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Wednesday, June 7, 2023
June 7, 2023

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Murder charges dismissed against former penitentiary inmate accused of killing cellmate in Walla Walla


WALLA WALLA — Destroyed evidence has led to charges being dismissed against a former Washington State Penitentiary inmate accused of killing his cellmate in 2019.

A second-degree murder charge against James L. Boyd, who is already is serving more than 20 years in prison for multiple convictions including assault, kidnapping and witness tampering, was dismissed with prejudice March 8 by Walla Walla County Superior Court Judge Brandon L. Johnson.

The dismissal comes after Boyd’s public defender, Walla Walla attorney Nicholas Holce, argued that because the victim’s body and collected samples had been destroyed before the defense could examine them, the charges should be dismissed.

Since the case was dismissed with prejudice, it cannot be refiled later.

Boyd was accused of killing Keenan Thomas, a Pasco resident who shared a cell with him.

Thomas was found dead in his cell Oct. 17, 2019. His family later sued the state for negligence in his death. That suit settled for $3 million in 2021.

Boyd wasn’t formally charged in connection to Thomas’ death until 2022.

One obstacle in the state’s case was that two different medical examiners could not determine a cause of death.

According to Holce’s motion to dismiss, when the first examiner, Dr. Sigmund Menchel, retired in 2020, the body and collected samples — which had been stored at a funeral home — were incinerated.

Because Menchel found the cause of the death to be “undetermined,” Walla Walla County Coroner Richard Greenwood requested a second examination by Dr. J. Matthew Lacy of the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office, which occurred in 2021.

Because the evidence had already been destroyed, Lacy had to use photos to conduct his investigation.

According to Holce’s motion, Lacy, while not ruling out strangulation as a possible cause of death, also mentioned infections, physical disorders and a drug overdose from a substance not tested for as possibilities.

In his decision, Johnson wrote that while he did not find any “misconduct or malfeasance” on the part of the state, the result of the destroyed evidence was still unfairly damaging to the defense.

“While the first pathologist’s retirement and destruction of evidence may have been an innocent oversight, there is no need for a determination of bad faith when the subject evidence is material exculpatory evidence,” Johnson wrote.

Boyd has a history of violence against his cellmates. In 2015, he was convicted of second-degree assault in connection to a 2014 incident in which he attacked a sleeping cellmate at Grant County Jail.

According to Washington’s Department of Corrections’ website, he is serving his sentence at Clallam Bay Corrections Center.

Thomas was less than a year from being released on good behavior at the time of his death, The Seattle Times reported. He was serving a sentence on domestic violence-related convictions.