Mental health evaluation ordered for accused double-murderer Michael Pierce

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND –– Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Sally Olsen has ordered a mental health evaluation to determine whether accused double-murderer Michael J. Pierce is competent to face charges of killing Pat and Janice Yarr of Quilcene in 2009.

Olsen’s order was filed in Jefferson County Superior Court on Friday afternoon.

Pierce, 38, of Quilcene, is being retried in Kitsap County after the state Court of Appeals overturned a 2010 conviction for allegedly murdering the Yarrs and setting their house on fire to cover up the crime March 18, 2009. A first attempt at a retrial in Jefferson County last summer was stopped four days into it.

Specifically, Olsen’s order directed evaluators to determine whether Pierce understood what happened in his trial last Monday and whether he was able to assist in his defense that day.

A hearing to review Pierce’s status has been set for Kitsap County Superior Court at 1:30 p.m. this Friday.

The trial is slated to resume at 9 a.m. the following Monday, March 24.

During a hearing in the Port Orchard courthouse Monday, Pierce’s defense attorney, Richard Davies of Port Townsend, said Kitsap County jailors had stopped giving Pierce his prescription medication.

He was uncertain why they had stopped delivering it.

“There’s two possibilities: one is a terrible conspiracy, the other is a mistake,” Davies said.

Chris Ashcraft, the Jefferson County deputy prosecutor leading the state’s case, declined to comment Friday.

Olsen ordered the court closed for a hearing to address Pierce’s medical condition.

Doctors from Western State Hospital will examine Pierce in Kitsap County jail Monday, with Dr. Ken Muscatel allowed to observe the evaluation, to determine whether he is mentally fit to stand trial, according to Olsen’s order.

If not, Olsen ordered evaluators to determine whether Pierce could regain that capacity with medical treatment.

Pierce is charged with both slayings with firearm enhancements on each charge, as well as first-degree robbery and burglary, theft of a firearm, unlawful possession of a firearm and second-degree theft of an access device.

He was serving a life sentence in the state penitentiary in Walla Walla when the appellate court ordered a new trial.

The appellate court ruled that the statements Pierce initially made to investigators could not be used against him because his request for an attorney after his arrest was not honored.

The appellate court also ruled that Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Scott Rosekrans, who was then chief criminal deputy prosecuting attorney, made “inappropriate” statements during the trial.

The retrial was moved to Kitsap County after a first attempt in Jefferson County was stopped four days in by a juror’s recollection of seeing someone — possibly Pierce — walking along the side of U.S. Highway 101 on an evening near the date of the murders.

The court has not let the Kitsap jury know that Pierce has faced these charges before.

Prosecutors filed a request last Monday to introduce statements Pierce made to Sgt. Mark Apeland before meeting with his attorney after his arrest in March 2009.

Ashcraft said Davies distorted the timeline of the night of the murders in his opening statements, which opened the door to allow Pierce’s statements that he was in Quilcene prior to the murders and that he helped another person, “the shooter,” destroy evidence of the murders.

“The state seeks to endanger the fairness of this trial by reintroducing statements which were suppressed by virtue of a violation of Mr. Pierce’s right to counsel because his attorney has made an opening statement and vigorously cross-examined witnesses,” Bret Roberts, another of Pierce’s defense attorneys, wrote in response.

Ashcraft also asked the court permission to use an alleged death threat Pierce made against Bradley Reynolds, a jailhouse confidant who testified early in this retrial that Pierce had admitted the killings to him, to show he had “consciousness of guilt.”

Ashcraft wrote that the defense attacked Reynolds’ testimony to get a “screaming deal.”

Roberts said the threats overheard by jailors were more likely anger over being “falsely accused of making incriminating statements.”

Roberts also said the threats did not stop Reynolds from testifying.

“The state seeks to buttress the credibility of its jailhouse snitch by conjuring the image of a witness bravely testifying despite a threat against his life,” Roberts wrote.

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at jsmillie@peninsuladailynews.com.



Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant contributed to this report.

Last modified: March 15. 2014 6:46PM
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