The attorney for a Richland man charged with killing his friend on the Fourth of July was unsuccessful Wednesday in getting the trial delayed three to seven months while he reviews possible impeachment evidence against the forensic pathologist.
Joshua H. Hunt’s trial is on track to start Feb. 10 in Benton County Superior Court.
So, when faced with little time to investigate what he described as new information in the case, defense lawyer Shane Silverthorn immediately moved to have Dr. Carl Wigren’s recorded testimony excluded from trial.
Prosecutor Andy Miller did not object to the request. He told Judge Carrie Runge minutes earlier that the state had enough evidence to prove its case against Hunt, including his reported confession, and is willing to go forward without the autopsy results if it means starting the trial on time.
Hunt, 19, is accused in the fatal shooting of Joshua Snapp. He pleaded innocent Wednesday to the amended charge of first-degree murder, which now includes a firearm enhancement.
Miller told the court that Hunt admitted to luring the 17-year-old Snapp out to a remote area of Richland, then shooting the younger teen in the chest and in the head. Hunt then allegedly gave the gun to his co-defendant, John C.I. Young, who shot Snapp one more time in the head.
A frustrated Miller pointed out to the court that the defense in Hunt’s case has had six months to investigate impeachment allegations involving Wigren, which it could have discovered with a quick Google search.
Miller said the potential for problems with Wigren’s testimony was only brought to the attention of his office less than two weeks ago by a defense lawyer in unrelated murder cases, and he immediately shared that information with Silverthorn.
Wigren, who’s based in Seattle, did all of the homicide-related autopsies in Benton County in 2013. He left last Saturday for a six-month job in New Zealand, so prosecutors set up beforehand a videotaped deposition of Wigren in each case since he won’t be around for the trials.
The deposition in Hunt’s case was Jan. 13.
Silverthorn said because he just learned after the deposition of issues Wigren had at prior jobs, he didn’t get the opportunity to ask the doctor about it on the recorded testimony. The attorney said the information brings into question Wigren’s professionalism and how he treats autopsies, and points to a cavalier and callous attitude.
Silverthorn wanted time to get an expert to review Wigren’s findings from the autopsy of Snapp. He needs to protect his client’s rights to a fair trial and effective counsel, he said.
“(Hunt) and I have discussed this information and he wants me to look into it further. I want to look into it further and I want to have the opportunity to do something about it,” the attorney said.
He proposed either moving the trial into August after Wigren returns to the United States, or setting an interim date three months out while he checks out the doctor’s work history and interviews potential rebuttal witnesses.
Wigren claims he was fired from Snohomish County for being a whistleblower. He’s said his posting on a medical examiner listserv about wanting to put a gun to his own head after working next to a colleague on a contentious case were construed as a threat, but he has a right to free speech and to own a firearm. And he denied claims made in Skagit County that he handled a body without gloves or with dirty gloves and showed unprofessional behavior by mocking two other doctors.
“I am sorry that people might be inconvenienced by a continuance, but I need one for my client,” Silverthorn said. He was responding to Miller’s comments that the victim’s father is ready for this case to get resolved, and that Miller has a number of other murder trials scheduled after this one. Silverthorn also needs more time because there’s a lot of work still to be done with 1,200-plus pages of reports and other files, he said. He has been tied up with other cases in Ellensburg, and has had difficulty finding four- or five-hour blocks of time with a three-hour roundtrip drive to visit his client in the Benton County jail.
“Mr. Silverthorn, I just need to understand. It sounds like you’re throwing a lot of things up at the court at this time beyond what is in your motion to continue,” the judge said. “And now you come up with more reasons why you can’t be ready to go forward with this trial that has been scheduled since October?”
Silverthorn replied that if he’s forced to stick with the Feb. 10 date, he will “just keeping working forward” and, if Hunt is loses at trial, will take it up on appeal.
“Well, at this point I haven’t heard a sufficient basis to continue the trial,” Runge answered.
-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer