Former Coyote Ridge inmate charged in '09 attack on cellmate

The family of a Pasco man near death after a June 2009 beating at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center was overjoyed Friday to learn his cellmate has finally been charged with attempted murder.

"Praise the Lord," Laurie Ingram said repeatedly. Her family's prayers were answered now that Kenneth Smith will be held responsible for the attack on her brother inside the Connell prison.

"We've been waiting for this. Oh, my brother is going to be so happy," said Ingram, who had hoped for Franklin County prosecutors to give her the official word.

Scott McDonald lost his left eye and suffered brain damage after being hit on the head with a smudge pot wrapped inside a pillowcase June 29, 2009.

Prosecutors allege Smith was the one who bludgeoned McDonald with the metal pot.

Smith, 34, is charged in Franklin County Superior Court with first-degree attempted murder and first-degree assault. He is scheduled for a hearing Aug. 30.

A summons to appear was sent to Smith this week at the Washington State Penitentiary, where he was moved shortly after the incident. He is being held in the Walla Walla prison's Intensive Management Unit, said a state Department of Corrections spokeswoman.

Smith -- who has an alias of Melvin G. Knurbein -- is serving a 26-year term for three counts of assault in a 1996 Snohomish County case. His projected release date is August 2022 for that case.

However, since the Coyote Ridge incident, he also has had serious infractions for threatening someone in September 2010, and fighting and assault in November, the spokeswoman said.

Corrections officers will bring him from Walla Walla for the court hearing.

McDonald, now 47, is in prison for a 2007 attempted robbery conviction in Benton County. He got eight years for following a man to his Richland home and threatening to kill him after seeing the Walmart customer with a wad of money in his wallet.

Smith and McDonald were cellmates when they reportedly began fighting on the second tier of a medium-custody unit at the prison, DOC officials said. It was described as a "pretty violent incident."

Corrections officers found McDonald shortly after 7 a.m. "unconscious and bleeding from a head wound."

Smudge pots are used in some Native American and Wiccan ceremonies to burn incense or sage and create smoke. A prison official at the time said inmates must register their religious beliefs to have "a sacred item" in their cell. The items must first pass approval.

The court documents filed this week said McDonald's skull was fractured in several places, causing serious brain injuries.

McDonald was initially treated at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland, then taken to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Doctors thought McDonald would remain in a coma but he surprised everyone when he woke up a month later. In the meantime, he had undergone surgery on his brain, left eye and sinus.

Ingram told the Tri-City Herald in July 2009 that her brother was targeted for trying to turn his life around and do the right thing. She acknowledged that her brother had done many wrong things in his life, but said he was respected by many at Coyote Ridge for his transformation and was "on the road to living for the Lord."

On Friday, Ingram said her brother is doing better and wears an eye patch to cover his eye socket.

McDonald is now being held in the Monroe Correctional Complex's Twin Rivers Unit. He is not in a special care unit, the DOC spokeswoman said. His release date is set for February 2016.

Ingram said people who don't know her brother would think that he's OK.

"He kind of comes and goes. He'll talk really good and then say other things, like forget stuff," she said. "There is brain damage but he does at least know who we are."