A homeless man who threatened customers with a combat knife inside a Richland Starbucks says he only was trying to get their attention and didn’t intend to cause fear or harm.
Rory Alan Star told a state appellate court that his conduct may have been an illegal display of a weapon, but did not rise to the level of second-degree assault.
The 55-year-old was hoping to get his guilty verdict reversed or thrown out.
But a three-judge panel of the Washington state Court of Appeals in Spokane recently disagreed with Star, saying the evidence was enough to support his December 2016 convictions.
“The state’s evidence demonstrates that Mr. Star was visibly angry, yelling profanities and pointing the knife at both Ms. (Sara) Wright and Mr. (Robert) Schweiger,” the panel wrote in its seven-page opinion. “Ms. Wright testified that Mr. Star’s actions made her fearful for her life, and Mr. Schweiger testified that he was afraid for his safety and that he believed Mr. Star posed a definite threat.”
A Benton County Superior Court jury took about an hour to convict Star on two counts of second-degree assault after a day of testimony.
Star already has served his one-year and five-month prison sentence.
His criminal history also includes a 1983 murder conviction for stabbing an acquaintance in the neck, along with an assault on a man with an unopened beer bottle.
The Seattle slaying happened in the back seat of a car after a night of drinking. Star served just over 14 years of a 30-year sentence in that case.
He eventually moved east through homeless camps, ending up living in a tent at Columbia Point.
Richland police quickly became familiar with Star as he often was violent and and disruptive, and under the influence of alcohol.
It was on Oct. 19, 2016, that police got a call about a disturbance at a Jack in the Box restaurant. Star was told he was trespassing and he left.
But he didn’t go far.
Star walked across the parking lot to Starbucks and went inside. He bought a cup of coffee and sat down, then tried to talk with Wright as she worked on her laptop.
Wright told police he was mumbling and she didn’t understand him, so she smiled and nodded at him before returning to her work.
Eventually, Star appeared “visibly angry,” was pacing, sat down close to Wright, cursed at her and called her a derogatory name. Then he pulled out the knife and shook it in her face.
“The unpredictability of it was terrifying,” Wright testified in Star’s trial.
She alerted an employee before hiding in the employee break room and arming herself with a fire extinguisher.
Meanwhile, Schweiger, another Starbucks customer, called 911 on his cellphone.
Star then yelled profanities at him and knocked over a display sign, court documents said.
Schweigher told the jury he was surprised no one was stabbed because it was “a definite threat,” documents said.
The appellate judges noted that Wright testified that Star was within arm’s length of her when he shook the knife, and Schweiger said the suspect aggressively approached him when he realized the man was calling for help.
“A rational jury could infer from the combination of the hostile verbal encounters, Mr. Star’s visible agitation and the wielding of the knife in a threatening manner,” the opinion states, “... that Mr. Star approached both Ms. Wright and Mr. Schweiger with the intention of putting each of them in reasonable fear and apprehension of bodily harm.”