Killer faces new charges

A former Oak Harbor resident who was convicted 14 years ago of beating his 21-month-old son to death over spilled sunflower seeds was back in Island County Superior Court Friday to face new charges in the same case.

James Alexander, 45, pleaded not guilty to charges of homicide by abuse and assault in the first degree. Judge Vickie Churchill set his trial for March 15.

Alexander is among the 300 or so murderers whose convictions were vacated as a result of two controversial state Supreme Court decisions regarding the state’s felony murder law. It’s a law — now reinstated by the legislature — that allows prosecutors to charge someone with murder when an assault turns deadly.

The Supreme Court’s ruling reversed decades of established law and was so unexpected that the state Appeals Court, at least for now, is allowing prosecutors to re-charge and re-try men and women whose felony murder convictions were overturned.

This may or may not be good news for Alexander. Judge Alan Hancock sentenced him to 25 years in prison, a exceptional sentence, in January 1992. He still has 12 years left on that sentence.

Now prosecutors have charged him with homicide by abuse with aggravating circumstances. If Alexander is convicted, prosecutors could ask for a sentence of nearly 28 years within the standard sentencing range, plus there’s a possibility of an exceptional sentence on top of that.

The new trial is probably not good news for county taxpayers, who will have to foot a very large bill if the trial to re-convicted Alexander goes forward. The case involves witnesses and experts who now live all across the country.

Under the definition of homicide by abuse, Alexander is accused of causing the death of little Bryan Alexander “under circumstances manifesting extreme indifferent to human life” while he “previously engaged in a pattern or practice of assaults of Bryan Alexander.”

In other words, prosecutors are arguing that Alexander was abusive to the child before the murder. The pre-sentence report, for example, states that the medical examiner found several of the boy’s ribs had been broken previous to the fatal assault.

Also, the prosecution alleges aggravating allegations in the homicide: that the victim was “particularly vulnerable and incapable of resistance due to extreme youth”; that the crime was committed by a family member and occurred within sight and sound of a minor; and that Alexander was in a position of trust.

According to the pre-sentence investigation, Alexander, a Navy man, awoke in the morning of July 28, 1991, and immediately became angry with his son and 3-year-old step-son because they had spilled sunflower seeds. Alexander wrote in a statement to a community corrections officer that he punched Bryan with a closed fist twice, but investigators believed the assault was much more savage than Alexander admitted.

After the beatings, both boys were transported to Whidbey General Hospital and then airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where Bryan later died.

You can reach Jessie Stensland at or 675-6611.

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