Crime

W. Richland man gets 10 years for taking wallet

KENNEWICK — A West Richland man who got drunk and punched a woman for her wallet just months after he had finished a 20-year sentence is going back to prison for another decade.

Jimmy Ray Mueller, 41, avoided a life sentence under Washington's three-strikes law by accepting a plea deal Thursday that was agreeable to the victim and police.

"You need to stay out of trouble when you get out," Judge Craig Matheson told Mueller. "There's nothing much I can say about that. You know where you're going."

Mueller has spent almost half of his life behind bars. His recently completed sentence was for shooting a drunk off-duty policeman in a 1992 Pasco robbery attempt, just an hour after robbing a Kennewick man of his wallet.

On Thursday, Mueller pleaded guilty in Benton County Superior Court to first-degree theft and third-degree assault. The charges were reduced from second-degree robbery.

In addition to the 10-year term for the theft, he was given a three-year, six-month sentence for the assault, which will be served at the same time. After he is released from prison on this case, he will be required to do 18 months on community custody.

Mueller had nothing to say to the judge before he was sentenced.

But his defense lawyer, Larry Zeigler, pointed out that his client's probation officer "made it bitterly clear" how disappointed she was when she learned of the crime because Mueller "had been doing so well."

Zeigler said his client is not supposed to be drinking, but went out one night and ended up extremely intoxicated.

"This is what happens. He's just one of those people who can't drink, period," the lawyer said. "He can't touch it."

According to court documents, Mueller was at Ty's Tavern on West Van Giesen Street last June when another patron watched him open Tessa Sexton's purse and remove her wallet. Mueller took money out of the wallet and looked in the purse for more before walking out of the bar with the wallet, documents said.

The witness told Sexton, who then followed Mueller out and confronted him about the theft. Mueller threw down her wallet and punched Sexton in the face, court documents said.

Two men tackled Mueller and held him until West Richland police arrived.

Officers reportedly found the missing money in Mueller's clothing.

Sexton was bruised and sore after being hit in the jaw, and was unable to chew solid food for a week, documents said.

In an interview after his arrest, Mueller told police "he had too much to drink and he doesn't remember a thing."

Mueller's criminal history includes convictions back to 1988 for first-degree robbery, first-degree assault, attempted first-degree robbery, attempting to elude and first- and second-degree burglary.

He was on community custody at the time for his 1992 guilty pleas to the assault, attempted robbery and robbery.

Mueller was on crutches Jan. 23, 1992, when Robert Harmsen offered him a ride. Harmsen was bitten and hit in the head with a crutch, then robbed by Mueller and Mueller's girlfriend, Darla Campbell.

An hour later, the couple hitched a ride to Pasco from Kennewick police Officer Dave Haven, who was an off-duty detective.

Mueller was in the back seat when he began choking Haven from behind and biting him, while telling Campbell to take Haven's wallet, according to Herald news reports. Campbell couldn't get the wallet, so Mueller ordered Haven to park the car.

Outside the car, Mueller struck Haven with a crutch, took the officer's loaded revolver from the back seat and shot Haven in the thigh, hip and hand during a struggle.

Mueller then pistol-whipped the officer, who had collapsed to the ground.

Haven himself reportedly was intoxicated while driving a Tri-City Metro Drug Task Force unmarked car, and was demoted as a result of the incident.

Mueller's leg had been broken nine months earlier when he was trying to outrun a Kennewick police officer.

Mueller was facing a "third strike" in the current case because of his history. His probation officer, Sharon Raebel, advised prosecutors that after his release from prison in late 2009, Mueller was submitting clean urine samples for drug testing, was making his appointments and had reintegrated himself back in the community, court documents said.

"All of the people consulted believed that the more appropriate punishment in this matter was 10 years rather than life," a document said.

Deputy Prosecutor Anita Petra, in her statement on the reduction, said, "This amendment did not come easily and was the result of many factors."

Sexton, 34, of West Richland, and responding officers that night all said Mueller was drunk.

"Whereas, this does not excuse his behavior, it could be a factor in assessing his capacity to understand his actions," Petra wrote.

Also, the victim and police believe the 10-year term is an appropriate punishment instead of life in prison, she said.

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

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