Yakima County hires co-counsel to move recessed murder trial forward

Yakima County hires co-counsel to move recessed murder trial forward »Play Video
YAKIMA, Wash. -- Kevin Harper's attorney made his point clear: he wants the triple murder case against his client dropped. While Peter Mazzone waits to find out if he wins that motion, he claimed a small victory late Tuesday by getting the help he asked for with a second defense attorney.

Pete Connick is now assigned as co-counsel to move the case forward, which was recessed for three weeks following a forced start.

"We want to make sure this thing doesn't lag on and on and on because it's going to cost us more money. Not just in attorney fees, but in jail costs for Mr. Harper," said Yakima County Court Administrator Harold Delia.

Now, Mazzone and Connick need to have the case ready for a jury by November.

Mazzone blames the Yakima County Prosecutor's Office for mismanaging the case and failing to hand over evidence and documents promptly.

One of the biggest issues at the center of Harper's murder trial is DNA evidence.

The state will collect more DNA after failing to do so from three people questioned in the murders. One of them is Tracy Culton who is also charged with murder.

Sheriff's investigators won't comment on why they didn't get her DNA in the first place.

Another sample will come from Grady Mitchell after his arrest Tuesday on unrelated charges. Detectives questioned him after the murders, but didn't consider him a suspect.

"It strikes me as bizarre at the very least for 19-months to go by and nothing to be done with Mitchell," said Kevin Harper's attorney Peter Mazzone. "But when a motion is brought forward regarding the mismanagement, all of a sudden he was arrested that day!"

Harper's attorneys are now combing through an additional 1,000 pages of documents received over the last 12 days.

KIMA spoke with Yakima County Prosecutor Jim Hagarty, who handed the case over to prosecutor Ken Ramm after the death penalty option was dropped.

He wouldn't comment on the pending motion to dismiss. However, Hagarty told us in no way does his office intentionally delay handing over discovery material to gain a tactical advantage.

The chief prosecutor says any information that's missing in the witness list is contained in other reports provided to the defense.

Hagarty says Kevin Harper will get a fair trial in the end.

Other sources say it would be an extraordinary step to dismiss a case of this magnitude without exploring other options first.