A 38-year-old man who lived at a transitional housing apartment complex in Vancouver was found guilty Wednesday of killing two of his neighbors and trying to kill another.
A Clark County Superior Court jury convicted Dustin L. Zapel of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of first-degree attempted murder. Jurors also returned a special verdict, finding that Zapel was armed with a deadly weapon when he committed the crimes.
Zapel did not react as Judge John Fairgrieve delivered the jury’s decision. He turned and faced jurors, showing no emotion, as each of them confirmed they individually and as a group concluded that he was responsible for the deaths of Thomas West, 42, and James Olsen, 55, in the early morning of July 16, 2017.
During opening statements, neither the prosecutor nor the defense attorney had denied that Zapel stabbed to death West and Olsen. He and the victims lived at the Central Park Place Apartments, 1900 Fort Vancouver Way.
Instead, the case rested on Zapel’s state of mind. Senior Deputy Prosecutor Anna Klein said Zapel “acted with premeditation to stab two men to death and to chase after a third man and attempt to stab him. He had been thinking about what it would be like to kill someone.”
Defense attorney Jeff Sowder argued that premeditation is different than intent, and the two concepts should be considered separately. Sowder also said Zapel has a long history of mental illness.
According to court records, on the night of the murders, arriving officers found West and Olsen’s bodies in the apartment complex’s courtyard. Surveillance cameras videotaped the act, which police said appeared to be unprovoked.
Klein said Zapel was wandering around the common areas of the apartment complex at 1:20 a.m. when he came upon West in a smoking area. Zapel then stabbed West 26 times, according to the prosecutor. Next, he attacked Olsen, stabbing him 18 times.
David Garner stumbled on the grisly scene, and Zapel tried to attack him, but he escaped and called 911. This was the basis for the attempted murder charge.
Sentencing was set for May 12. All criminal dockets in adult and juvenile court, except for in-custody first appearances, are being continued until after April 24. Individual judges will consider written requests to hear other matters outside a docket on a case-by-case basis.
Sowder leaned over to Zapel to explain the delay. “COVID stuff,” he said. The defense attorney told his client he’d be handing over his dress clothes and heading back to the jail.
“OK,” Zapel replied plainly.
The victims’ family members declined to comment about the verdict outside of the courtroom, stating they needed time to process the hearing and would save their thoughts for their victim impact statements during sentencing.