Appeals court backs exasperated judge on Hastings conviction

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

Published:

Updated: November 30, 2010, 6:22 PM

 
photoMatthew Hastings listens to Judge Wulle read court documents finding Hastings guilty on Feb. 12, 2009 at the Clark County Courthouse.

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The Washington Court of Appeals has rejected claims made by a man convicted of attempted murder that a Clark County judge showed bias when he told the defendant at a 2009 sentencing hearing that he should be gagged and to “shut your damn mouth.”

In an unpublished opinion this fall, the appellate court upheld the conviction of Matthew R. Hastings, whom a jury found guilty of attempted murder and second-degree assault of several police officers during a SWAT standoff in 2007.

Hastings, then 30, was sentenced March 2, 2009, to 120 years in prison by Clark County Superior Court Judge John Wulle.

Among several arguments in his appeal, which was rejected Sept. 8, Hastings contended Wulle “emotionally compromised” his job.

The sentencing hearing featured a heated exchange between Hastings and Wulle after the judge asked the defendant if he graduated high school. Hastings said no and suddenly became enraged, his face and neck flushing red.

“Mr. Hastings, don’t you press your luck with me, son!” Wulle warned. “Or what?” Hastings yelled. “You gonna sentence me?”

“Shut your damn mouth, sir!” Wulle yelled, threatening to have Hastings gagged. “OK, have me gagged then,” Hastings bellowed.

The Court of Appeals said there was no evidence Wulle was bias, but simply appeared frustrated.

“This interaction is an exchange between an antagonistic defendant who appears determined to provoke the court and an experienced trial judge who has lost his patience,” the opinion stated.

The panel of judges also noted in their opinion that Wulle had apologized to people in the courtroom for losing his temper and saying the word “damn.”

In siding with the state, the appellate court further said there was no evidence of bias because Wulle had sentenced Hastings within the sentencing range and approved a punishment recommended by prosecutors.

The higher court also tossed out arguments by Hastings that he was not given a continuance on his trial so he could better prepare a defense and was a victim of double jeopardy because prosecutors filed firearm enhancements to charges of attempted murder and assault.

Hastings’ case relates to a shootout with SWAT officers on July 28, 2007, at a Cascade Park home. After Hastings purported to have a hostage, officers were called to the scene. Upon entering the house, Hastings shot at several of them, injuring one officer. The officers fired back, but Hastings wasn’t injured.

At trial, Hastings unsuccessfully presented a mental health defense, saying he was a paranoid schizophrenic high on methamphetamine and couldn’t form intent.

He’s currently incarcerated at Clallam Bay Corrections Center.

Laura McVicker: 360-735-4516 or laura.mcvicker@columbian.com.