Just days before the four-year anniversary of the gruesome murder of local nurse Stephen Graves, the state appeals court over-turned the conviction of his step-son, Mark Greer.
The case was reconsidered due to a 2002 Supreme Count ruling that said defendants could not be convicted of second-degree felony murder in cases that started as assaults.
According to Yakima County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Bob Northcott, who prosecuted the original trial, the new rule means that if someone assaults a person with a firearm and the person dies, the assailant can't be charged with second-degree felony murder.
"For years and years it has been a useful statute," said Northcott.
Greer was tried on a charge of first degree murder in June of 2001 for the brutal shooting death of Graves, which occurred on Sept. 13, 2000. The jury came back with a sentencing of second degree felony murder, after hearing five days of testimony that was interweaved with drugs, dares and family strife. He was sentenced to 23 years in jail.
Northcott said that the case was not overruled because of merits.
"The Supreme Court found the felony murder statute unconstitutional," said Northcott.
Greer is still being held as he awaits a new trial, which Northcott said the county intends to hold.
"We're going to have to refile and we're in the process of deciding what we want to do," said Northcott.
He said the prosecutor's office intends to refile charges, most likely, for first degree murder.
Northcott said the Supreme Court decision makes retrying the case a bit of a challenge.
"It requires additional proof that murder was their actual intent when they went in the bedroom with a gun," said Northcott.
He added that four years has gone by since the murder and there may be difficulty tracking down witnesses.
However, Northcott said the basic facts of the case have not changed.
"The bottom line is they went in there with a gun, pointed at his head and pulled the trigger," he said.
Sunnyside police investigated the Graves murder, which occurred in the 500 block of S. 14th Street in Sunnyside. The Sunnyside Community Hospital nurse was determined to have been shot in the back of the head at point-blank range as he slept in his bed. Initially, police believed Graves was bludgeoned to death.
Sunnyside Police Chief Ed Radder said retrying the case will use up a lot of resources, but it is part of the system the department operates within.
"We'll go forward and retry it if that's the decision of the county prosecutors," Radder added.
Although the Supreme Court ruling is expected to affect more cases that have been tried in Yakima County, it will not affect accomplice, who was charged with manslaughter and was sentenced to 27 months in jail.
. Melissa Dekker can be contacted at (509) 837-4500, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org