Prosecutor on Harper plea deal: 'I think we did the right thing'

Prosecutor on Harper plea deal: 'I think we did the right thing'

YAKIMA, Wash. -- Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Hagarty offered some explanation Friday for the plea deal his office made in the West Valley triple murder case.

Prosecutors have been under heavy scrutiny for the way Kevin Harper's case was handled. The plea bargain that will likely only send him to prison for seven years.

Jim Hagarty set the rules for the news conference. He asked Action News and other media outlets to submit questions ahead of time. And right before it began Hagarty informed the media that no cameras were allowed - only audio.

Hagarty sat with his deputies Ken Ramm and Steven Jackson behind him on both sides.

Only Hagarty spoke to a small handful of reporters.

Kevin Harper's stunning plea deal and the public outcry that ensued brought about Jim Hagarty's news conference to defend the decision and his office.

Hagarty stated his investigators are now taking a critical look at all the evidence and witnesses and redoing everything.

Investigation continues

"We still are engaged in seeking the answer to the question that everyone has. And, that is who killed the Goggins family," Hagarty said.

Reporter: "You are holding out the chance that there is somebody else responsible?"

"If there are other people involved, it is our goal and our intention to go out and find those people and bring them to justice," Hagarty said.

Hagarty reiterated the case against Harper changed when a witness the prosecution didn't know about came forward.

That information led them to question whether Harper was in the Goggins home for the burglary and the murders.

But should the prosecutors have already had this information?

"If somebody wants blame to be placed, if we need to look for responsibility and culpability, those are all concerns. We're concerned about it too, but this is not the appropriate time," he said.

Hagarty stated lesser charges of second degree murder or manslaughter were also off the table because the evidence didn't support it.

Reporter: "Would you have made the same deal if you handled it personally?"

"I would not want to make any comments on what I'd do, but I think that we did the right thing," Hagarty said.

Clearly the public outrage questions the decision.

Is Hagarty worried about confidence being lost in his office?

"It's an emotional case and it's run high. People have, people have an opinion on this case. I can't control what people's opinions are. I can only assure them that this case has not gone by the wayside."

Hagarty would not comment on specific facts related to the Harper case or the other pending cases.

He said there would be a time and a place to speak about everything that went wrong in terms of the investigation and prosecution. He said now is not that time.

Reporter: "What do you say to the public out there who basically thinks this guy got away with murder?"

"Any charge has to be proved by facts. As I indicated, we had a new witness come in, give us a story. We believe that changed the timeline. It made us question whether Kevin Harper was involved in the burglary and murder of the Goggins."

The plea deal also meant the end of the investigation into potential wrongdoing by detectives and the prosecution.

Remember prosecutor Ken Ramm was found in contempt by Judge Ruth Reukauf and fined $1,000 for failing to turn over evidence.

Action News asked Hagarty whether there would be any internal discipline. He had no comment but said that will be an issue for later.

He  went on to say deputy prosecutors Ken Ramm and Steven Jackson have his support and confidence.

Here's our real-time coverage from the news conference:

Kevin Harper plea deal news conference

Yakima County Prosecutor Jim Hagarty spoke Friday morning about the plea deal made with Kevin Harper.

Storified by KIMA Action News · Fri, Oct 12 2012 12:06:07

Hagarty not allowing cameras to record video at news conference. #triplemurderKIMA Action News
"I am concerned about the public's desire to know... and I need to balance that with the obligation of fairness." #triplemurderKIMA Action News
Hagarty: "We have two new detectives on the case." #triplemurderKIMA Action News
Hagarty: "We are reviewing what evidence we have with a new look. We will address all the issues." #triplemurderKIMA Action News
Hagarty: "The role of the prosecutor has changed over the last three decades. " #triplemurderKIMA Action News
Hagarty: "We are going back through the case after the change in the timeline." #triplemurderKIMA Action News
Hagarty: "We made a deal with Kevin Harper based on what the facts are." #triplemurderKIMA Action News
Hagarty: "I think we did the right thing." #triplemurderKIMA Action News
Hagarty: "It's an emotional case and people have an opinion... I can only assure them that this case has not gone by the wayside."KIMA Action News
Hagarty: "We are committed to pursuing whoever committed this crime." #triplemurderKIMA Action News
Hagarty: "Our focus needs to be on those who are responsible for the Goggin's murder." #triplemurderKIMA Action News
Hagarty: "This investigation may reveal other things we did not know before." #triplemurderKIMA Action News
Hagarty: "It is our oath to seek justice and we will do that." #triplemurderKIMA Action News
Hagarty: "We will always come under criticism. That's just the nature of the job." #triplemurderKIMA Action News