MONROE — Murder charges in a 2015 death at the Monroe prison have been dismissed against an inmate deemed incompetent to stand trial.
Benjamin C. Price, who already is serving time for manslaughter, was “committed as criminally insane” to Western State Hospital on Dec. 16, according to Snohomish County Superior Court papers.
Price, 36, was charged in 2015 with aggravated first-degree murder. He is accused of stomping to death Gordon “Casey” Powell at the Monroe Correctional Complex. The Centralia man, 45, died from brain injuries.
In a five-page order, recently retired Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Thomas Wynne found “there is probable cause to believe that the defendant committed the acts alleged in the information in this criminal proceeding and as a result of a mental disorder presents a substantial likelihood of repeating similar acts.”
Though the charges could someday be refiled, the defendant “is unlikely to become competent to plea or stand trial … at anytime in the foreseeable future,” a court order said.
Price and Powell both had mental health issues that led to their placement in the prison’s Special Offenders Unit.
Powell was described in court papers as “the smallest and frailest” offender in the unit. The May 9, 2015, attack was recorded on video surveillance.
Price reportedly demanded to speak with police in the weeks before attacking Powell, even if it meant he had to kill someone to make it happen, according to court papers.
In 2008, Price was charged with second-degree murder in Skagit County. Price eventually pleaded guilty to manslaughter after an extended stay at Western State Hospital. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison and was ordered to receive mental health treatment while incarcerated.
Price strangled his girlfriend Dawn Ruger, 44, in 2006. He claimed she was putting demons in his head, according to news accounts at the time. He hid her body in rural Whatcom County. In 2008, he walked into the Bellingham Police Department to confess and led authorities to the remains.
In 2011, while at the Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Grays Harbor County, Price attempted to strangle his cellmate, records show.
He told correctional staff at the time: “I had a dream that the devil would be my new cellie this morning. I was told the only way I could stop the devil from hurting my daughter and me was to kill him.”
He tried to wrap a strip of bed sheet around the man’s neck, according to court records.
The cellmate told corrections staff that Price called him the devil and said he was going to kill him.
Price also has prior convictions for second-degree assault, possessing stolen property and violating a protection order.
In the May 9, 2015, assault in Monroe, Price allegedly waited for Powell while inmates were returning from the dining area. The attack lasted nine seconds, according to surveillance video.
Witnesses told detectives that Price threw a punch that knocked Powell to the floor and then continued to beat him when he was on the ground.
Powell was taken by ambulance to Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, where a hole was drilled into his head to relieve pressure from significant brain swelling. For days he was hooked up to a life-support machine.
The suspect was considerably taller, heavier and stronger than Powell.
Mental health experts who interviewed Price last year said he was delusional. Multiple mental health assessments show diagnoses of schizophrenia and antisocial personality disorder.
He told them that he believed he is being brainwashed to become an assassin for government agencies, including the CIA and Supreme Court. He said his thoughts are being monitored by a satellite beam.
Powell’s family has filed a lawsuit in federal court against nine corrections officers who were on duty the day he was beaten. U.S. District Court Judge James Robart last year rejected the state’s argument that the correctional officers through their jobs had immunity that protected them from legal action.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; firstname.lastname@example.org.