Island County Prosecutor succeeds in trying times

Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks - File photo
Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks
— image credit: File photo

The handful of prosecutors who handle felony cases in Island County went to trial in five cases over a six-week period, winning guilty verdicts in all of them.

It’s a lot of trials for a small county and an impressive record, though the juries didn’t find the defendants guilty on every single charge. The cases ranged from computer trespass to rape.

It’s enough to impress Sheriff Mark Brown.

“I think our prosecutor’s office is just doing an extraordinary job,” he said. “When you go to trial and get that many victories, it says volumes about the staff.”

Prosecutor Greg Banks, who tried one of the cases, also bragged about his staff and their dedication.

“We don’t really keep score of office trials. Every case is different, and ultimately they are in the hands of the juries,” he said. “But I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t boost morale when we get a string of five consecutive guilty verdicts. Trial lawyers are competitive by nature, and the profession requires it.”

Banks said his office is facing challenges with county budget cuts and the impending layoff of two employees in the office. It doesn’t help, he said, that the public defense firm received a big funding increase that has resulted in caseload inequities between the defense and prosecution.

Chief Criminal Prosecutor Colleen Kenimond, who handled three of the cases, said the run of trials is mostly just an accident of scheduling. She said it’s not a sign that the prosecutors are suddenly cracking down on criminals.

“It’s not whether I’m tough on crime, it’s whether or not I’m using the position I have to do justice,” Kenimond said. “In each trial, justice was done.”

The first trial about six weeks ago was held for 50-year-old Camano Island resident Bryan Ross. Kenimond, who handled the case, characterized him as “a serial rapist” who finally got caught after he raped a disabled woman at his home. One of his former victims testified in the trial.

The jury found Ross guilty of second-degree rape. He is scheduled to be sentenced April 29. Kenimond said she will recommend the maximum sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole after eight and a half years.

Kenimond said the case went to trial because she wasn’t willing to entertain a plea deal with someone who has been preying on women for such a long time.

Five weeks ago, Kenimond also handled the trial of 35-year-old Joseph Brewer, a cryptographer at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. He was charged with second-degree assault by strangulation and unlawful imprisonment for physically restraining his girlfriend in a shower and holding her by the neck.

The jury found him guilty of unlawful imprisonment, but deadlocked on the assault charge. Kenimond said she won’t retry the charge because the victim testified that she wasn’t sure if Brewer tried to choke her or was just trying “to get her attention,” Kenimond said.

Brewer faces from one to three months in jail.

Three weeks ago, 43-year-old Oak Harbor resident Joanna Dernbach went on trial for computer trespass and malicious mischief for breaking into the computer system at Stewart Title and deleting files. Dernbach had worked at the company and was laid off.

The jury found Dernbach guilty on both charges, though the defense is making a motion to set aside the verdict. Deputy Prosecutor David Carman prosecuted the case. Dernbach could face up to a year in jail.

Two weeks ago, Banks handled a trial against 24-year-old Oak Harbor resident Bobby Lee Little III. Little was charged with robbery in the second degree and assault in the second degree for smashing a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey over another man’s head and allegedly stealing his marijuana, according to court documents.

The jury found Little guilty of the assault charge, but found him not guilty of the more-serious robbery charge.

Little’s attorney, Darrin Hall of Coupeville, said the outcome was somewhat of a victory for his client since he was acquitted of robbery. The maximum sentence for the assault charge of two years in prison is still less than what the prosecutor offered in a plea bargain. In other words, he was better off going to trial.

Little’s defense, according to Hall, was that he was acting in self defense against a known drug dealer.

Last week, 59-year-old Kenneth Martin of North Whidbey went to trial on two counts of first-degree child molestation. Kenimond also handled this case. The jury found Martin guilty of both counts after an unusually short trial.

Kenimond said she was willing to plea bargain with Martin since the crime wasn’t especially egregious, but he refused. She was most interested in ensuring that he register as a sex offender, which would protect the community and the victim to a great extent. But it turned out, she said, that Martin had molested at least one other person.

The 13-year-old victim, who was 11 when the crimes occurred, testified in court that Martin had twice fondled her chest when she was sleeping.

“She is a little hero...” Kenimond said of the victim, who has faced many difficulties in her life. “She’s doing just fine and someone believed her, so she’ll do better now.”

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