New trial rehashes killings’ details

By SCOTT NORTH

Herald Writer

Charles Ben Finch was angry and depressed Aug. 15, 1994.

After working his shift at an Everett door manufacturing plant, he headed to the bank and deposited all his money, including the loose change from his home. He wrote a goodbye letter to family and friends. He ate dinner.

Then Finch, a man who had served time in prison for manslaughter and rape, showed up at his estranged wife’s mobile home near Cathcart. He had a 12-pack of beer under his arm and a .40-caliber handgun in his car.

Before the night was over, Finch had gunned down a blind man he found in the home. He also killed a sheriff’s deputy who was among the officers who converged on the scene.

Finch, now 51, was convicted more than five years ago of two counts of aggravated first-degree murder. But a Snohomish County jury on Thursday began a trial to determine his punishment.

Finch had been sentenced to die for the killings of Ronald Modlin, 38, and sheriff’s Sgt. Jim Kinard, 34. 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 so jurors are again deciding his punishment. The sentences are death or life in prison without possibility of release.

Jurors in Finch’s new sentencing trial were admonished by Superior Court Judge Ronald Castleberry not to speculate why they’ve been asked to rule on a case from so long ago.

Finch planned and executed the killings and then told a friend he wasn’t sorry a "lousy cop" and an "idiot blind person" were dead, deputy prosecutor Michael Downes told jurors. Justice demands a death sentence, he argued.

But "fairness and mercy" dictate that the killer’s life should be spared, public defender Susan Gaer said.

She said Finch was suicidal because his marriage and life were falling apart and he "exploded" when he went to his then-wife’s home "with his anger and his hopelessness and his gun."

The man has always regretted the killings, Gaer said.

The trial is expected to last until the end of the month. Although prosecutors don’t have to prove Finch guilty of his crimes, they still plan to present most of the evidence from his 1995 trial.

The first witness Thursday was Finch’s former mother-in-law, Margaret Elizares, who was visiting her daughter the night Finch began shooting.

Elizares was 81 at the time. Even so, the tiny, white-haired woman testified that she knew she could not show fear and expect to survive.

She told jurors that she had just served dinner to Modlin and her daughter when Finch came into the home and pulled a telephone from the wall.

Modlin asked what was going on.

Finch pointed the handgun at his head, said "This!" and pulled the trigger, she testified.

Elizares told jurors that she’d known Modlin for 12 years and considered him "like my grandson."

She said Finch threatened to kill her when she tried to go to Modlin’s aid after he was shot.

"I said ‘Why? Why do you want to do these things?’ " Elizares recalled.

Finch told her he’d come that night planning to kill, she said.

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