Prosecutor wants judge off case of murdered Yakima real estate agent

Prosecutor wants judge off case of murdered Yakima real estate agent »Play Video
YAKIMA COUNTY, Wash. -- A new bombshell in the case of a murdered local real estate agent: Yakima County's top prosecutor wants the current judge off the case. Jim Hagarty accuses the judge of bias and prejudice. KIMA was in court for the fallout.

A letter out of left field in the midst of a case that left a Yakima real estate agent dead.

Vern Holbrook was severely beaten last year. He never recovered and succumbed to his injuries in January. Four people are charged with Holbrook's murder.

In a surprise move, Yakima County Prosecutor Jim Hagarty penned a letter asking for Judge Ruth Reukauf to remove herself from the case.

He wrote:

"Judge Reukauf has an agenda, and that agenda is to discredit my office every chance she gets. It's impossible for the State to get a fair trial in front of her."

And:

"For reasons unknown to me, it is apparent that Judge Reukauf dislikes me personally and also members of the Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney's Office."

Hagarty accuses Reukauf of bias and prejudice. He alleges she treated Yakima County prosecutors unfairly in past trials, including the highly controversial case of accused triple murderer Kevin Harper. Hagarty's office was ultimately blamed for botching the case.

Now Hagarty accuses Judge Reukauf of playing favorites with defense attorneys, including Pete Mazzone.

Hagarty's letter reads:

"In State v. Harper, the Judge showed a clear and obvious bias against Ken Ramm. This case also involved Pete Mazzone, and as in the Holbrook case, Mazzone was given wide latitude and when he ranted and raved and made requests, Judge Reukauf routinely granted those."

Defense attorneys attacked Hagarty's motives.

"This raises an issue of whether or not there was intent to influence the ruling of the court," said Mick Krom, attorney for Adriana Mendez. "If not to influence the ruling of the court, to try to manipulate the public's perception of the case."

"The letter, the communication was intended to do exactly what it did: to intimidate," said Jill Taylor's lawyer, Rick Smith.

Now there are allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, which could result in charges being tossed.

"I would urge people to start thinking about the issues in this case, about possible dismissal here, because that's where we're headed," Mazzone told the judge.

Hagarty is on vacation and couldn't respond to the letter in court.

Reukauf had this to say:

"Quite bluntly, the letter in front of me deals with many conclusory statements not factually based by a transcript or anything else."

The judge said prosecutors need to file a motion to have her removed.

"File a motion," she said. "Do this the right way. Let's have something of this actually follow appropriate court procedure."

Pushing a trial date for four suspected killers even further down the road.

A hearing on any motion for recusal or dismissal is scheduled to take place in less than two weeks.