Lawyer’s relationship puts murder case on hold

Defense attorney linked romantically to detective

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

Published:

Updated: July 20, 2011, 6:07 PM

 

The case of a Vancouver man charged with aggravated murder is on hold, so a judge can sort out a claim of an unusual conflict of interest: The defense attorney is dating a former major crimes detective.

Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik sought Wednesday to remove veteran defense attorney Bob Yoseph from the case because of Yoseph’s romantic relationship with Vancouver police Officer Jane Easter. Easter formerly was part of the major crimes unit, specializing in fraud cases and assisting in homicide investigations. She now works patrol.

Golik said Easter played a minor role in the investigation of Dennis Wolter, who is accused of repeatedly stabbing his live-in girlfriend May 26 and then dumping her body down an embankment along old Evergreen Highway.

Golik told Judge Robert Lewis that he didn’t know the extent of Easter’s role or whether she would be called as a witness should Wolter’s case go to trial.

“The state is in an awkward and precarious situation at this point,” Golik said.

The judge set a hearing Aug. 5 to determine whether he needs to appoint a different attorney — a difficult task as he must find a defense attorney designated by the Supreme Court to handle potential death penalty cases.

Yoseph is one of a few attorneys in Clark County with that distinction.

Wolter’s arraignment was originally scheduled for Wednesday. But the defendant agreed to postpone the hearing until after the judge makes a decision on his attorney.

The issue, Golik said in court, is that leaving Yoseph on the case would give the defendant a reason to appeal should he be convicted. On appeal, Wolter could claim Yoseph was soft on witnesses. Or, he contended, there’s the risk Easter could learn private details about the defense’s strategy.

Golik said Easter still has strong ties to the major crimes team.

It is unclear how long Yoseph, 60, and Easter, 45, have been dating. Attorneys described their relationship as a “domestic partnership.”

Therese Lavallee, co-counsel for Wolter, said her client wants Yoseph to stay on the case. She said Wolter understands the potential conflict, has consulted independent attorneys and has signed a waiver to not protest it.

The judge said he will appoint a lawyer with death penalty expertise to give Wolter legal advice.

Prosecutors have not yet decided whether to seek capital punishment against Wolter. They have a 30-day deadline after a defendant’s arraignment to make that decision. Aggravated murder carries a punishment of either life in prison or the death penalty.

Wolter is charged with the state’s only capital crime because he reportedly violated a domestic violence no-contact order barring him from the victim, Kori Fredericksen.

Wolter was arrested after he was stopped by a Camas police officer for speeding and was found to be covered in blood, according to court documents.

Investigators searching the area of the traffic stop found the body of Fredericksen, 41, down a steep embankment along Southeast Evergreen Highway. She had been stabbed repeatedly.

He is being held without bail in the Clark County Jail.

Laura McVicker: 360-735-4516; Twitter: col_courts; laura.mcvicker@columbian.com.