After hearing testimony about three teens who went on a three-month cat-shooting spree earlier this year, Judge Rich Melnick kept saying the word, “disturbing.”
“Obviously, it’s a disturbing situation,” the judge said Wednesday.
“This is a disturbing case,” he added minutes later after hearing more evidence.
Senior Deputy Prosecutor Kasey Vu had told the judge that Mitchell Kangas, 16, and Jaren Koistinen, 17, spent March to June driving around northern Clark County and shooting cats. Some were killed; most were injured. One cat was paralyzed, “so the cat’s crawling on his front two paws,” Vu said.
In total, Vu said the teens admitted to police to shooting at 100 cats and two dogs. Kangas and Koistinen only admitted in court to 12 shootings, pleading guilty to 12 counts of first-degree animal cruelty and one count of drive-by shooting. Riley Munger, 17, who said he only participated in one night’s shooting, pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree animal cruelty.
As the teens entered their pleas, several victims sat behind them in the courtroom, waiting to address the judge about the teens’ sentence. Others stood in the packed courtroom for their turn. They would have to wait.
Sentencing was set to happen at Wednesday’s hearing. But the judge said he needed more time to review the case after receiving two large volumes of psychological tests and a folder of victim impact statements. He also ordered juvenile officials to conduct a pre-sentence report of the three.
A hearing to set sentencing was set for Thursday morning.
Vu said he planned to recommend a 108-week sentence, or just over two years in a juvenile institution. Steve Thayer, attorney for Kangas, and Tom Phelan, attorney for Koistinen, said they planned to recommend a one-year sentence.
The least culpable, Munger, agreed to a 30-day sentence in juvenile hall, defense attorney Mike Foister said.
In the juvenile system, a two-year sentence for those charges is well above the standard sentencing range. But Kangas and Koistinen agreed to an exceptional range of 52 to 108 weeks as part of the plea bargain, Vu said.
The hearing also served as the teens’ arraignment, as prosecutors didn’t charge them until Tuesday afternoon. Vu said he was in negotiations with defense attorneys since the teens’ June 5 arrest to resolve the case before making a formal charging decision.
Vu told the judge the case surfaced when a Battle Ground resident reported to police that her cat was shot the evening of June 5. She described the shooters’ dark-colored SUV. Minutes later, an officer stopped a Ford Explorer that matched the description.
Two rifles were found inside, Vu said, as well as hundreds of rounds of ammunition. In an interview with police, Kangas and Koistinen admitted to the shooting that evening and dozens of others.
“He (Koistinen) couldn’t give a definitive number,” Vu said. “According to him, they always shot from the car and they didn’t get out to check on the cats.”
The judge asked the defendants which one did the most shootings. Kangas said he and Koistinen alternated between driving and shooting.
When Munger’s case was heard, he initially said he went along with the two not knowing they were going to shoot cats. His attorney clarified that Munger quickly realized that was the plan. Foister also told the judge that Munger hid the gun when the police officer stopped the SUV.
“Do you agree that your actions were aiding and abetting?,” Melnick asked. Munger said yes.
Court papers indicate that Munger didn’t do any of the actual shootings, but pointed out cats for the others to shoot.
Kangas and Koistinen were taken into custody following the hearing; Munger was released to his parents.
All three teens have no criminal record. Kangas and Koistinen are juniors at Battle Ground High School and Munger is a senior at La Center High School.