New trial rehashes killings’ details


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.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Snohomish residents Barbara Bailey, right, and Beth Jarvis sit on a gate atop a levee on Bailey’s property on Monday, May 13, 2024, at Bailey Farm in Snohomish, Washington. Bailey is concerned the expansion of nearby Harvey Field Airport will lead to levee failures during future flood events due to a reduction of space for floodwater to safely go. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Harvey Field seeks to reroute runway in floodplain, faces new pushback

Snohomish farmers and neighbors worry the project will be disruptive and worsen flooding. Ownership advised people to “read the science.”

IAM District 751 machinists join the picket line to support Boeing firefighters during their lockout from the company on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Amid lockout, Boeing, union firefighters return to bargaining table

The firefighters and the planemaker held limited negotiations this week: They plan to meet again Monday, but a lockout continues.

N3054V accident site. (Alaska State Trooper Photo)
Lake Stevens pilot, who lived ‘Alaska dream,’ died in Fairbanks crash

Former Snohomish County lawyer Harry “Ray” Secoy III, 63, worked as a DC-4 pilot in Alaska in the last years of his life.

Air and ground search and rescue teams found Jerry Riedinger’s plane near Humpback Mountain on Monday. (WSDOT photo)
Remains of pilot recovered near Snoqualmie Pass after Arlington flight

Jerry Riedinger never made it to Ephrata after departing the Arlington airport Sunday. Investigators have not determined the cause of the crash.

Federal prosecutors say the two men shown here outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, are Tucker Weston, left, and Jesse Watson. (U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia)
Lynnwood roommates sentenced for roles in Jan. 6 riot

Tucker Weston was given two years in prison Thursday. Jesse Watson received three years of probation in August 2023.

Lynnwood firm faces $790K in fines for improper asbestos handling

State regulators said this is the fifth time Seattle Asbestos of Washington violated “essential” safety measures.

A truck towing a travel trailer crashed into a home in the Esperance neighborhood Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Edmonds, Washington. (South County Fire)
Man seriously injured after his truck rolls into Edmonds home

One resident was inside the home in the 22500 block of 8th Avenue W, but wasn’t injured, fire officials said.

Ferry workers wait for cars to start loading onto the M/V Kitsap on Friday, Dec. 1, 2023 in Mukilteo, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
The Memorial Day holiday weekend travel nightmare is upon us

Going somewhere this weekend? You’ll have lots of company — 44 million new BFFs — on planes, trains and automobiles.

Bothell family says racism at Seattle Children’s led to teen’s death

In February 2021, Sahana Ramesh, the daughter of Indian immigrants, died after months of suffering from a rare disease.

Boeing Firefighters and supporters have a camp set up outside of Boeing on Airport Road as the company’s lockout of union firefighters approaches two weeks on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Union firefighters reject Boeing’s latest contract offer

The union’s 125 firefighters on Wednesday overwhelmingly rejected the offer, which included “an improved wage growth” schedule

A “No Shooting” sign on DNR land near Spada Lake is full of bullet holes on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, along Sultan Basin Road near Sultan, Washington. People frequent multiple locations along the road to use firearms despite signage warning them not to. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
County pumps the brakes on planned Sultan shooting range

The $47 million project, in the works for decades, has no partner or funding. County parks officials are reconsidering its viability.

Suzan DelBene, left, Rick Larsen
Larsen, DelBene request over $40M for projects in Snohomish County

If approved, Congress would foot the bill for traffic fixes, public transit, LED lights and much more around the county.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.