Lawyer: 1982 attacker of Richland cop 'deserving of parole'

BELLEVUE — An Iowa drifter who attacked a Richland police officer in 1982 is no longer a threat and should be a free man, his lawyer says.

Jerry Dean Lain is being judged and "demonized" based on a maelstrom of cop killings in Washington and across the country, said Richard Linn of Bellevue.

Lain "has done very well" while locked up in prison for 28 years and is "deserving of parole," Linn said.

Lain has had "some infractions" behind bars just like any other inmate, Linn said.

But when Gov. Chris Gregoire blocked his release in December with a little-used provision in state law, she "sort of conducted her own private" parole hearing without an opportunity for Lain to present his side of it, his lawyer said.

Now, as the inmate prepares to again face the state Indeterminate Sentence Review Board on March 8, his attorney hopes to get a fair hearing.

"This is a horrible crime, I don't want to downplay it. But I feel that he's absolutely no threat at this time in the state of Washington, he is no threat to law enforcement as the governor indicated," Linn told the Herald. "I think the write-ups about him have been totally distorted."

Lain was convicted of stabbing Officer Mike Fitzpatrick seven times, then shooting him twice on Sept. 7, 1982. Fitzpatrick -- who was 20 minutes shy of his 29th birthday -- had responded that night to what he thought would be a routine call of a car prowler near the Richland Y.

Lain was sentenced to life in prison, but in the mid-1980s the review board set the minimum term at 20 years following a change in the state's sentencing scheme.

Since completing the minimum term with credit for early release, Lain has had several parole hearings to determine if he was ready to leave prison or needed more time because of a poor record. After he had served an extended sentence, the board made a final decision last March that Lain was fit for parole and could go back to his home state to participate in a transitional plan.

Fitzpatrick has made his voice heard every time his would-be killer has come up for parole. But once he learned Lain was going to be a free man, Fitzpatrick -- now working undercover in law enforcement at the state level -- lobbied the news media to bring attention to Lain's upcoming release.

Gregoire ordered the Washington Department of Corrections on Dec. 16 not to release Lain, saying "his rehabilitation is not complete" and he "would pose an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety at this time."

His parole was canceled four days before he was set to walk out of prison.

This week, the Review Board scheduled the March hearing to figure out its next step. It will be held in Monroe Correctional Complex where Lain, now 53, is being housed.

On Friday, when asked if he would be attending that hearing, Mike Fitzpatrick would only say: "We stand by the governor's decision. She looked at all the information available and we think she made a correct one."

Fitzpatrick previously told the Herald he hasn't seen Lain since that night in 1982 and doesn't want to. He had described the board's release decision as "absurd," and said in December that somebody's life was saved with Gregoire's order because he believes Lain is dangerous and a high risk to re-offend.

"I don't care how much he's changed supposedly, which I don't think he's changed a bit. I think he's gotten worse," Fitzpatrick also said Friday. "The judge gave him life ... and that's what he needs to do."

Lynne DeLano, the board's chairwoman, said they've been consulting with their legal adviser since Gregoire's decision and agreed this week that the hearing will only be to set a new minimum term. The board generally adds anywhere from six months to five years onto a sentence at a time.

The issue of whether Lain should be released will not be addressed, she said.

"We want to be very conscientious of all the legal ramifications and the rights of the offender and rights of the victim," said DeLano.

The last time the board dealt with a governor's revocation was 30 years ago, so this is all new ground, she said.

One board member has recused himself from Lain's case because of a connection with Fitzpatrick. Three members, including DeLano, will be at the next hearing.

"When we set a new term, we don't usually do an in-person hearing, but we felt this was kind of a unique situation," she said. "He will have an attorney present and may have witnesses."

Lain's prison history dates to 1976 in Iowa, where he was imprisoned until 1982 for stabbing a man during a bar fight, While in prison, Lain permanently blinded another inmate by tossing acid in his face and attacked another inmate with a claw hammer.

At the time of Fitzpatrick's assault, he was on parole from an Iowa prison and had left the state without permission. He had been out of prison for about five months.

When Fitzpatrick approached him in 1982 in Richland, Lain stabbed the officer with such force that the knife broke off in Fitzpatrick's protective vest. Some of the cuts to his arms were potentially lethal.

As Fitzpatrick was wrestling the knife away, Lain grabbed the officer's service revolver, wedged the gun under his vest and fired. He then stood over the fallen officer, put the gun on Fitzpatrick's chin and fired again.

Fitzpatrick had massive stomach injuries and a splintered jaw, but miraculously survived. A 2005 psychological report for Lain, cited in Gregoire's order, said, "There was no question that he intended to kill the office[r]."

Lain later was caught and convicted of first-degree assault with a deadly weapon and vehicle prowling.

Gregoire wrote that during the past 28 years, Lain has been found to have committed 23 infractions in 18 incidents, including three that involved threats. In December 2003, he threatened prison staff and during a hearing on the violation "maintained that he would hurt staff when he was released from segregation or the prison. He stated that he would attack staff in the parking lot when he was released from prison," the governor wrote.

As of mid-December, Lain had not been found to have committed an infraction since 2004.

Linn stressed that he knows Fitzpatrick's injuries were horrible. The attorney said if he were the victim of similar circumstances he never would want his attacker released either.

But Lain is not an extreme case and has not been treated any different than other imprisoned convicts from pre-1984 sentencing standards, said Linn, who is on contract to provide legal services to prison inmates and says he has participated in more than 1,000 parole hearings during the past 18 years.

He said the governor's revocation is "a highly political decision because of the Lakewood murders."

"People grab onto that spin -- you can't let someone like this out," Linn said.

"... Things have been one-sided in the press and by the governor," he added. "I'm not being disrespectful to Mr. Fitzpatrick or to the political climate, I just think this is one guy (Lain) who it's easy to point to him and say, 'This is a monster and he should not be released.' ... I think it's unfair to him, but everyone is entitled to an opinion."

* Kristin M. Kraemer: 509-582-1531; kkraemer@tricityherald.com