Sara Wright didn’t know what would happen next when a transient held a knife a foot from her face at a Richland Starbucks.
“The unpredictability of it was terrifying,” the registered nurse told a jury Monday during Rory A. Star’s trial for two counts of second-degree assault.
A Benton County jury took about an hour to find the 53-year-old man guilty of both counts after just one day of testimony.
It’s unclear how long a sentence he is facing, but Star already has spent 14 years in prison for a knife attack in 1982 that killed a man.
Richland police said Star first came to their attention in August after a series of reports of lewd and disruptive behavior. They believed he’d been living in a tent in the area.
Richland Officer Erik Noren testified Monday they were first called on Oct. 19 to a disturbance at a Jack in the Box restaurant.
It wasn’t the first time he’d encountered Star. Noren said he was often “severely intoxicated” and provoking people.
“He tends to poke the bear,” Noren said.
He told Star he was trespassing so Star left and walked over to a Starbucks.
Barista Jacob Isley said Star seemed fine when he bought a cup of coffee and sat down. That’s when he apparently spotted Wright working on her laptop.
Wright couldn’t understand what Star was saying to her. He may have mumbled something about her being beautiful, but the incomplete sentences made him impossible to communicate with, she said.
“He seemed like he was out of place,” said another customer Robert J. Schweiger Jr. “He was wearing his sunglasses in Starbucks.”
Isley, Wright and Schweiger testified Star then went outside and tried to get Wright’s attention through a window. When she didn’t respond, Star seemed angry.
Isley and Schweiger described him as stalking back into the store, and Wright said he grabbed a stool and sat next to her, even though they didn’t know each other.
“(Star) said, ‘Do you want to see what’s in my pocket?’” before he took the hunting knife out and held it toward her face, Wright testified.
“I was afraid about what he was going to do,” she said.
He seemed like he was out of place. He was wearing his sunglasses in Starbucks.
Robert J. Schweiger Jr.
The only words people said they could make out were some name-calling profanity, according to their testimony.
Wright got up and moved behind the counter toward an employee backroom, while Schweiger called 911.
Schweiger then followed Star through the coffee shop, staying on the phone with a dispatcher when Star turned, punched a sign and stalked toward him with the knife, Schweiger said.
Isley tried to distract Star by asking if he needed anything.
When Noren and Officer Ronald Schneider arrived at the shop, Star was at the counter holding the knife in front of Isley.
Wright tried to lock herself inside the employee break room. When she couldn’t, she searched for something to defend herself with.
When the officers arrived, Star retreated to a table in the corner and tried to hide the knife in his pocket. He was arrested after a brief struggle.
Deputy Prosecutor Andrew Howell and defense attorney Sam Swanberg argued Monday over whether Star intended to threaten Wright and Schweiger with “great bodily harm.”
Howell said in his closing statement that both victims said they were scared of what Star was going to do.
Swanberg admitted Star had a knife, but said he was acting like a man who wanted to be noticed, not someone who intended to harm anyone.
This is not the same thing as going up to someone and holding a knife to their throat.
Sam Swanberg, defense attorney
Swanberg argued Star’s crime was less serious than prosecutors led jurors to believe. He asked jurors to instead find Star guilty of unlawful display of a weapon, a gross misdemeanor.
“This is not the same thing as going up to someone and holding a knife to their throat. Was this an assault? No.” Swanberg said. “Was this an egregious display of a weapon? Yes. That’s what he did, and that’s what he should be convicted of.”
Several times during cross examination, witnesses admitted Star did not move like he was going to cut anyone, and never said he wanted to hurt anyone.
His sentencing is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday.
Howell said he hadn’t calculated the sentencing range. It is likely going to be affected by the a 1983 conviction from King County Superior Court for second-degree murder.
Star was drinking with a group when he went to a party on Dec. 30, 1982, and later ended up in a fight in a car. Star lunged at the victim, cutting the man’s neck. He died seven days later.
Star was sentenced to 30 years in prison but served 14. The next 15 years of his life were littered with court appearances in lower courts of Western Washington, mostly on gross misdemeanor and misdemeanor charges.