Clallam prosecutor's race shifts to debate about evidence

Peninsula Daily News
BYLINE: Rob Ollikainen, Peninsula Daily News
Link to Article

Clallam County, WA

SEQUIM -- A former Clallam County evidence technician charged with stealing $8,644 from the Sheriff's Office property room became the center of debate Wednesday for the two candidates running for Clallam County prosecuting attorney.

Incumbent Deb Kelly, a Port Angeles Republican, and challenger Larry Freedman, a Sequim Democrat, traded barbs over the handling of evidence, as well as trial delays, office turnover and trial success in a League of Women Voters of Clallam County forum at the Sequim Senior Activity Center.

Kelly, 57, and Freedman, 72, will face off in the Nov. 2 general election. The Clallam County Auditor's Office mailed 45,379 ballots to registered voters on Wednesday.

The latest hot-button issue in the race for top prosecutor focused on Staci L. Allison of Montesano, who is charged with first-degree theft and money laundering.

The Clallam County Sheriff's Office found 129 empty evidence bags that once contained $51,251 in November 2006.

A two-week trial was set to begin Sept. 13, but Superior Court Judge Ken Williams granted a continuance because the defense received late word of previously unknown evidence, including a "mystery box" from state investigators.

We never saw it'

Kelly said the State Patrol didn't provide the evidence to her office.

"That box of evidence was sitting down in Olympia," Kelly said.

"We never saw it".

But Freedman accused Kelly of withholding evidence and hiding the fact that her husband, former Sheriff's Deputy Don Kelly, found exculpatory evidence that the State Patrol had missed.

Exculpatory evidence is evidence that helps the defense.

"Deb Kelly's husband was called in to do an inventory of the property room in the Sheriff's Office after the state police did their examination," Freedman said.

"He found close to $2,500 that the state police had missed.

"But his name was never included on the witness list, and it was denied that he had any involvement until the defense counsel pushed it and finally got an admission that that was the case."

Ralph Anderson, Allison's third defense attorney, filed a "motion to disqualify counsel for state" Monday and a "motion to dismiss for discovery violations" Wednesday.

"Now he [Anderson] had to file motions because he asked Ms. Kelly to recuse herself," Freedman said.

"She refused to. Motions are filed now to dismiss the case because of that, as well as force her to recuse herself because she shouldn't be an attorney when her husband is a defense witness."

Williams denied the continuance but said he will revisit the motions next week, Anderson said.

"I believe under the rules of professional conduct, it's unethical that she [Kelly] might be called upon to cross-examine her own husband," said Anderson, who received notice from the Prosecuting Attorney's Office at about 5:30 p.m. the Friday before the trial was set to begin, saying that a box of evidence was found that had not been handed over previously.

Kelly said much of the delay in the 4-year-old Allison case stems from the fact that her second defense attorney has a serious medical condition.

"Multiple reasons for this [delay]," Kelly said.

The first question from the 40-member audience asked the candidates to elaborate on the Allison case. Questions were written on notecards,

"We can only turn over what we're given," Kelly said of the evidence.

"My office turns over things immediately upon receiving them, and that's all we can do. That's the only thing a prosecutor can do."

Covarrubias case

Freedman said the Court of Appeals overturned the conviction of Robert G. Covarrubias, who was convicted of murder in 2006, on 14 separate counts of failure to turn over evidence.

"The obligation is to turn it over, and that's what's not happening in Allison as well," Freedman said.

Covarrubias pleaded guilty to first-degree murder with sexual motivation during his second trial for the 2004 death of 15-year-old Melissa Leigh Carter. He was sentenced in August 2009 to 34 ½ years to life in prison.

Most of Wednesday's forum mirrored earlier debates between Kelly and Freedman.

Freedman drew on his 47 years of law experience. Kelly drew on her success as a prosecutor.

"The office is being mismanaged at this time," Freedman said during his opening statement.

High turnover

"It's being mismanaged because of huge turnover. Mismanagement causes that turnover."

Freedman said high turnover is resulting in delays in the court system.

As he has done in other debates, Freedman referred to an ongoing age discrimination lawsuit that has cost the county more than $400,000 so far.

Kelly has been Clallam County's top prosecutor since January 2003. She is running for a third four-year term.

"I believe I've been tough on crime," she said.

"I believe I've been a demanding administrator, and I've certainly been a dedicated public servant. My office is full of dedicated public servants."

The candidates continued to disagree on Kelly's success rate at trial.

"There's obviously a difference between Mr. Freedman and myself on our statistics, and in part, it's because we're talking about different things," Kelly said.

Kelly referred the audience to a Washington Courts website, www.courts.wa.gov/caseload.

Raw data

"The numbers there are raw data," Kelly said.

"That's where I compiled my stat of over 91 percent conviction at trial after commencement of trial.

"His [Freedman's] numbers tell you nothing about the success of the office compared to any other office. Absolutely nothing."

Freedman, who went through the court files himself, said 24 percent were found not guilty in the last five years. He said 37 percent were found guilty of a lesser offense and 39 percent were found guilty as charged.

"That's not a good record at all," he said.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-417-3537 or at .

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International Association for Property and Evidence
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