‘Radio playing in his head’: Will Quilcene man face a double-murder trial for the fourth time?

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ORCHARD –– A hearing April 18 will determine whether Michael J. Pierce will stand trial a fourth time for the slayings of a Quilcene farm couple after a second attempt at a retrial was declared a mistrial Friday.

Presiding Judge Sally Olsen stopped the trial in Kitsap County Superior Court after learning Pierce, 38, of Quilcene had been plagued by auditory hallucinations during court testimony March 10.

Psychiatrists testified that Pierce was not competent to understand that day’s proceedings because Kitsap County jailers had cut off his anti-psychotic medications.

Pierce is charged with murdering Pat and Janice Yarr on March 18, 2009, and then burning down their house to hide the deaths.

Olsen set a status hearing for 1:30 p.m. April 18 to allow Pierce’s defense attorney, Richard Davies, time to investigate whether the jail’s failure to give Pierce his medications would be a reason to have the charges dismissed outright.

Pierce was serving a life sentence from a 2010 conviction in Port Townsend, but the state Court of Appeals overturned it over procedural errors in Pierce’s law enforcement interrogations.

The Port Townsend retrial last year was abruptly halted when a juror told the judge that she might have seen a man resembling Pierce the night of the slayings.

The second retrial was ordered in a different location — Port Orchard — but that trial was ended Friday.

Psychiatrists testified in the latest trial that Pierce’s hallucinations March 10 caused him to be “distant” and to “stare” during the day’s proceedings, as defense attorneys Davies and Bret Roberts had told the court.

“He hears voices,” Dr. Richard Yocum, a psychiatrist from Western State Hospital, testified.

Yocum said the voices are like a “radio playing in the back of his head” without medication.

Pierce was declared incompetent to stand trial on separate charges in 2005.

Pierce can manage the voices when medicated, according to Yocum and defense psychiatrist Dr. Ken Muscatel.

They agreed that he would be competent to stand trial when medicated, but was not competent during the March 10 proceedings.

Judge Olsen granted the mistrial motion brought by Jefferson County Chief Deputy Criminal Attorney Chris Ashcraft for the prosecution.

She ruled that Pierce’s illness prevented him from being fully present during the testimony presented March 10, and that “impossibly infringed” upon his constitutional right to a fair trial.

Olsen ruled that there would be no way to objectively re-create that day’s testimony.

Jailers cut off Pierce’s medication March 6 because he had not seen Dr. Kapil Chopra, the jail’s contracted psychiatrist, before his medication order lapsed.

Pierce was not inspected March 10 because he was in the courtroom for the trial when he was scheduled to see Chopra.

Pierce, manacled for Friday’s hearing, asked jailers for his daily doses of psychotropic medications.

Jefferson County Sheriff Anthony Hernandez said later Friday that his staff had sent a month’s supply of medication to the Kitsap County jail, where Pierce has been held since Feb. 21.

Kitsap County receives no compensation from Jefferson County for jailing Pierce during the trial because of a reciprocity agreement between the two jurisdictions, Hernandez said.

The state appellate court rejected the 2010 conviction by ruling that statements Pierce made to deputies after his arrest could not be used against him because his request for an attorney had not been 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 Pierce’s trial.

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

Last modified: March 22. 2014 6:07PM
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