Death penalty on the line again

Convicted killer Finch returns to court without restraints to face a new fate


Herald Writer

Charles Ben Finch walked calmly into the Ginni Stevens Hearing Room Tuesday wearing a gray sweater vest, long-sleeve sport shirt and dark pants.

There were no handcuffs, leg restraints or jail overalls, only the presence of a Snohomish County Jail custodial officer who sat behind Finch, 51.

Finch’s hair is light gray, and his beard was neatly trimmed. He looked as if he could have been anybody’s father.

He sat calmly, looking out over a sea of about 200 people, 12 of whom will be chosen to decide whether he will spend the rest of his life in prison or be put to death at the hand of the state.

Finch stands convicted of two counts of aggravated murder in the shooting deaths of a blind man and a Snohomish County sheriff’s sergeant in an August 1994 incident near Cathcart.

The 200 prospective jurors were assembled at the opening of the jury selection process in Superior Court. The conviction remains, and the only decision is whether Finch should live or die.

This will be the second time a jury has been gathered to decide Finch’s fate. The first was in 1995 when jurors convicted Finch and then ruled in favor of the death penalty.

But the death penalty decision was overturned last year by the state Supreme Court. The high court ruled the previous jury had been biased when prospective jurors saw Finch in jail garb and in restraints when he appeared in the same Ginni Stevens room.

He stands convicted of aggravated murder in the deaths of Ronald Modlin, who was visiting Finch’s ex-wife, and he later shot Sgt. Jim Kinard, who had responded to the shooting call.

Although the jury will go through just the penalty phase of the trial, the prosecutors intend to present much of the evidence reviewed by the jury that originally convicted Finch. Just the jury selection could take two or three weeks, and the special sentencing hearing will be more like a full-blown trial. It could continue into November, attorneys said Tuesday.

Judge Ronald Castleberry appeared ready to keep tight reign on the proceedings, sternly admonishing the prospective jurors not to discuss the case with friends and relatives "in any way, shape or form."

He told them not to even tell spouses or employers what case they are hearing, and not even to use certain restrooms because they might overhear some idle comment related to the trial.

He even advised them not to read any novels or see any movies for the time being that deal with the subject of the death penalty.

Jurors filled out a questionnaire to give lawyers an idea about their backgrounds, views on the death penalty, whether they have heard or read anything about the case, and whether there are personal reasons why they couldn’t serve.

The first seven were questioned individually Tuesday afternoon. Deputy prosecutors Michael Downes and Helene Bloom, and defense attorneys Bill Jaquette and Susan Gaer zeroed in on individuals’ views concerning the death penalty, and whether jurors could follow the judge’s instructions.

To impose the death penalty again, jurors will have to be convinced unanimously that there aren’t sufficient mitigating circumstances to warrant leniency.

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