A Kennewick man tried to plead guilty Thursday to allegations he fatally stabbed the boyfriend of his estranged wife last week.
However, Benton County prosecutors argued that if Matthew H. de Vore is going to admit his role in the crime, they want it to be for an upgraded charge of first-degree murder.
Defense attorney Scott Johnson objected to the prosecution move and said the request was moot because he already had handed up a plea statement for the original charge of second-degree murder.
Authorities accuse de Vore, 40, of killing Thomas R. Christian Sr. on Nov. 24 in the waiting room of Biomat USA in Kennewick.
Thursday was de Vore’s first appearance in Benton County Superior Court since prosecutors charged him Nov. 26. Almost a dozen family and friends of the victim attended the hearing.
Judge Cameron Mitchell said he was caught off guard by the defense decision and questioned at what time is a plea officially entered.
Is it when the defense announces its intent to plead guilty and gives the paperwork to the court? Or is it after the defendant waives his rights and answers “guilty,” and the judge accepts the plea?
Johnson argued that since he had handed the plea statement to the bailiff at the start of the hearing and informed the court of his plans, it was a done deal.
But Prosecutor Andy Miller pointed out that de Vore had not even “uttered a word” in the hearing, and that he and Deputy Prosecutor Emily Sullivan hadn’t yet reviewed the forms or signed them.
Mitchell told the attorneys to file briefs citing case law in support of their positions, then expect to argue the issue at a Dec. 10 hearing.
“I will note for the record that Mr. Johnson did indicate his client would like to plead guilty,” Mitchell said.
By amending the charge to first-degree murder, prosecutors indicate that de Vore premeditated his actions.
The original charge and the new one sought by prosecutors carry an aggravating circumstance that alleges Christian’s death had a destructive and foreseeable impact on others. That would allow the prosecution to ask for a sentence above the standard range.
Christian, 45, was killed with an 8-inch kitchen knife as he sat in the lobby of the North Union Street plasma donation center with his girlfriend, Brenda de Vore.
Brenda and Matthew de Vore are divorcing after an 18-year marriage.
Christian, a grandfather, was stabbed once in the chest and died in the waiting room in front of more than a dozen people.
Several witnesses ran after Matthew de Vore and eventually surrounded him in front of a nearby grocery store. He surrendered and sat down on the ground until Kennewick police arrived.
Christian’s mother, Virginia Christian, told the Herald that her large family supports a first-degree murder charge because they believe de Vore previously threatened her son and must have followed the couple to the blood bank.
Thomas Christian recently moved to the Tri-Cities to reconnect with Brenda de Vore, whom he dated in high school. The couple had talked about moving to Tennessee together.