PORT ANGELES — A trial date was set for Matthew Timothy Wetherington after he pleaded not guilty of the grisly murders of his wife and three step-children.
Wetherington, 35, entered not guilty pleas to four counts of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of first-degree arson on Friday. A one-month trial was set for Sept. 9 but attorneys expect it to be postponed.
Port Angeles police alleged that Wetherington killed Valerie Kambeitz, 34, Lilly Kambeitz, 9, Emma Kambeitz, 6, and Jayden Kambeitz, 5, and set fire to their residence at the Welcome Inn RV Park in Port Angeles at about 2:30 a.m. July 6.
Wetherington, who is being held in the Clallam County jail on $5 million bail, faces life in prison if convicted of the aggravated murder charges. The state Supreme Court struck down the death penalty in 2018.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives determined that gasoline and kerosene were present in the trailer where the bodies were found, Port Angeles Deputy Chief of Police Jason Viada said Friday.
“We’re not done with this investigation yet,” Viada said in a telephone interview.
“The analysis and examination of collected evidence continues.”
Authorities believe that the bodies found in the master bedroom of trailer No. 45 were those of the Valerie, Lilly, Emma and Jayden Kambeitz but positive identifications were still pending as of Friday. There are no other suspects in the case.
Wetherington and Valerie Kambeitz were married May 4. Investigators believe he lived in the trailer where the bodies were found.
Autopsies were conducted at the King County Medical Examiner’s Office on July 11.
Laboratory tests will determine the cause and manner of deaths and whether the victims died before or during the fire.
Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney/Coroner Mark Nichols, who observed the autopsies in Seattle, said the results of the examinations were still pending Friday.
“These autopsies and examinations are unique and more difficult to perform because this is an arson case,” Viada said.
No bullets were found in the bodies, Viada said.
Clallam County Chief Criminal Deputy Michele Devlin and defense attorney John Hayden of Clallam Public Defender agreed that the trial would not likely proceed in September.
Wetherington could waive his right to a speedy trial within 60 days.
Devlin said a “more reasonable” trial date would be in 2020.
“I think at this point we’d like to just set it and have something to hold on to,” Hayden told Superior Court Judge Brian Coughenour.
“We obviously don’t anticipate this matter, if it goes to trial, going to trial in 60 days. That’s impractical and not likely.
“But I think it would behoove us to sit down and talk a little further about scheduling and do it that way,” Hayden added.
Coughenour set the September trial date and scheduled a status conference for Aug. 16.
“We’ll probably have a better idea of the practical scheduling by then, I would think,” Hayden said.
Hayden said chances of the case going to trial in September were akin to “winning the lottery.”
“It’s not likely to happen,” he said.
Wetherington has appeared for his three court hearings from a video conference room in the Clallam County jail.
Hayden entered the not guilty pleas on Wetherington’s behalf as his client remained silent Friday.
Police said that witnesses reported seeing Wetherington running from the burning trailer after hearing a loud boom.
The city fire department extinguished the blaze after it destroyed two trailers and multiple vehicles.
Wetherington was arrested without incident later July 6 at a Lincoln Park camp site.
Police said Wetherington made a journal entry at 3:28 p.m. July 5 — about 11 hours before the fire was reported — that said: “Preparations are merely complete. Just need to last another 11 hours before it really begins.”
“I don’t understand how I could do something like this,” Wetherington is alleged to have said after his arrest.
“I deserve to be locked up. That’s all I’ve got to say.”
Wetherington is a registered sex offender who had an extensive criminal background, Devlin has said.
More than 100 mourners gathered at a vigil for the Kambeitz family July 8 at Port Angeles City Pier, where Valerie Kambeitz enjoyed spending time with her children.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].