A man accused of stabbing his grandfather in the neck in an unprovoked attack at his home in the Minnehaha area was convicted Friday of attempted first-degree murder.
The Clark County Superior Court jury returned the guilty verdict against 27-year-old Zakary A. French after deliberating for about an hour.
In addition to the charge, jurors also found the crime was committed against a family member with a deadly weapon, as well as an aggravating factor — egregious lack of remorse — that allows for an exceptional sentence. Jurors also had the option to consider a lesser-included charge of attempted second-degree murder.
French is scheduled to be sentenced May 21.
Clark County sheriff’s deputies were dispatched about 8:50 a.m. April 11, 2018, to 4000 N.E. 44th Ave., for a reported stabbing. Responding deputies found then-69-year-old Richard LaFountain in the dining area of the home, where he was bleeding profusely from his neck, according to an affidavit of probable cause. He was taken to a hospital for treatment.
LaFountain’s wife, another grandson and the grandson’s girlfriend were all home at the time but in different areas of the residence. They said they heard the doorbell ring, and then minutes later, heard LaFountain calling for help, the affidavit states.
LaFountain reportedly told his family that French stabbed him. French left before deputies arrived, but he was found at a nearby park, where he was living in a tent.
While being taken into custody, he asked deputies if the “state has lethal injection.” He then called the deputies derogatory names, they said, and mumbled to himself as if someone was there, according to court documents.
When investigators tried to interview French, he “passionately stated, ‘I stabbed him in the throat; no regrets. I hope he’s dead. He’s dead, isn’t he?’” the affidavit states.
French had undergone multiple competency evaluations leading up to trial.
Both the prosecution and defense agreed he suffers from mental illness, but they disagreed as to whether it impacted his ability to form intent.
During closing arguments Friday afternoon, Deputy Prosecutor Jessica Smith told the jury French “knew exactly what he was doing when he stabbed his grandfather.” She said he formulated a plan, took steps to execute it and became angry when it didn’t work out. She described it as an “elaborate plan” to try to die by lethal injection.
Smith further argued that French showed an egregious lack of remorse and continues to do so, as evidenced by statements he made to deputies. She said he stated that he “would probably be on the news tonight” and told jail staff he “deserved a shower because he just killed his grandfather.”
“He’s made it pretty clear to us, he does not regret his actions,” she told the jury.
Although there was disagreement on French’s diagnosis, Smith said, providers agreed that according to his own account, he had intent to kill and the capacity to form intent.
One of French’s attorneys, Neil Anderson of Vancouver Defenders, told jurors his client is a “profoundly mentally ill person” and saw attacking his grandfather as a means to an end. French wanted to die by suicide, Anderson said, but he was unaware that the state no longer has the death penalty.
“It was a naive plan based on inaccurate information, and I would argue it was a delusional plan,” he told the jury.
French had been released from a hospital nine days before the attack, the attorney said. He had been admitted to mental health institutions five times and prescribed multiple anti-psychotic medications in the years prior, Anderson added.
He argued that “greater weight should be put on not what (French) did but what was going on in his mind.” French’s capacity to inform intent was impaired, and there is insufficient evidence of premeditation, Anderson said.
This was French’s second trial in the April 2018 incident. Last month, Judge Gregory Gonzales declared a mistrial after jurors expressed concerns about exposure to COVID-19 and asked to be excused.