Finch jurors go home for the weekend


Herald Writer

A Snohomish County jury began deliberating Friday whether a convicted double murderer who is unconscious and paralyzed after an Oct. 25 suicide attempt should receive a death sentence for the 1994 killings of a sheriff’s deputy and a blind man.

Charles Ben Finch, 51, remained in grave condition at an Everett hospital where he’s been since leaping headfirst from a second-floor balcony inside the county jail.

Finch’s death-penalty sentencing trial had been put on hold for more than a week after his jump. But Superior Court Judge Ronald Castleberry ruled Friday that additional delay would not serve justice.

"The court cannot stay in this state of suspended animation," Castleberry said. "It is not fair to the jury. It is not fair to the family and friends of the victims. And, I daresay, it is not fair to the defendant."

The judge put off for now a decision on whether to grant a mistrial because the unconscious Finch is unable to assist his attorneys. That means even if the jury agrees on a verdict, they may not have the final word in the case.

Finch suffered head and spinal injuries in his jump, and doctors fear he also may have sustained brain damage.

Lawyers spent much of Friday making closing arguments, and jurors began deliberating about 3:30 p.m. They went home at about 7 p.m. and were scheduled to resume Monday morning.

Jurors were given a detailed account of Finch’s suicide attempt, his paralysis and what doctors say is his uncertain chance of recovery.

Finch took his leap just hours after he had stood before the panel and apologized for killing Sgt. Jim Kinard, 34, and Ronald Modlin, 38. He’d asked for mercy, but did not directly request that jurors spare his life.

Deputy prosecutor Michael Downes told jurors that Finch’s suicide attempt was just the most recent act for a man whose existence has been defined by violence and disrespect for life.

"You have had a firsthand demonstration of just how cold Mr. Finch is," he said.

Public defender Bill Jaquette told jurors that he and his co-counsel, Susan Gaer, have been alternately angry and saddened by Finch’s suicide attempt. He urged jurors to find a lesson in how corrections officers and doctors responded to the suicide attempt, providing the defendant the best care possible, because he remains a human being despite his crimes.

Gaer reminded jurors that the law allows them to consider Finch’s medical condition as a mitigating factor against a death sentence.

"Mercy is appropriate in this case because we don’t need to kill Charles Finch to protect ourselves from him and we sure don’t need to kill Charles Finch to punish him," she said.

Downes urged jurors to remember how Finch, who had previously served time in prison for assault, rape and manslaughter, went to his estranged wife’s Cathcart home intending to kill her and himself. Instead, he took two other lives "for no particular reason at all," the prosecutor said.

Finch first shot Modlin, who was seated at the dinner table, killing the blind man "like most of us might swat a fly in the kitchen," Downes said. After shooting Modlin, Finch said, "He can see now."

The man then opened fire on deputies when they converged on the scene after Finch placed a 911 call to report the shooting. Kinard was struck with a single bullet to the neck.

Downes asked jurors to remember how Kinard’s mother had told them about her son, "a little boy who had a tricycle who grew up to have a little boy of his own." Kinard’s child lost his father because of Finch, Downes said.

As terrible as the killings were, they must be kept in perspective, Jaquette argued. For example, he said that evidence shows that the bullet that killed Kinard was long-distance "wild shot fired out the window" from a pistol, not a shot taken with deliberate aim.

This is Finch’s second sentencing trial. He was convicted of the murders 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.

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