By Gene Johnson Associated Press
SEATTLE — A three-strikes offender who exposed a murder plot and an Iraq war veteran who shot a man who attacked him are among 10 people who had convictions erased or sentences reduced by Gov. Chris Gregoire during her final days in office.
John Ray Stewart has been serving life without release since 1998, when he was convicted of attempted robbery. But in 2003, while at the Washington State Penitentiary, Stewart met Steven F. Sherer, who had murdered his wife. Sherer told him that he was planning to kill King County deputy prosecutor Marilyn Brenneman, who handled his case, and to burn down the home of a key witness.
Stewart reported the threat, and police learned that Sherer had hired someone being released from the prison to carry out the attack, Gregoire noted in reducing Stewart’s sentence. She ordered the Department of Corrections to take steps to return Stewart to society if he agrees to abide by lengthy conditions and if a forensic psychologist determines he’s a low risk to reoffend.
“A detective in the Major Crimes Unit of the King County Sheriff’s Office wrote that Mr. Stewart `testified in trial knowing his own safety within the penitentiary would be sacrificed,”’ Gregoire said in her proclamation. “The detective wrote that Mr. Stewart never asked for or received any financial reimbursement for his assistance, but that Mr. Stewart’s motivation was to balance the wrong he had committed in his life by helping to thwart a scheme to murder a deputy prosecutor.”
Stewart, 43, spent a year in solitary confinement for his own safety after reporting the plot. The state Clemency and Pardons Board unanimously recommended him for clemency in 2007, but Gregoire denied it.
During his time in custody he has earned a high-school general equivalency degree and completed victims awareness and anger management programs, and has participated in Narcotics Anonymous, the governor said.
Gregoire granted six pardons and commuted four sentences, including Stewart’s.
Among those who received a full pardon was Scott Adam Spong, who served six months in work release after pleading guilty to third-degree assault and carrying a concealed weapon without a license in 2001. Spong pulled a gun after being jumped by a group of young men in the parking lot of a Thurston County fast-food restaurant and fired, even though the beating had stopped.
One attacker was wounded.
Spong went on to serve five years in the U.S. Army, including 15 months in Iraq. Spong has been barred from working with disabled children because of the felony conviction, Gregoire noted.
Three of the pardons went to offenders who have done well since completing drug and alcohol counseling.
• Gary Gray broke into a Kitsap County apartment and stole $50 in 1982, when he was 20, and he was convicted of possessing a stolen motorbike in Pierce County the next year. He moved to Alaska and worked in the fishing industry before working his way up to senior captain in the Unalaska Fire Department. Gray and his wife recently returned to Washington state. He hopes to become a fire investigator, but such positions require law enforcement and firearms training.
• Diana Vandenberg-Hansen was having trouble with alcoholism when she stole $7,000 from the Edmonds bank where she worked as a teller in 2003, and she racked up two shoplifting convictions. She enrolled in an alcohol abuse treatment program and decided to help others fighting alcoholism, obtaining a certificate in alcohol and chemical dependency counseling.
• Kevin Dean Walker was convicted of domestic violence and malicious mischief after grabbing his wife’s throat during an argument and subsequently kicking the window out of a police cruiser. He organizes charitable events as president of his motorcycle social club, the Seattle Iron Indians, and volunteers to provide motor escorts for military funerals, Gregoire wrote.
The other pardons went to:
• Mirella Camarena-Rocha, a native of Mexico and graduate of Mount Vernon High School who has been a lawful U.S. resident since 2001. Her two shoplifting convictions from when she was 18 threatened possible deportation proceedings, though she has a husband and son in Washington.
• David W. Reed, who was convicted of breaking into an auto-wrecking yard in 1964, when he was 19. He retired after 20 years as a Pierce County Fire District firefighter in 1996, and later moved to Oklahoma, which requires a full pardon before felons from other states can be allowed to have guns.
Besides Stewart, Gregoire issued conditional commutations to:
• Stonney Marcus Rivers, who racked up his final strike for a motel room robbery in 1996 and has since served 17 years in prison. King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg says the county now charges cases differently, to avoid life sentences for people with low-level criminal histories, as Rivers had. If he agrees to the terms of the commutation his sentence will end in January 2015.
• Ethan Corbett Durden, who led a group that burglarized the homes of drug-dealers at gunpoint in 1997, believing the victims wouldn’t call police. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison. He has participated in drug and alcohol counseling and has written letters urging young people to avoid the mistakes he made. His sentence will end in September 2015 if he complies with the conditions.
• Leon Glennquaree Toney 3rd, whose prison suicide attempt left him in a persistent vegetative state.