After eight years of uncertainty, an appeals court has thrown out a 45-year prison sentence of a Clark County man convicted of murder in 2001.
In a 3-0 ruling, the Washington Court of Appeals on Tuesday ordered Jay R. Rich, now 28, to be resentenced to a far lesser punishment.
Rich pleaded guilty to murder and was given an exceptional sentence by Clark County Superior Court Judge Barbara Johnson in connection with the slaying of Bryce Powers on Jan. 13, 2001, while the two worked a shift at the Battle Ground Safeway.
The higher court’s decision means that Rich will not face an exceptional punishment, but one within the standard sentencing range of 22 to 28 years in prison.
The Court of Appeals remanded Rich to be resentenced in 2003, but the case stalled as the court waited on the outcome of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Blakely v. Washington, that gave juries, not judges, the discretion to give longer sentences based on aggravating factors.
Attorneys were waiting on the state Legislature to interpret whether the 2004 Supreme Court ruling could be applied retroactively to past cases, including Rich’s, and whether Rich had to be resentenced under the new guidelines.
In 2007, the Legislature said the ruling could be applied retroactively to cases active since 2004; Rich’s case was active because it was on appeal.
But a decision on Rich’s fate was postponed so many times that the Court of Appeals ruled this week that it violated his right to due process.
“Rich waived his right to a speedy sentence until Blakely was decided, after which he repeatedly objected to the continuances and the stay on appeal,” the Court of Appeals wrote. “Rich’s sentencing hearing was delayed without his consent for over three years.”
Jeff Sowder, who has represented Rich since 2001, said prosecutors continually postponed resentencing since 2004 in hopes that they could impanel a jury to confirm the exceptional punishment.
“You can’t just postpone sentencing until you get a law that’s favorable to the state,” Sowder said.
Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik pointed out that the defendant himself prolonged the proceedings by continually appealing the prosecution’s request to impanel a jury.
“The other argument could be that Rich kept appealing to get a better ruling,” Golik said.
Golik said Tuesday afternoon that he had just received the Court of Appeals decision and didn’t know when Rich will be resentenced. He said he’s considering whether to appeal to the Washington Supreme Court under a 30-day deadline.
Rich was an 18-year-old Evergreen High School student when he killed Powers in the back room of the supermarket, where they both worked, then finished his shift. After work, he drove Powers’ body to Larch Mountain.
Rich’s stepfather reported him to police when he found Powers’ wallet in Rich’s bedroom. Rich later confessed. He said Powers had been chiding him about a girl he used to date, and who was now involved with Powers, and a fight escalated, ending when Rich slit Powers’ throat.
Rich continues to serve his sentence at Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen.
Laura McVicker: 360-735-4516 or firstname.lastname@example.org.