Updated at 8:35 p.m.
By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – The convicted triple murderer who once called Onalaska home is seeking to the put an end to practices he contends are eavesdropping by the state on Lewis County Jail inmates, jeopardizing their rights to confidential communications with their lawyers.
And he’s already made some progress.
John Allen Booth Jr.
John Allen Booth Jr., now 34, is serving a life sentence at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla for the shootings in a Salkum area home almost three years ago. Prosecutors argued Booth and a fellow former cell mate visited a house off Gore Road because they were “taxing” the man who lived there – with his girlfriend and teenage son – on behalf of Lewis County drug dealer Robbie Russell.
In a typewritten motion, Booth tells of law enforcement officers standing outside the jail’s row of visiting rooms while he consulted with his attorneys and their investigators. He points out that people almost had to yell back and forth to be heard through the transparent partitions.
He states he could easily hear the conversations of other lawyers and accused persons all around him.
“On many occasions, other attorneys informed Mr. Booth and whoever with him he was consulting with they could hear everything that was being said, and there were sheriff’s deputies outside in the hallway,” Booth writes.
In his filing, Booth included affidavits by other former inmates to bolster his accusation, and a letter from Centralia attorney Don Blair.
The letter states it’s been an ongoing problem at the jail that Blair has brought up to the jail administration and judges, noting he told them it was only a matter of time that an inmate would have an issue with the lack of confidentiality during attorney visits.
“The state made sure they learned my trial strategy and harassed any witnesses I wanted to bring forth,” Booth wrote.
He calls it “ear hustling”.
The filing made in December is the reason Booth was scheduled to appear in Lewis County Superior Court this week, although his hearing was cancelled because Judge Richard Brosey was in trial.
The filing specifically alleges governmental misconduct and the state’s infringement of Booth’s right to counsel. It’s part of a motion to vacate the judgement and sentence based on court rule 7.8.
Lewis County Chief Criminal Deputy Brad Meagher said it’s separate from the appeal those convicted can make to the Washington State Court of Appeals.
“Defendants have this other option,” Meagher said. “You can move to set aside your judgement on a limited variety of grounds.”
A third avenue which can be pursued is called a personal restraint petition. Booth reportedly is working on all three types of appeals.
Lewis County Jail Chief Kevin Hanson said he began taking steps to mitigate the problem when he first found out it was an issue in recent months, after Booth’s motion was filed.
While routine jail visits were long ago moved to a computer screen system in which the inmate doesn’t leave the cell, the six cement-walled booths that remain are used for face to face visits with lawyers and sometimes others, according to Hanson. The glass partitions have small holes around their perimeter meant for voices to get across.
“These rooms were never totally soundproof,” Hanson said. “It’s the way they were designed.”
At first, the jail began restricting inmate-attorney visits to only one set at a time, Hanson said.
Now he has had phones installed on each side of each booth.
“We installed carpet to muffle sounds like chairs scratching on the floor,” he said. “And we’re installing sound board, acoustical sheeting, on the cement walls.”
Hanson has told the Lewis County Board of Commissioners it won’t fix all the related problems, but at least will show they’ve made an effort.
Hanson said it’s not an issue that corrections officers stand in the hallway, and that they do so for high-risk inmates.
Booth was held in the Lewis County Jail from August 27, 2010 until he was sentenced on Dec. 16, 2011 under the so-called three strikes law to life in prison with no chance for release.
The victims, David West Sr., 52; his son David “D.J.” West Jr., 16; and 50-year-old Tony Williams of Randle were each fatally shot in the head on Aug. 21, 2010. Denise Salts, 51, was shot in the face but survived. Booth was also convicted of attempted extortion and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Booth denied shooting any of them, although he admitted being at the home earlier in the evening saying West Sr. owed him money from a pound of methamphetamine.
Booth raised other issues in his motion, claiming a deputy told him he listened to recorded conversations Booth had with his attorney, jail staff snooped through his cell where he had defense strategy notes and read his mail and a sheriff’s detective sat directly behind he and his attorney during his trial eavesdropping. He also noted that during trial recesses a corrections officer always accompanied him and his lawyer into a room set aside for them.
He wrote in court documents his filings should be considered filed timely, as he spent his first full year in prison in “the hole” and couldn’t do it any sooner. He writes that he has been working diligently.
The court assigned defense attorney Erik Kupka and his office partner to represent Booth on the matters and they appeared before Judge Brosey in February. At that hearing, Booth asked the judge about other issues, such as DNA evidence from the autopsies that turned up in a locker at the coroner’s office long after his trial was over.
Booth stated in court documents he was told to file another motion. And he did.
At the end of March he filed new papers under the same type of motion claiming the state acted fraudulently for failing to disclose the DNA evidence, for failing to disclose a plea agreement with Salts and failing to notify the defense she had a multimillion dollar incentive by way of a lawsuit with the state Department of Corrections to help convict him.
In an accompanying letter, he requested Kupka be appointed to represent him on the supplemental motion. But added: “And if you don’t give me a lawyer, just let me know, and I’ll gladly represent myself.”
Kupka said this week he hasn’t been made aware of Booth’s new issues.
“He may be bringing it to the court’s attention, to have the court assign me,” he said. “That’s what you’ve got to do to get the ball rolling,” he said.
Meagher said the court hearing which was planned for Tuesday and didn’t happen was specifically to focus on a disagreement between he and Kupka.
“He wants the state to produce a lot of material,” Meagher said, giving as an example, a list of who works at the jail. “We said no.”
The court hearing was rescheduled for Sept. 3.
Also new in the six-volume court file are documents which hint at an issue Booth’s appellate counsel is looking at.
Attorney Stephanie Cunningham filed a request for transcripts from the proceedings during which jurors were selected, also known as voire dire.
Cunningham was appointed in May of last year to represent Booth for his appeal, which was filed for him the day he was sentenced.
His accompanying declaration states that his trial attorney Roger Hunko erred, and that a juror who was a neighbor of one of the deceased should have been struck for cause.
For background, read “Judge will hear Onalaskan’s request to toss his murder convictions this coming September” from Monday February 4, 2013, here