Former soldier charged in acid attack on Thurston County judge

Staff writerJuly 26, 2013 


A clean-up crew leaves the Capital neighborhood home of Thurston County District Court Judge Michael "Brett" Buckley, who had an unknown liquid thrown in the face on Monday night. The home is shown on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012. (TONY OVERMAN/Staff photographer)

TONY OVERMAN — The Olympian Buy Photo

Prosecutors have charged a former soldier at Joint Base Lewis-McChord with throwing sulfuric acid at Thurston County District Judge Michael “Brett” Buckley’s face during a Sept. 10 attack at the judge’s Olympia home.

Michael Edward Martin, 33, already is in custody at a federal detention center, awaiting sentencing after he pleaded guilty to threatening to kill a Judge Advocate General military prosecutor in a separate case. On Friday, Thurston County prosecutors charged Martin with first-degree assault and first-degree malicious mischief in connection with the attack on Judge Buckley.

The former soldier apparently blamed the judge’s prior decision to issue a restraining order against him for ending his military career.

“He felt like his life was falling apart, and he was looking for others to blame,” Andrew Toynbee, Thurston County chief criminal deputy prosecuting attorney, said Friday.

Prosecutors believe Martin threw battery acid in Buckley’s face the evening of Sept. 10 after Buckley answered a knock on his door. Buckley was treated at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. He suffered minor injuries in the 9:25 p.m. attack.

In an interview Friday outside his courtroom, Buckley praised the Olympia Police Department for solving the case.

“Their work has really made me and my family feel much safer,” Buckley said. Buckley added that “I’m OK, my family’s OK, although there was a period of time where there was a fair amount of anxiety about what happened.”

Olympia police detective Chris Johnstone’s investigation determined that Martin apparently was angry with Buckley after Buckley issued a restraining order barring Martin from having contact with an ex-girlfriend in late 2011. Additionally, Buckley had denied requests for two restraining orders sought by Martin that would have barred his ex-girlfriend from having contact with him.

The ex-girlfriend lived in Olympia at the time, and Martin lived in Tumwater, court papers state.

After Buckley issued the restraining order against Martin, Martin sent an email to the woman, stating “that Judge Buckley was ‘(expletive) incompetent’” and that he would appeal the ruling to a “real” judge, court papers state.

In a response to the court ruling, the former girlfriend stated she feared Martin had “nothing left to lose” because of proceedings taking place to remove him from the military. “I do fear that this makes him even more of a threat to me and others,” she wrote in March 2012.

Martin was subsequently prosecuted for violating the restraining order. On June 12, 2012, Martin received an “other than honorable” discharge from the Army, and his conflict with his ex-girlfriend “played a significant role in the military separation proceedings,” court papers state.

Reached by telephone Friday, the former girlfriend declined to comment, though she noted that she had dated Martin for only three weeks. “I’m just trying to stay out of it,” she said. “He’s frightened me enough.”

Olympia police detectives were initially unable to develop a solid suspect in the Buckley case. But on Oct. 1, Johnstone got a break when an FBI agent who had been investigating Martin paid him a visit. The agent said he had recently executed a search warrant at Martin’s Tumwater apartment and discovered a large container of sulfuric acid there and in Martin’s vehicle. The agent contacted Johnstone because he was aware of the attack on Judge Buckley.

Johnstone obtained a search warrant for Martin’s cellphone, and found that Martin had used his phone to send himself emails and stored “to do” lists there. Johnstone found that Martin blamed his ex-girlfriend and others in his chain of command for the end of his 12-year military career. An entry on one list stated that Martin wanted to “find out who my judge was.” Another entry read, “Recon judge (expletive)’s home again (nobody home),” followed by “Go 2 Walgreens 4 Water bottles 4 battery acid.” Another entry specifically read “Find out where judge brett buckley lives.”

Other entries detail plans to buy battery acid at an auto parts store.

Johnstone then checked sales records at a store in Tumwater and found “a sale to Michael Martin on June 23, 2012, for $17.92.”

Johnstone also learned that Buckley’s wife had seen a suspicious person hanging out and staring at their Olympia home on June 22, 2012. “The person struck her as very out of the ordinary so she called police,” court papers state. She also took a photograph, and the photo shows he resembled Martin. Additionally, the person in the photo was wearing a knit cap similar to the one being worn by Buckley’s assailant.

Johnstone also discovered an entry on Martin’s Facebook page on June 29, 2012, that warned Joint Base Lewis-McChord personnel whom he believed had wronged him to “stay lookin over ur shouler cuz if you dont u might find ur damn face melting of ur (expletive) skulls.”

Toynbee said Friday that if Martin is found guilty of the assault and malicious mischief charges related to Buckley’s attack, he could face a 10-year prison sentence. Toynbee added that there are several potential aggravating factors that could add more years to the sentence.

Toynbee praised Johnstone’s investigation and added that investigators still aren’t sure how Martin found Buckley’s address.

Toynbee said Buckley is fortunate that he took quick action, washing the acid off his skin and seeking medical attention.

“This is an attack on the system,” Toynbee said. “An attack on a judge is an attack on the whole system, and we take that sort of thing very seriously.”

Martin is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court Aug. 13 for his conviction for threatening to kill a federal officer. After that, he will be brought to Thurston County Superior Court for his arraignment on his charges related to Buckley’s assault, Toynbee said.

Buckley noted Friday that there are ways to resolve issues with a judge and “that’s called an appeal of a judge’s decision.” He said he never allowed the attack to prevent him from doing his job.

“Two days after the incident, I was back on the bench and have been every day since,” he said.

Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5445

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