will be addressed as the trial unfolds.

Also attending was Michelle Ham, daughter of the Yarrs, who was accompanied by victim assistance officer Lianne Perron.

Olsen scheduled a hearing for 1:30 p.m. Dec. 15 at Kitsap County Superior Court, 619 Division St. in Port Orchard.

If attorneys can resolve these issues without the involvement of the court, the hearing will be canceled.

Another pretrial hearing will be scheduled in January if needed, Olsen said.

On Friday, Davies said he did not anticipate filing more motions prior to the trial.

The trial will last about a month, Ashcraft said.

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

“I don’t have any regrets about what we’ve done in this case since the beginning,” Ashcraft said.

“Both sides have done the best they can. We are ready to give him a fair trial.”

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

Last modified: November 02. 2013 6:32PM
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