Murder conviction upheld: Pierce has until Jan. 6 to challenge latest court ruling

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Michael J. Pierce’s 2014 conviction for the murders of Janice and Patrick Yarr in Quilcene in 2009 has been upheld by the state Court of Appeals.

The decision could end a convoluted six-year legal saga that has involved four trials, including the last one, in which Pierce was convicted a second time. There also was one mistrial and a near mistrial in 2014.

Pierce’s court-appointed defense attorney, Catherine E. Glinski, on Dec. 7 declined to say whether she would seek a petition for review or ask for a reconsideration of the Dec. 6 opinion upholding the conviction. The opinion was written by Division 2 state Court of Appeals Judge Jill Johanson. Glinski has 30 days from Dec. 6 to take action.

If Pierce doesn’t appeal the decision, it would end the protracted case dating to the murder of the Yarrs in their home on March 18, 2009.

Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Haas said Dec. 7 that he was pleased with the decision.

“Hopefully, this gets us one step closer to closure for the Yarr family. I can’t imagine what it would be like to go through this nightmare,” Haas said.

Michelle Ham, daughter of the Janice and Patrick Yarr, called it wonderful news. Ham said she had listened to oral arguments presented in the case Oct. 24 and was surprised to hear a decision so soon.

“I walked out of there feeling better than the first appeal. In the first appeal, I had a sinking feeling that something would not be too good,” she told the Leader Dec. 8.

Even though there still is a chance of another appeal, Ham said she wasn’t going to let that bother her.

“This was a really hard chapter in our lives. We’ll never stop missing our parents, but for once – it might have taken seven years – but I think we might have gotten the system to work,” Ham said.

Ham noted that after she posted the news on her Facebook page Dec. 7, there was an outpouring of support and reminders of what good people her parents were. She said it was a blessing to share those memories.

Ham also said that over the years, she and her family have become friends with Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Mike Stringer and deputy Mark Apeland as well as former prosecuting attorneys Chris Ashcraft and Scott Rosekrans, and hold all of them in high regard. Stringer and Apeland are still with the sheriff’s department. Ashcraft is now a prosecutor with the City of Port Townsend. Rosekrans lost a bid for re-election a matter of days after Pierce was found guilty a second time in 2014. Rosekrans is now a pastor at Community United Methodist Church in Port Hadlock. He had prosecuted Pierce in four cases.

“I am very happy for the family and the closure that this brings,” Rosekrans said. “Their unwavering support of the prosecuting team over the years was appreciated as we pursued justice for Pat and Janice.

“I am sure Pierce will appeal this decision, but a review of the opinion leads me to believe such an appeal is without merit,” Rosekrans noted. “We tried a very strong case two years ago, and Judge Olsen gave us an extremely fair hearing with sound rulings. I give credit to Deputy Prosecutor Chris Ashcraft, who took the lead for the state, deftly handling the challenges and complexities of the issues presented in the retrial, which paid off in the affirmation of the conviction.”

FOUND GUILTY TWICE

In addition to the murder charges, Pierce had been found guilty in 2010 of first-degree burglary, first-degree robbery, first-degree arson, theft of a firearm, second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm and second-degree theft in the March 18, 2009 deaths of the Yarrs. Both had been shot in the head, and their home on Boulton Road just off U.S. Highway 101 north of Quilcene had been set on fire to cover the crime.

In 2012, the state Court of Appeals threw out the first conviction, saying there were errors during the trial that justified giving Pierce a new trial.

A second trial got underway in July 2013. Seven days later, a seated juror stepped forward to say she might have been a witness to the incident. Jefferson County Superior Court Judge Keith Harper agreed to a joint request by Rosekrans and defense attorney Richard Davies for a change of venue.

A third trial began March 3, 2014 in Kitsap County before Judge Sally Olsen, but a matter of days later, it was revealed that Pierce had not received his antipsychotic medications while in Kitsap County Jail, where a private contractor was responsible for administering the drugs. Judge Olsen declared a mistrial.

A fourth trial was started Oct. 6, 2014, and just as the jury was about to be seated, one juror asked if it was a death-penalty case. The judge said no, and the defense objected. Because the jury had not been seated, no mistrial was declared. Jury selection began again on Oct. 13. Pierce was found guilty of all counts on Nov. 12, 2014.

That conviction came eight days after Rosekrans lost a bid for re-election to Haas.

LATEST RULING

The court of appeals rejected all of the causes for dismissal sought by Glinski.

The court also noted that it was not publishing its opinion. What that means, Haas said, is that it can’t be used to set a precedent in any other case.

“Right now, it doesn’t have precedential value,” Haas said. “The odds of this fact pattern ever occurring again in 200 years are slim to none. At least, let us pray,” Haas said.

The appeal was a required formality, paid for by the State of Washington because Pierce, who is incarcerated in the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, is considered indigent.

The 85-page appeal listed a number of potential arguments for why Pierce’s conviction should be overturned, ranging from the failure of the Kitsap County Jail’s private contractor to provide Pierce with his medications, concerns about improper testimony of an inmate to refusal of the court to exclude evidence about Pierce stealing a pellet pistol from Henery Hardware in Port Townsend on March 18, 2009.

The court ruled that because Pierce had been sentenced to 1,404 months in jail – 117 years – for the crimes, Pierce would likely spend the rest of his life in prison and as a result, there was no way he could pay appeal costs. So those costs were not imposed upon him.

“We affirm Pierce’s convictions,” the court concluded in its Dec. 6, 2016 ruling.

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