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Oak Harbor child killer’s conviction stands in landmark case
Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks has had yet another success in defending a groundbreaking conviction of an Oak Harbor child murderer.
The Washington State Court of Appeals sided with the prosecutor in a decision filed this week on a personal restraint petition filed by attorneys representing former Oak Harbor resident James Alexander.
The judges agreed with Banks on the crucial issue of the petition, ruling that Alexander’s trial attorney wasn’t ineffective, or at least not to a degree that would necessitate a new trial.
The appeals court, on the other hand, agreed with the defense argument that an assault charge should be vacated, but it was a point that Banks already conceded and won’t affect the sentence.
In 2008, Alexander was convicted of homicide by abuse in the death of his 21-month-old son. The case was unusual in that Alexander was originally convicted of felony murder in the 1991 killing, but the conviction was dismissed about 10 years afterward due to the state Supreme Court’s controversial Andress decision.
In Andress, the justices essentially invalidated the felony murder charge in cases where a defendant killed someone when intending to commit a felony assault. The decision reversed some 300 convictions in the state, including the Alexander case.
The vast majority of cases were settled by pleas to lesser offenses. But the Island County prosecutor’s office chose to charge and retry Alexander for homicide by abuse and a lesser-included offense of first-degree assault. As a result, Alexander was the only Andress-related case in the state in which the defendant was retried on a more serious charge, convicted and handed a longer sentence.
In 1991, Alexander, a member of the Navy, beat his 21-month-old son to death and also beat his 3-year-old stepson, causing serious injuries that required hospitalization. He was convicted of felony murder and criminal mistreatment. The judge gave him an exceptional sentence of 25 years in prison.
Fourteen years later, Alexander’s sentence was vacated due to the state Supreme Court’s ruling in the Andress case.
Prosecutors charged Alexander with the more serious charge of homicide by abuse, as well as first-degree assault, and alleged three aggravating factors. Both charges related to the abuse of the toddler; Alexander’s conviction for assaulting the older child wasn’t overturned.
The former chief criminal deputy prosecutor presented evidence during the trial showing Alexander had a history of abusing the boys. The jury convicted Alexander of both counts, but the judge found that the assault charge comprised the same criminal conduct and imposed no sentence on the assault count.
The judge imposed an exceptional sentence of 33 years and three months.
A series of appeals followed, and Banks argued before the Supreme Court, but the conviction has been upheld.
Banks said Alexander can ask the Court of Appeals to reconsider or petition the Supreme Court to review the decision. If the prosecutor ultimately prevails in the state cases, there’s still a federal case pending. Fortunately for the prosecutor’s office, the state Attorney General’s Office will handle that.