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Trials can be murder on prosecutor

obody is pulling out his or her hair yet, but it’s been a very busy year so far in the Island County Prosecutor’s Office.

Within the next 30 days, prosecutors expect the state Court of Appeals to send back a convicted murderer to be re-tried.

When that happens, prosecutors will have four open murder cases and a number of other serious domestic assault and sexual assault cases to handle.

“I can’t remember a time in Island County when there were this many unrelated homicide cases,” Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said.

Banks said he used to be able to remember details of the major cases without looking them up, but not anymore.

“I have a white board in my office to keep track of them all,” he said.

Yesterday, jury selection began in the case of a 45-year-old former Oak Harbor man who’s spent the last 14 years in prison for beating his 21-month-old son to death.

Prosecutors are re-trying James Alexander for homicide by abuse because his 1991 second-degree “felony” murder was vacated because of the state Supreme Court “Andress” decision throwing out the felony-murder charge with assault as the predicate offense.

The case has already been before the Appeals Court a number of times. The new trial will be difficult, complicated and expensive, Banks said.

Last month, prosecutors charged 65-year-old Camano Island resident Huey Ford with second-degree murder in the shooting death of his close friend, Mahlon “Lonnie” Gane.

Investigators believe Ford and Gane, who’s confined to a wheelchair, got into a wrestling match on the ground. Ford ended up shooting his friend multiple times, the report states.

Prosecutors charged 48-year-old James Huden of Punta Gorda, Fla., May 27 with first-degree premeditated murder. He’s accused to shooting Renton resident Russell Douglas Dec. 27, 2003, in Freeland. Douglas’ body was found inside his Chevrolet Tracker on the side of Wahl Road.

Huden remains at large, having fled his Florida home. On May 27, Island County Superior Court Judge Alan Hancock authorized a $1 million warrant on Huden.

About six weeks ago, Chief Criminal Prosecutor Steve Selby argued the case of 27-year-old Jerry Lee Farrow before the Appeals Court. Farrow was convicted in 2001 of shooting and killing 23-year-old Faith Ellison, a Navy petty officer, in Oak Harbor. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

The Court of Appeals released an unpublished opinion Monday remanding Alexander back to Island County Superior Court. Like Alexander, his felony murder conviction was vacated because of the Andress decision.

The Court of Appeals said it will be up to Island County Superior Court judges to decide whether the prosecution can charge him with anything at all or if they must accept the conviction of third degree assault. The Appeals Court will wait 30 days before officially issuing a mandate of Farrow, sending him back to Island County.

That means prosecutors may try Farrow again.

“We will need to re-evaluate the evidence and the availability of witnesses,” Banks said, “and consult with the victim’s family to make that decision.”

Beyond the murder cases, Banks said his office is prosecuting a number of other serious cases, several of which are going to trial in a short span of time.

On Aug. 23, Joseph Phal of Coupeville is scheduled to go on trial for assault in the second degree, domestic violence, for allegedly punching a woman in the face. Banks said it’s a difficult case because the alleged victim isn’t cooperative.

On Aug. 30, Mark Ruffalo of South Whidbey is scheduled to go on trial for unlawful imprisonment, second-degree assault with a weapon, second-degree assault, harassment and unlawful firearms possession. He’s accused to putting a gun to a woman’s head and pulling the trigger, though the gun didn’t fire, Banks said.

On Sept. 27, 25-year-old Michael Asuncion of Oak Harbor is scheduled to go to trial on a second-degree rape charge. He’s accused of raping a teenager while she was passed out, police records show.

On Oct. 4, prosecutors are scheduled to try 27-year-old Robert Wimmer of Oak Harbor for first-degree rape (a domestic violence charge), first-degree burglary with a deadly weapons enhancement (domestic violence) and assault in the second-degree with a deadly weapon (domestic violence).

According to court documents, Wimmer tracked down his estranged wife, who had moved out and was hiding from him at a SW Kaleeton Loop apartment building. On the morning of June 20, he forced his way into her apartment and raped the 23-year-old woman, the police report states.

Oak Harbor police officers rescued the woman from the apartment after a brief standoff when Wimmer held the woman hostage at knifepoint, according to police.

Earlier this summer, the prosecutor got more bad news from the higher courts.

The Court of Appeals reversed Jay Summiel’s conviction on two counts of third-degree child molestation. The former Oak Harbor man was convicted of sexually assaulted a teenaged boy.

The appellate court ruled that the Island County judge erred in excluding evidence during the trial.

As a result, prosecutors will have to decide if they can try Summiel, once again

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