By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – Evidence from the triple murder in Salkum has turned up in the Lewis County Coroner’s Office, apparently never getting into the hands of law enforcement or attorneys in the case.
Lewis County Coroner Warren McLeod said finger nail clippings and hair trimmings from all three victims were found in a sealed bag in the work locker of a former deputy coroner.
He said today he thought it turned up about a month ago.
John A. Booth Jr., 32, was tried, convicted and sent to prison for life in December for the fatal shootings of David West Sr., 52, David “D.J.” West Jr., 16, and 50-year-old Tony Williams of Randle.
The three, along with Denise Salts who survived, were found in the home Salts and the Wests shared on Wings Way in the Onalaska-Salkum area on August 21, 2010.
Defense attorney Roger Hunko – who represented Booth – said today he didn’t know anything about it but said he was dumbfounded.
“It sounds interesting,” Hunko said.
Both Hunko and elected Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer say it is a potential appeal issue for Booth.
Normally defense attorneys get to look at all of the prosecution’s evidence in a case.
“Can they try to make an issue? They can try,” Meyer said this afternoon.
Meyer said however, in this case he doesn’t see it as a problem, as the items were mentioned in reports.
Meyer said he plans to disclose the fact to both Hunko and Booth’s appeal attorney they now have this evidence and “see what the defense wants to do about it.”
The evidence was collected at the coroner’s office during the autopsies, according to McLeod.
He said he didn’t know why it wasn’t taken away by the sheriff’s office representative he presumed was in attendance or why it ended up in an employee locker.
McLeod said he called Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Brad Meagher after the discovery.
It’s not clear if anyone knew the evidence was missing.
McLeod was elected the November after the homicides and took office officially in January 2011.
“What we have in place now, if law enforcement is not present we’ll notify them to come over and collect that (kind of evidence),” McLeod said.
There’s no “chain of custody” documentation with it, according to McLeod.
McLeod said his staff had cut the locks from previous employee’s lockers to get inside them and that’s when it was found.
Both Meyer and McLeod said they expect something like this won’t happen again.
“We’ve worked out the issues and I hope we won’t have similar problems in the future,” Meyer said.
Booth’s attorney filed a notice of appeal the day he was convicted.
The former Onalaska resident who was sentenced under the so-called three strikes law said in a jail house interview after his conviction he could “guarantee” he would have a new trial within the next five years.