New trial for formerly convicted Quilcene double-murderer — but where?

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT TOWNSEND — One day after the state Supreme Court declined to overrule a lower court ruling granting a convicted murderer a new trial, legal sides in the case voiced opposite opinions about a change of venue.

Michael J. Pierce of Quilcene was convicted in 2010 of the first-degree murders of Pat and Janice Yarr on March 18, 2009, in their farmhouse near Lake Leland.

In a July 17 decision, the state Court of Appeals unanimously reversed the conviction — for which Pierce, 36, is serving a life sentence at Walla Walla State Penitentiary — and sent the case back to Jefferson County for a new trial.

The ruling stated that Pierce was denied access to his attorney and that Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Scott Rosekrans’ closing arguments were inappropriate.

Rosekrans filed a request in August requesting that the state Supreme Court review the appellate decision, and on Thursday, the high court in Olympia declined to hear the case.

In the wake of the Supreme Court denial, Rosekrans said he feels that the case still can be tried in Jefferson County.

But Richard Davies, Pierce’s attorney during the first trial who is continuing, is advocating a change of venue.

“By having the trial in Jefferson County, we are continuing to deny Michael a fair trial,” Davies said.

“He could get a fair hearing in Kitsap or another county.

“With all the press and the news about his confession, which was suppressed, it will be very hard to find a jury, and the Court of Appeals recommended a change of venue.”

Rosekrans said a change of venue only can be awarded if a jury cannot be found locally.

He said he thinks he will be able to find and seat a jury, adding that he had no trouble doing so during the first trial, for which the controversy has died down.

“It’s no longer a hot topic,” said Chief Criminal Deputy Chris Ashcraft, who helped prosecute the original case.

“A lot has happened since then: We’ve had a presidential election, marijuana has been legalized, everyone has moved on except the [Yarr] family.”

Rosekrans said he has assured the Yarr family that the case will be fully prosecuted the second time and will not suffer from a lack of funds.

Rosekrans said it will cost only slightly less than the $370,883 used to prosecute the original case since some expert witnesses and a death penalty-certified lawyer won’t be needed again.

The reimbursement from the state is also an unknown quantity.

The county received $197,000 from the state’s Extraordinary Criminal Justice Costs Act in 2010, which might not be available this time, Rosekrans said.

Otherwise, the case’s presentation will be identical, aside from the use of the suppressed confession, Rosekrans said.

He also plans to be more circumspect in his closing arguments.

“In a lot of trials, one piece of evidence can be suppressed, and it ruins your case — but that’s not true here,” Rosekrans said.

“We have enough to convict without the confession.”

Ashcraft said the case was fairly straightforward, calling it “an assault case without the victim.”

Davies said his case also will closely resemble that of the original trial.

Pierce is expected to be returned to Jefferson County jail from Walla Walla in the next few days, after which time the trial must occur within 60 days.

Rosekrans said he is ready for the retrial and that the case files have never left his office.

Even with the same prosecutor and defense attorney, one key player in Jefferson County would differ when Keith Harper is sworn in as Superior Court judge.

Craddock D. Verser, who presided over the original trial, did not seek re-election this fall.

Harper was elevated to the bench by voters Nov. 6.


Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at

Last modified: December 08. 2012 5:57PM
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