Connell inmate pleads innocent to attempted murder

PASCO -- Two years after a Connell prisoner was nearly bludgeoned to death, the man allegedly responsible for the attack made his first court appearance Tuesday under heavy guard.

Kenneth Smith, 34, was flanked by two state corrections officers while at least three others stood nearby during the Franklin County Superior Court hearing.

Franklin County corrections officers also provided extra security while Smith entered an innocent plea in the June 2009 beating of Scott McDonald that has been described as a "pretty violent incident."

McDonald, of Pasco, surprised doctors when he survived the attack but he lost his left eye and suffered brain damage.

Smith is charged with first-degree attempted murder, with first-degree assault offered as an alternative.

He would face a mandatory life sentence on the attempted murder if prosecutors can prove he is a "persistent offender" with previous convictions on two separate occasions for "a most serious offense."

Smith is in custody in the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla on a 26-year sentence from Snohomish County. He was convicted of three counts of assault in 1996.

Since the incident involving McDonald at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center, Smith has had serious infractions for threatening someone, fighting and assault, according to Department of Corrections officials. He is being held in the Walla Walla facility's Intensive Management Unit and will remain there while this case is pending.

Tuesday, McDonald's sister and other family members clasped hands, stared at Smith and cried when he entered the courtroom in an orange DOC jumpsuit, handcuffs and leg shackles.

Laurie Ingram told the Herald earlier this month she was overjoyed charges that finally had been filed and that Smith now would have to answer for his alleged actions on June 29, 2009.

Smith and McDonald, now 47, were housed together in the Connell prison when Smith used a smudge pot wrapped inside a pillowcase to repeatedly hit his cellmate on the head.

The men had been fighting on the second tier of a medium-custody unit, authorities said at the time. Corrections officers found McDonald shortly after 7 a.m. "unconscious and bleeding from a head wound."

Smudge pots must be approved by prison officials, but are used in some Native American and Wiccan ceremonies to burn incense or sage and create smoke.

McDonald's skull was fractured in several places, causing serious brain injuries. He was initially treated at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland, then taken to Seattle's Harborview Medical Center.

He remained in a coma for about a month, and during that time had surgery on his brain, left eye and sinus. He now wears an eye patch to cover his eye socket.

McDonald is in the Monroe Correctional Complex's Twin Rivers Unit serving time on a 2007 Benton County conviction for attempted robbery. 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's trial is set for Nov. 2.

-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531;