Murder sentence is reduced by 17 years

Victim’s family clamors its grief, but judge can do no more

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

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On a January night in 2001, Jay Rich slit the throat of his co-worker at a Battle Ground Safeway and, later, dumped the body in a remote area of Larch Mountain.

Rich pleaded guilty later that year to first-degree murder. A Clark County judge, citing four aggravating factors, sentenced him to an exceptional punishment of 45 years in prison.

With that sentence, victim Bryce Powers’ family said they believed justice had been served.

On Friday, Rich was resentenced to a reduced 28 years because of a legal technicality in the way exceptional sentences are imposed.

The family called it an injustice.

“My grandson will never be able to appeal his death sentence,” Clyde Powers said Friday, calling Rich a “predator.”

The Court of Appeals threw out Rich’s 45-year sentence because of a change in the interpretation of the law, assigning juries, not judges, the power to give sentences outside the standard sentencing range.

During Friday’s hour-and-a-half resentencing hearing before Clark County Superior Court Judge Barbara Johnson, Powers’ relatives spent much of the time speaking about the brutality of the murder and their frustration after the Court of Appeals’ decision.

In handing down the new sentence, the judge was sympathetic to the victim’s family. She said it was “regrettable” that the action causes pain for Powers’ family.

“Hearing the extent of suffering is something I don’t usually hear 10 or 11 years later,” Johnson said, adding that she hopes the new sentence will bring some closure.

Johnson sentenced Rich, now 29, to the highest penalty she could under the standard sentencing range of 22 to 28 years.

He gets credit for the more than 10 years he has already served. He won’t receive any time off for good behavior until after he’s served at least 22 years.

Rich’s appeal had been in limbo since a 2004 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Blakely vs. Washington. The court ruled that juries, not judges, have the discretion to order longer sentences. Attorneys were waiting on the state Legislature to interpret whether the new law could be applied to past cases. The Legislature in 2007 decided that it could. But a series of “stays” on the case for various reasons stalled the outcome.

Finally, this spring, the Washington Court of Appeals remanded Rich to be resentenced within the standard range. The appeals court ruled a jury could not be impaneled for his resentencing. The Clark County Prosecutor’s Office appealed to the state Supreme Court. The higher court denied review.

“We very strongly disagree with the Court of Appeals’ decision,” Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik said after the resentencing. “This was a horrible case that very much deserved an exceptional sentence.”

Family speaks

When he addressed the judge Friday, Bret Powers, Bryce’s father, said he was offended at how his 20-year-old son’s killer had been portrayed at the time of the 2001 sentencing. Court officials and media had highlighted how Rich was a good student, a varsity high school athlete and a member of the Civil Air Patrol.

Bret Powers said he wanted to point out Rich’s dark side. The defendant was a perpetual liar. He was known to cut himself. He kept more than a half-dozen knives in his bedroom — and always carried one. He also was known to bully those smaller than him, like Bryce Powers, Bret Powers said.

“He’s a defective human being,” Bret Powers said. “What he was then is what he ever will be.”

Bret Powers said the killing was unprovoked — even though Rich professed he was jealous of Bryce Powers because Bryce was dating a girl who used to date Rich.

Pointing his finger, Bret Powers said: “You murdered him. … You bushwacked him.”

When it was the defense’s turn to speak, attorney Jeff Sowder said his client had prepared a written statement but no longer wished to read it.

It didn’t seem relevant or appropriate anymore, Sowder said.

Laura McVicker: http://www.twitter.com/col_courts; http://www.facebook.com/reportermcvicker; laura.mcvicker@columbian.com; 360-735-4516.