Retrial set for man charged in murder of timber family

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Attorneys are preparing for a March 4 retrial of Michael J. Pierce, who was convicted in 2010 of the first-degree murders of Pat and Janice Yarr on March 18, 2009, in their farmhouse near Lake Leland.

The state Court of Appeals unanimously reversed his 2010 conviction July 17 — for which Pierce, 37, of Quilcene was serving a life sentence at Walla Walla State Penitentiary — and sent the case back to Jefferson County for a new trial.

The new trial, set Jan. 4 by Jefferson County Superior Court Judge Craddock D. Verser, is expected to continue through March 20.

A pretrial hearing is set for 8:30 a.m. Feb. 8 at the Jefferson County Courthouse, 1820 Jefferson St.

Pierce was transferred to the Jefferson County jail Jan. 3 and appeared in court by video Jan. 4.

His bond was set at $1 million. On Wednesday, he remained in jail.

Defense attorney Richard Davies has said he will request a change of venue.

“By having the trial in Jefferson County, we are continuing to deny Michael a fair trial,” Davies said in December.

“With all the press and the news about his confession, which was suppressed, it will be very hard to find a jury, and the Court of Appeals recommended a change of venue.”

Pat Yarr was 60 and Janice Yarr 57 when they died. About 700 mourners attended a memorial service for the couple described as icons in the North Olympic Peninsula timber industry.

While Davies and Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Scott Rosekrans will again face off on the case, it will be before a different judge due to the retirement of Verser, who tried the original case.

Verser's successor, Keith Harper, will be sworn in Friday.

Davies said that if Harper grants the motion for a new venue, the two lawyers and Harper likely will travel to a different location and try the case in front of a different jury.

“This is a pretty big case for a new judge to cut their teeth on,” Davies said.

“But I expect that Judge Harper will be very deliberative and careful.”

The state Court of Appeals ruling said Pierce had been denied access to his attorney and that Rosekrans' closing arguments were inappropriate.

During the time that Pierce allegedly was denied access to his attorney, he confessed to the crime, and Verser allowed it in the trial.

Rosekrans filed a request in August that the state Supreme Court review the appellate decision, and in December, the high court in Olympia declined to hear the case.

Rosekrans has said he feels the retrial can be tried in Jefferson County.

Rosekrans said in December that he has assured the Yarr family that the case will be fully prosecuted the second time and will not suffer from a lack of funds.

Rosekrans has said it will cost only slightly less than the $370,883 used to prosecute the original case since some expert witnesses and a death penalty-certified lawyer won't be needed again.

The reimbursement from the state is also an unknown quantity.

The county received $197,000 from the state's Extraordinary Criminal Justice Costs Act in 2010, which might not be available this time, Rosekrans said.

If Pierce posts bond, he would be restricted to Western Washington and have no contact with the trial witnesses.

Davies said he was aware of no additional evidence that would be submitted during the new trial.

Rosekrans said in December that he is ready for the retrial and that the case files have never left his office.



Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 10. 2013 2:10PM
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