Yes, there are a lot of crazy trials right now in Spokane

<p><p>In recent months, it has become common to see long lines of potential jurors snaking through the Spokane County Superior Courthouse as serious cases head to trial. </p></p><p><p>After four months without jury trials at all last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, trials resumed in July 2020, but that was short-lived. Due to a significant uptick in COVID cases in November 2020, trials were again suspended until February.</p></p><p><p>In 2019, 80 cases were tried before a jury in Spokane County. That number dropped to just 36 in 2020, said Ashley Callan, Superior Court administrator.</p></p><p><p>By mid-December this year, 67 cases went to trial before a jury, with 15 of those in the last six weeks.</p></p><p><p>Myriad factors affect when cases are ready to go to trial, Callan said. Often prosecutors along with judges decide when to schedule cases, she added.</p></p><p><p>While Superior Court was “ready and willing” to try any type of case once jury trials resumed, the more serious and complex the trial, the more difficult it can be.</p></p><p><p>For class A felonies like murder, rape, or assault with a deadly weapon, a large jury pool has to be assembled.</p></p><p><p>In a murder trial, between 60 and 80 jurors are typically called, Callan said. Large pools are also required for many sexual assault cases, especially with children victims where a jury questionnaire is standard.</p></p><p><p>With social distancing, it has been difficult, she said. The main jury lounge in the courthouse could hold 220 people before COVID, but with social distancing, 60 people was pushing it, Callan said.</p></p><p><p>“It is very important to us when we ask jurors to come down here and serve, that they feel comfortable,” Callan said.</p></p><p><p>In recent months, class A felony trials have been commonplace at the courthouse, sometimes with multiple murder trials going on at the same time.</p></p><p><p>In 2019, there were 11 homicide trials in Spokane County. That number dropped to six in 2020, according to <a href=”https://www.courts.wa.gov/caseload/?fa=caseload.showReport&amp;level=s&amp;freq=y&amp;tab=criminal&amp;fileID=crmtrlyr” target=”_blank”>Washington Courts</a>. As of October, there had been three homicide trials in the county this year. Since then, there have been more than seven, including two at the same time: the</p></p><p><p> trial of <a href=”https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2021/dec/09/jurors-say-they-cant-reach-verdict-in-cold-case-ki” target=”_blank”>Richard Aguirre for the 1986 killing of Ruby Doss</a> and that of David Pettis, <a href=”https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2021/dec/13/jury-convicts-pettis-of-killing-wife-by-lacing-ice” target=”_blank”>who was convicted of killing his wife with drug-laced ice cream</a>.</p></p><p><p>While Callan doesn’t track the type of trials that go through Superior Court, she said it does feel like there has been an increase in class A felony trials .</p></p><p><p>Tom Krzyminski, director of the Spokane County Public Defender’s office, agrees.</p></p><p><p>“I think the lawyers here have been voicing similar concerns in terms of serious cases, charges, coming through,” Krzyminski said. “It could also be the ones they had pre-COVID or at the start of COVID and we were not able to move at the rate we normally do.”</p></p><p><p>There is a normal ebb and flow to caseloads and trial schedules, he noted. However, many cases have faced significant delays due to COVID-19 in getting ready for trial.</p></p><p><p>“It’s kind of a bottleneck,” Krzyminski said.</p></p><p><p>Often experts, like psychologists, will need to go in person to evaluate defendants, which has not been possible for nearly a year, Krzyminski said.</p></p><p><p>“There was no alternative that sort of met their standards,” he said. “Our only choice was to wait until the expert was able to complete their process.”</p></p><p><p>In some cases, witnesses travel to testify, which at some points in the pandemic was not possible or uncomfortable for people.</p></p><p><p>“There are just so many factors that we just did not have to consider in the past,” he said.</p></p><p><p>While delays and COVID protocols are certainly a factor in the current stream of serious trials, there was a <a href=”https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2021/feb/21/the-21-victims-of-2020-homicides-in-spokane” target=”_blank”>significant increase in homicides in Spokane in 2020</a>.</p></p><p><p>While some of those cases may result in plea deals, many go to trial. The Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office has a large role to play in deciding who is offered a plea deal, along with which cases go to trial and when. They did not respond to multiple requests for comment.</p></p><p><p>With more than 25 homicides in Spokane County so far this year, it’s likely serious trials will continue at a steady rate next year.</p></p>