Reuben K. Hinton in (from left) 1998, 2002, 2009 and 2018. (Washington State Department of Corrections)

Reuben K. Hinton in (from left) 1998, 2002, 2009 and 2018. (Washington State Department of Corrections)

Board recommends commutation for 1997 attempted murder in Everett

Reuben Hinton shot Larone Wright twice in a drug deal 25 years ago. He was sentenced to 40 years. Now he has a chance to get out.

EVERETT — It was the worst day of two men’s lives.

On the night of July 10, 1997, Reuben Hinton met with Larone Wright at an apartment complex in south Everett. They had set up a deal: Wright would sell two ounces of cocaine to Hinton for $1,400.

Wright had known Hinton for about a year.

The two parked their cars next to each other at the complex. Hinton, then 24, got some money and was let in the passenger seat of Wright’s vehicle.

Looking as though he was reaching for the money, Hinton instead pulled out a semiautomatic handgun. He looked at Wright, pointed the gun at him and said, “Break yourself.” Charging papers filed shortly after in Snohomish County Superior Court described this as slang for, “Give me everything you have.”

Wright reportedly complied and tried to get out of the car. But Hinton shot him in the face, according to the charges. Hinton then rummaged through the victim’s clothes, stealing about $300 and some drugs.

When Wright again tried to get out, Hinton shot him again, this time in the left shoulder, according to court records. Wright crawled out. A resident at the complex called 911. He was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Wright lost an eye as a result of the shooting. He also suffered partial paralysis to his face.

In January 1998, a Snohomish County jury convicted Hinton, who had a long criminal history, of first-degree attempted murder and unlawful possession of a firearm. Under state sentencing guidelines, he faced between about 23 and 29¼ years.

Acting on the recommendation of prosecutors, a judge sentenced him to 40 years, well above the guidelines. Superior Court Judge Richard Thorpe argued at the time the exceptional sentence was warranted in part due to the intensity of the injuries. Hinton appealed the prison term, but it was upheld.

At the time of his sentencing, Hinton didn’t believe he could change.

“I was broken, uneducated and lost with no sense of direction,” he said Thursday at a hearing before the state Clemency and Pardons Board.

In prison, he received his GED and tried to better himself through self-help courses. He wrote a book about what he has learned while incarcerated.

After serving half his life behind bars, Hinton petitioned to commute his sentence. That brought him to Thursday’s hearing.

Due to court orders barring contact with Wright, this week’s hearing was the first time Hinton was able to apologize directly. He said he wished he “could take it all back” and begged for forgiveness.

“I committed a crime I couldn’t believe I was capable of doing,” Hinton said Thursday. “But I committed that crime and I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the pain that I caused Mr. Wright. I’m sorry for the pain I caused his family, his friends, the state of Washington and all of the people who I’ve hurt throughout my years.”

Hinton said after a long journey he’s not the same man he was when he shot Wright.

Wright commended Hinton for turning his life around. But, he said, “I have one eye.”

The year after he was shot, Wright said, he shot himself because Hinton’s actions hurt his mental health.

Wright moved from Everett to Hawaii because every time he thought of the city, he thought of Hinton.

He vociferously opposed clemency for Hinton. At one point, Wright had to be told the hearing was being broadcast on live television because he was using so many obscenities.

Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell, on the other hand, urged commutation. Cornell noted Hinton could be out already if he received a sentence within the standard range.

“I don’t think that any further continued incarceration of Mr. Hinton would serve the interests of justice, and I think, in fact, might do more harm to somebody who very well will, I believe, if released, make a positive contribution to the community,” the prosecutor told the board.

Cornell argued for some conditions of Hinton’s release, including work release, electronic home monitoring and drug testing.

After hearing the prosecutor’s comments, Wright appeared swayed. He said he’d be OK with Hinton’s release, “with some strict conditions.”

“I would be down for that 1,000 percent,” he said, noting it would be a detriment to society for Hinton to spend any more time in prison.

In an interview, Cornell said he’d never seen a victim turn from adamant opposition to clemency to supporting it, within a matter of minutes.

“He showed some grace to Mr. Hinton,” he said. “That was surprising.”

In a unanimous vote, the board recommended commutation. It now goes to Gov. Jay Inslee for a final decision. Board member James McDevitt said 80-90% of commutation recommendations get approved by the governor. A spokesperson for the governor said in an email Friday there was no timeline for a decision.

If Inslee approves clemency, Hinton said he wants to teach in juvenile lockups and prisons to change people’s lives. Hinton’s wife of 16 years, Angela, also told the board the couple wants to open a food truck and lead transitional housing for people released from prison.

“What he really needs to be doing is teaching,” Hinton’s lawyer Forest Hoag said Thursday. “He needs to be speaking. He needs to be in a leadership role out there in the world making the difference that he feels committed to do.”

Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

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