Judge rejects tactic to avoid death penalty

A convicted child killer from Everett shouldn’t be able dodge a death sentence by arguing that “evolving standards of decency” prohibit his potential execution, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Lawyers for Richard Mathew Clark, 36, asked Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Thomas Wynne to block prosecutors from asking a jury to vote in support of Clark’s death.

The lawyers earlier told the judge it would be wrong to attempt to execute Clark for the 1995 rape and murder of 7-year-old Roxanne Doll when Green River killer Gary Ridgway is serving life in prison after admitting 48 murders.

Wynne ruled that Clark’s lawyers haven’t shown that Clark’s execution would be disproportionately harsh punishment, and they also have no legal grounds to argue that execution is off-limits for those who take a single life.

“No Washington court or court of any other state has determined that ‘evolving standards of decency’ prohibit the execution of an individual convicted of murdering only one person,” Wynne said in his written ruling.

The judge also rejected defense arguments that Clark is being prejudiced by evidence his lawyers claim indicates prosecutors in other counties would not have sought his execution. The judge found equally unpersuasive the defense claims that it would violate state law to stage a second trial so a jury can decide whether Clark should be sentenced to die.

A jury in 1997 convicted Clark of killing the girl and ruled that he should be sentenced to die. The state Supreme Court in 2001 overturned the sentence, ruling that jurors had heard too much about Clark’s 1988 conviction for abducting a 4-year-old neighbor girl. The high court sent Clark’s death penalty case back to Snohomish County for another trial to determine his punishment.

That new penalty trial is scheduled for spring. Clark remains convicted of the murder, and the only thing to be decided is whether he could be executed or face prison without a chance of release.

Reporter Scott North: 425-339-3431 or north@heraldnet.com.

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