By SCOTT NORTH
Hours after asking a Snohomish County jury to spare him from a death sentence, convicted double murderer Charles Ben Finch was in an Everett hospital Wednesday night with life-threatening injuries after a fall at the county jail.
Finch, 51, apparently fell or jumped about 20 feet from an upper tier inside the county jail in Everett at about 8:15 p.m. He was being held there for his second sentencing trial in the August 1994 murders of sheriff’s Sgt. Jim Kinard, 34, and Ronald Modlin, 38, near Cathcart.
Finch was receiving treatment under guard at Providence Everett Medical Center in Everett. He was listed in critical condition.
Early word is that Finch suffered head or neck injuries that may have left him paralyzed, said Jim Townsend, the county’s chief criminal deputy prosecutor.
Closing arguments were scheduled for this morning in Finch’s trial. Deputy prosecutor Michael Downes was in his office Wednesday evening working on what he planned to tell jurors when he got the news.
The effects of Finch’s injuries on the trial were being analyzed Wednesday evening. Lawyers on both sides of the case were scheduled to meet with Superior Court Judge Ronald Castleberry this morning.
"I sure don’t want to have to try this thing a third time," Downes said.
Deputy County Executive Gary Weikel said an investigation into the fall is under way, spearheaded by the Everett Police Department.
He said that it appears Finch was alone when he either jumped or fell. He knew few other details.
Jail living quarters are open modules on two levels, with balconies.
Everett Police Lt. Greg Lineberry said that the investigation was just beginning and that officers had not yet determined whether the incident was the result of a suicide attempt, an attack or an accident.
Finch had personally addressed jurors hours before his fall, urging them to consider mercy in his case.
He told them he was sorry and perplexed by his crimes.
"I stand before you today asking for mercy," Finch told jurors Wednesday afternoon. "I want to try to tell you why that night happened, to offer you reasons or explanations. But I cannot. I can’t really even explain it to myself."
Sheriff Rick Bart was present for Finch’s statement to jurors. He said he was surprised by Finch’s fall.
"He’s fighting for his life," he said. "I’m surprised he tried to take it."
Jurors had been scheduled this morning to hear lawyers make final arguments in the case and then start deliberations. The only possible sentence is death or life in prison without possibility of release.
Since Oct. 12 jurors have been listening to evidence about how Finch, a former convict who had served time in prison for rape and manslaughter, went to the home of his then-estranged wife carrying beer and a semiautomatic pistol. He first shot Modlin, who was blind, and then opened fire on deputies when they converged on the scene, killing Kinard with a single bullet to the neck.
A jury in 1995 found Finch guilty of the murders and ruled that he deserved the death sentence. But the state Supreme Court in 1999 tossed out the sentence because jurors saw Finch restrained by handcuffs and with a nylon strap hobbling his ankles. His underlying convictions remain intact.
Finch has been without handcuffs or shackles during this trial. He stood alone Wednesday at a podium that was set up in the courtroom, reading from a statement he’d prepared. Finch spoke in a firm, gruff voice with just a hint of drawl from his home state of Oklahoma.
He told jurors that in the 1980s, while serving time for the rape conviction, he began attending a 12-step program and confronted his longstanding problems with alcohol abuse.
When he was released in April 1988, he continued to embrace sobriety, made friends, landed a job at an Everett door manufacturing plant, and saved enough money to buy a small trailer, which he lived in at a Snohomish County lake.
"I think I was really happy in those years, and I liked myself for the first time in a long time," Finch said. "And now all that is gone, gone because I threw it away with my own actions."
Finch said the problems began not long after he married in 1993, and the relationship began to unravel. Then his mother died, dropping him into "this huge black hole," he said.
He began thinking about killing himself and his estranged wife. That’s what he was intending to do when he went to her home that night he instead killed Modlin and Kinard, Finch said.
"For a long time I wanted to die, and I did everything I could to make this case even worse than it is, if that’s possible, to try to make the state do to me what I had tried to do to myself. I wanted to die," Finch said.
Finch did not directly tell jurors that he wants to live, but he said the time he’s spent in prison has forced him to come to grips with his actions and recognize the "terrible thing" he has done.
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