By SCOTT NORTH
A convicted double murderer was spared a death sentence Monday after a Snohomish County jury was unable to reach agreement on his punishment. What the outcome means for Charles Ben Finch, 51, was not immediately clear. The lack of a verdict means an automatic sentence of life in prison without possibility of release. But questions remain whether Finch will survive. On Monday, he remained unconscious at an Everett hospital with head and spinal injuries suffered during an Oct. 25 suicide attempt at the Snohomish County Jail. Jurors divided on what punishment Finch should receive for the August 1994 aggravated murders near Cathcart of sheriff's Sgt. Jim Kinard, 34, and Ronald Modlin, 38, a blind man. They declined to speak with reporters after announcing their verdict and were escorted from the courthouse by security officers. Before leaving, jurors privately told lawyers that most supported death sentences for both killings, deputy prosecutor Michael Downes said. The split was 10-2 for death in connection with Modlin's murder and 9-3 in favor of death for Kinard's killing, Downes said. The jury had to be unanimous for a death sentence. But unlike most criminal cases, a nonunanimous verdict did not signal a mistrial. Downes said he was relieved the case was over. "I'm sure the jury gave it a lot of thoughtful consideration," he said. One of Finch's attorneys, public defender Bill Jaquette, swiftly left the courthouse without commenting. Finch has been paralyzed and in critical condition since leaping headfirst from a second-floor balcony at the jail and landing on his neck. The courtroom was packed for the verdict with most of the seats occupied by deputies who had served with Kinard. They greeted the news with stoic silence. So did the slain lawman's family, but they later made their disappointment known. Phyllis Kinard said she had a difficult time understanding how some jurors had arrived at the conclusion that Finch deserved mercy. During the trial, she testified about her son, telling jurors how as a little boy he had loved to dress up as a cowboy and ride his tricycle. Jim Kinard was the father of a young boy, too, when a bullet fired by Finch cut him down. There will be no closure for Kinard's family until "Mr. Finch dies, and I hope it will be soon," Phyllis Kinard said. "I couldn't even begin to tell you what Jim would say," she added. "It would be unprintable." Finch attempted to kill himself only hours after he had personally addressed jurors, asking for mercy. He also apologized for killing Modlin and Kinard, calling their deaths a "terrible thing." Finch was convicted of murdering Kinard and Modlin and sentenced to die in 1995. But the state Supreme Court tossed out the sentence in 1999 because jurors had seen him in handcuffs and a nylon hobble. The underlying convictions were not affected. The sole question in Finch's new trial was whether he should receive a death sentence or life in prison without possibility of release. The suicide attempt -- Finch's second at the jail since the murders -- came the night before closing arguments and jury deliberations had been scheduled. The defendant's grave injuries brought the trial to a halt for more than a week as lawyers and Judge Ronald Castleberry wrestled with what to do next. Doctors said that Finch injured his spine, most likely causing permanent paralysis to his legs and limiting the use of his arms. He also suffered bleeding to his brain. Jaquette had moved for a new trial, arguing that Finch's medical condition rendered him legally incompetent and unable to assist in his defense. Prosecutors countered that Finch had voluntarily absented himself from the trial, and that it should move forward. Castleberry never ruled on the mistrial motion. Instead, on Friday he told attorneys to make their closing arguments and instructed jurors to begin deliberations. Before beginning deliberations, jurors were informed, in detail, about Finch's suicide attempt and his injuries. They also were instructed that they could consider that information, but were prohibited from allowing sympathy to color their verdict.
You can call Herald Writer Scott North at 425-339-3431 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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