Opinion

Kitsap murder victims still wait for justice

Cassie Holden would probably be a mother today with three or four kids in school, or maybe she’d be a teacher or a doctor.

At 12, her whole life lay ahead of her when she came over from Pocatello, Idaho, in June 1988, to visit her mother in Bremerton and went for a walk before dinner from which she never returned.

It was two days before they found her, raped and beaten to death with a rock. The man who did it was arrested in the rape of another young woman in Kitsap County and Cassie’s DNA was found on his shoes.

Jonathan Lee Gentry was as old then, at 32, as Cassie would be today if she had lived. He had a long criminal record and his jury had no trouble voting for the death penalty.

So where is he today, 20 years later?

Thanks to defense attorneys who have spent 18 years on our nickel digging up excuses for him to evade the death he deserves, he’s the longest serving resident of Death Row. The state Supreme Court has upheld the sentence twice, in 1995 and 1999.

Just the other day his latest appeal was turned down by a federal judge who said allegations of misconduct by his prosecutors wasn’t enough to get him off the hook.

But Assistant Atty. Gen. Paul Weisser said it will take at least two more years to deal with appeals still pending.

What in God’s name is wrong with this country when a proven murderer can play the justice system like a fiddle? Well, not the murderer but his lawyers who get paid by us. The longer it takes, the more they make.

Remember Charles Rodman Campbell, who slaughtered two women and a child? His lawyers dragged it out for $226,000. That was when public defenders got $50 an hour.

The Supreme Court got the attention of the Washington Ass. of Criminal Defense Lawyers back in 1994 when it gave them a tongue lashing in an opinion of upholding the death penalty for Brian Keith Lord, for the kidnapping, rape and bludgeoning to death of a Poulsbo girl. The court blasted not only Lord’s two court-appointed attorneys, but all other members of the bar who handle such cases.

The message was stop throwing in everything but the kitchen sink in such matters. Don’t leave it to us to sort out the meritorious claims from the frivolous and repetitive. A brief submitted by Lord’s lawyers that was 1,200 pages long and raised 67 issues for further appeals “borders on abuse of process. We hereby provide notice that such behavior WILL NOT be tolerated in the future.”

The stunned WACDL asked the court to strike the tongue lashing language so it wouldn’t go into the legal record. The court said what you see is what you get. The WACDL came up with a proposal for changing the ways attorneys are picked for death penalty cases. Let us, instead of the superior court judges, pick them, they said, and pay those attorneys per case between $60,000 to $200,000 rather than $50 per hour.

Eventually an Office of Public Defense was established which supplies names of available public defenders for death penalty cases to the high court. And about 10 years ago, their $50 per hour pay was raised to $125 per hour.

So, life goes on for a rapist and killer as his lawyers pull every string possible to fulfill their obligation to get him off regardless of the viciousness of his crime and the fact of his guilt, while the parents of Cassie Holden have only memories of a happy little girl visiting her mom who skipped off for a walk and ran into Jonathan Lee Gentry.

Adele Ferguson can be reached at P.O. Box 69, Hansville, WA 98340.

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