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Locke signs bill in response to high court's decision

Gov. Gary Locke signed a bill Feb. 13 that could help keep about 300 killers, including two murderers from Island County, behind prison bars.

The unusual bill, which is the first of this legislative session, is basically a message to the state Supreme Court about the controversial 5-4 ruling on felony murder last fall, which said a person can't be charged under the felony murder rule if the predicate or underlying felony is assault

In the bill, the Legislature asserts the justices were wrong in the way they interpreted the law and urges the court to reverse the decision. The Legislature went as far as to imply that the Supreme Court's decision was "a miscarriage of the legislation's original intent."

"The Legislature does not agree with or accept the court's findings of legislative intent in State v. Andress..." the act states, "and reasserts that assault has always been and still remains a predicate offense for felony murder in the second degree."

The act clarifies the law as an amendment, and also "urges the Supreme Court to apply the interpretation retroactively to July 1, 1976."

The bill is bound to get a mixed reaction from prosecutors and defense attorneys. Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks applauded the act, adding that he hopes the Supreme Court listens. He was very critical of the original decision and accused the justices of trying to legislate from the bench.

"Hopefully they will understand," Banks recently wrote, "that when every prosecutor in the state has been relying on Supreme Court decisions over the last 28 years in deciding how to charge a defendant, they should not simply retroactively change the rules."

On the other side, defense attorneys across the state supported the Supreme Court's decision, pointing out that it follows the law in almost every other state. Until the Supreme Court decision, felony-murder law allowed prosecutors to get murder convictions without proving intent.

In the Andress case, for example, Shawn Andress got into a bar fight in King County and ended up killing a man. He was convicted of second-degree murder -- so-called felony-murder -- with the underlying crime being assault. The prosecution didn't have to prove that Andress intended to kill the man, just that he committed the assault.

In another state, Andress would likely have been convicted of manslaughter unless prosecutors could come up with evidence of intent or premeditation.

The King County Prosecutor's Office has asked the Supreme Court to reconsider the decision. If the court upholds its decision, it is estimated that nearly 300 people convicted of felony-murder in the state could either go free or be re-sentenced for lesser offenses.

Among those are two people convicted of felony-murder in Island County. Jerry Lee Farrow shot and killed his girlfriend, Faith Ellison, in her Oak Harbor home two years ago. He was convicted of second-degree "felony" murder with a deadly weapon and third-degree assault with a deadly weapon and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Camano Island resident Linda Miley was convicted of second-degree "felony" murder and first degree manslaughter. She shot and killed her boyfriend, Jack Pearson, in 1997. She was sentenced to 21 years in prison.

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