Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Bellevue parents plead not guilty to starving infant


The young Bellevue parents accused of starving their baby to keep the girl from getting fat pleaded not guilty to criminal mistreatment.

Sam Labberton, 24, and Brittainy Labberton, 21, were arraigned Monday in King County Superior Court.

A judge reportedly ordered the couple not to contact the infant and their other daughter, 2 years old, except for supervised visits.

The younger daughter was hospitalized in October for failure to gain sufficient weight, and charging papers allege that the couple admitted to ignoring a pediatrician's advice to feed the child more.

Brittainy described the baby to investigators as "the exorcist," saying she was a fussy eater and often threw up her food, according to prosecutors.

Doctors determined there were no medical factors for the infant's gaunt condition after she ate readily and gained weight at the hospital.

Brittainy and Samuel both told investigators that they thought the baby was getting fat after the girl started gaining weight under foster care, according to charging papers.

Child protective services eventually took the couple's 2-year-old and placed her in foster care after Brittainy talked about killing herself and the child, according to charging documents.

This article was originally published in the Bellevue Reporter on February 2, 2010.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Prosecutors: Man dismembered ex-girlfriend after killing


EVERETT - A Gold Bar man charged with murdering his ex-girlfriend after her burned-out car was found is now accused of dismembering her body and disposing of it in a drive around Snohomish County.

Prosecutors say the suspect, Eric Christensen, 40, of Gold Bar asked a friend to drive him around Snohomish County to help dispose of the woman's remains.

The friend eventually contacted investigators and led them to spots were body parts were recovered, prosecutors say.

Christensen was charged Friday in Snohomish County Superior Court with first-degree murder in the slaying of 35-year-old Sherry Harlan. He previously was ordered held in Snohomish County jail on $2 million bail.

Prosecutors say Harlan was killed sometime between Jan. 2 and 3 after Christensen found a text message from another man on her cellphone.

Court papers say Christensen told police the message was evidence that Harlan had broken a "Wiccan blood oath" she had made to break off a relationship with the other man.

Harlan was reported missing Jan. 5 after she failed to show up for her job at a JCPenney store.

Her burned-out 1989 Nissan Sentra was found Jan. 7 in the Reiter Pit area near Gold Bar. Detectives later said human remains were found inside the car.

During the initial investigation, detectives began focusing on Christensen based on information from friends and neighbors who said Harlan told them her boyfriend had beaten her before.

She told friends she was afraid to break up with him for fear he would come after her and kill her.

Another neighbor reported hearing yelling and fighting on Jan. 2 that appeared to come from Harlan's apartment.

On Jan. 6, detectives searched Christensen's home and car and discovered bloody clothing that appears to belong to him. He also had numerous scratches on his face, forearms, shoulder and lower back, and a stab wound on his right knee.

Christensen initially was arrested and booked Jan. 7 into the Snohomish County Jail for failure to register as a sex offender. He has a 1990 conviction in Oregon for first-degree sexual abuse and is classified as a Level 1 sex offender.

He later was charged with second-degree murder, and the charge was increased Friday to first-degree murder.

Judge orders coroner to change ruling on state trooper's death


A judge has given the Lewis County coroner 10 days to remove the word "suicide" from the death certificate of former Washington state trooper - or else.

"Fail not to obey at your own peril," says a court order issued Friday by Thurston County Superior Court Judge Richard Hicks.

In 1998, trooper Ronda E. Reynolds was found dead in her home of a single gunshot to the head. Lewis County Coroner Terry Wilson ruled her death as a suicide at the time.

But in 2008, a KOMO investigation highlighted evidence and opinions from experts who believed that Reynolds did not take her own life.

In November 2009, after reviewing the evidence, a jury unanimously decided that coroner Wilson was wrong when he called the death a suicide.

The jurors based their decision on a number of inconsistencies in the case, including the position of the gun and the trajectory of the bullet, which did not match a finding of suicide.

But Wilson said he wouldn't change Reynolds' death certificate, and left the issue in the judge's hands.

Judge Hicks issued a ruling Jan. 9 that requires the coroner to remove "suicide" as the cause of death.

The judge's latest order requires Wilson to "reconsider all of the information and evidence available" and issue a new cause of death within 10 days."The jury found that your determination of 'suicide' is inaccurate," the judge's order says.

Under the latest ruling, the cause of death can't be suicide unless the coroner uncovers new evidence that outweighs the evidence considered by the jury.

The order does not require the coroner to list the cause of death as "homicide," but the jurors who reviewed the case had no doubts about it.

Jury forewoman Angel Hubbard said everyone on the jury thought the cause of death was homicide.

"I can say unanimously for all of us - we even talked about that - that we definitely felt it would not, it should not be undetermined, but (move) more towards homicide," said Hubbard.

Nevertheless, Hicks granted a request from Wilson's attorney, John Justice, that jurors' written speculation about the case being a homicide be stricken from the record.

Reynolds' mother Barb Thompson has been fighting ever since 1998 to remove the stigma of suicide from her daughter's name after the lead detective in the investigation outlined a number of inconsistencies in the case.

But she acknowledges that her fight may not be over. Wilson still has the opportunity to appeal this decision.