Wednesday, December 07, 2005

PHS Class of '95

A classmate of mine from PHS sent this article to me today.
(NOTE: Originally I linked to the article, but as the Tri-City Herald seems to require membership to look at articles, I'll quote it here.)

Orange pleads guilty

This story was published Tuesday, December 6th, 2005
By Kristin M. Kraemer, Herald staff writer

A man locked up since his arrest in a 1994 murder could get out of prison in about four years after admitting Monday that he fired the bullets that killed a teenage girl. Christopher Orange was sentenced to 18 years in prison for his Alford pleas to second-degree murder and first-degree assault in a case that was sent back last year by the state Supreme Court for a new trial.

The time is much less than the 60 years Orange received in 1995 after his initial conviction on eight crimes, including first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder.

His decision to plead Monday came after lengthy negotiations between his lawyers, Jeffery Robinson and Kimberly Gordon of Seattle, and Franklin County Prosecutor Steve Lowe. Both sides gave up something to reach an agreement, Lowe said. "I cannot say to you a year ago that I would have offered the same deal to Mr. Orange," Lowe told the court during the two-hour and 20-minute hearing. He admitted he was reluctant to reduce the murder charge but believed the length of the sentence was more important.

"We won at trial 10 years ago. I had no reason to disbelieve we wouldn't win again." Lowe said he still had a strong case, but acknowledged that some witnesses are no longer available, a couple have changed their testimony and others would have difficulty reliving the crime during another trial.

The charges were amended to reflect the death of Brandy McClure and the bullet that tore through the jacket just inches from the heart of her best friend, Robyn Willer. Both girls were 17 at the time.

Marcel Walker, who Orange claims pulled a gun on him leading to the shooting, is no longer named as a victim in the case despite being hit in the back. He survived the bullet wound.

The Alford pleas mean Orange, who has no other felony convictions, denied committing the crimes but believed prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him.

"I just want to say that there aren't enough words to say how sorry I am," Orange said, choking back tears. "I'm sorry for her death and sorry for her family's loss. The night of Oct. 6 (1994) wasn't supposed to end in a tragedy. I am innocent, and I wish I had enough courage to prove that in a trial, but I'm too scared for my life to put it in the hands of another jury." Orange added, "As I stand here today I know my apology will never be accepted. I am sorry."

Robinson and Gordon had requested the 18-year term at the low end of the standard sentencing range, saying the evidence and the law justify an even lower sentence but that the plea agreement required them to recommend time within the range.

"What we cannot dispute is that Christopher Orange's decision to enter a plea, and Judge (Dennis) Yule's choice of a sentence reflects truth, renders justice and brings closure once and for all to this tragic case," Robinson and Gordon said in a prepared statement.

Lowe asked for the maximum standard range for a total of 23 years and 11 months. He said he was disappointed with Yule's decision.

"The best thing to come out of this is the finality. The fact that it's over and there are no more appeals," he said later. Orange gave up his right to file any more appeals.

Orange said he was acting in self-defense when he fired 11 bullets in a Pasco gas station parking lot. Two bullets hit McClure while she talked on a pay telephone, and a third pierced Willer's clothing as she stood nearby.

Orange said he never intended to harm the girls.

He fired at Walker because Walker was "apparently pulling a gun" and believed he "was about to be killed," his attorneys wrote. "Christopher, who was 18 years old at the time, and had never fired a gun, reacted out of fear and the desire to survive."

Walker and his brother, LaMark, threatened Orange's life days earlier and made the first move at the gas station, said attorneys Robinson and Gordon. Orange reportedly had pulled into the station so his passengers could talk to McClure and Willer.

Orange was convicted in 1995. Then in November 2004, the state's highest court ruled that family and the media were wrongly ordered out of the courtroom during Orange's jury selection and sent the case back.

Joe McClure told the court Monday that not a day goes by he doesn't think of his daughter and what a beautiful person she was.

"(Orange's) total disregard for life is obvious that night. All the people he chose to put in harm's way and the lives he has changed forever," McClure said. He asked the judge to give the maximum sentence allowed, saying Orange has never shown any emotion or regret.

Willer, who also attended Monday's hearing, had Lowe read her letter while she softly cried.

"You took away my ability to trust anyone," wrote Willer, saying she doesn't know what her life would be like without being afraid all the time or suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. "You get to live, you will get your life back. We don't. Because of you I lost my best friend."

Brandy's mother, Wendy, added in another letter to the court: "Justice is an empty word. The only way to see justice is to see Brandy walk through those doors. He may not be serving a life sentence for his crime but I am."

Copyright 2005 Tri-City Herald, Associated Press and other wire services.

Weird. I don't know what to think about this.

Fall 1994. Senior year. One classmate kills another.

He goes to prison. She's dead. Pretty damn twisted situation.



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