South Whidbey cop killer is still appealing 1987 conviction

Darrin Hutchinson murdered two Island County deputies 34 years ago at the county jail in Coupeville.

By Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times

A man who shot and killed two deputies in the Island County jail 34 years ago is still trying to appeal his murder convictions.

Representing himself, Darrin R. Hutchinson filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus and a motion for a report of proceedings this year in Island County Superior Court.

Judge Carolyn Cliff denied both.

Since 1987, Hutchinson has filed at least three personal restraint petitions in various courts, a federal petition for habeas corpus and several other appeals and related motions.

Hutchinson was initially successful with the state Court of Appeals, which vacated his convictions in 1997. The state Supreme Court, however, reversed the lower court’s decision and upheld his conviction.

On Nov. 14, 1987, Hutchinson — a South Whidbey resident known to law enforcement — shot and killed two Island County deputies, William Heffernan and John Saxerud, in the Breathalyzer room at the county jail in Coupeville following his arrest on a driving violation. Hutchinson had concealed a .32-caliber pistol.

After the shooting, Hutchinson took a key from Saxerud’s pocket, stole a patrol car and later drove it into a ravine. He was arrested a short while later walking to his parents’ house and confessed to the murders, saying he shot the deputies because they had assaulted him.

His trial was complicated when his attorney disclosed that Hutchinson might put forward a diminished capacity defense; the attorney advised Hutchinson not to submit to a psychiatric exam by the prosecutor’s expert, even after the trial judge and the state Supreme Court ruled that he had to.

In response, the judge sanctioned Hutchinson by excluding three mental health experts who would have testified regarding his diminished capacity defense.

On June 30, 1989, a jury found Hutchinson guilty of two counts of aggravated first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

In 1997, the Court of Appeals reversed the conviction, finding the trial judge erred in excluding the defense experts from testifying and in allowing an outdated jury instruction regarding self defense.

Then the state Supreme Court reinstated the conviction, finding that the exclusion of the witnesses was an appropriate sanction and that a different jury instruction made up for the shortcomings of the first.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied his petition for a writ of certiorari.

Hutchinson, however, hasn’t given up on his appeals from behind bars at the Clallam Bay Corrections Center.

This story originally appeared in the Whidbey News-Times, a sister publication to The Herald.

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