A long saga of crime

A long saga of crime "I'll kill all you bitches," Maurice Clemmons told the Pierce County Jail workers who were trying to book him, according to court records.

It was May 9, 2009. Clemmons, 37, had been arrested after punching a sheriff’s deputy in the face. He was charged with multiple counts of third-degree assault and malicious mischief and later, second-degree child rape.

Clemmons, the prime suspect in the Sunday slayings of four Lakewood police officers, received a court-ordered mental health evaluation tied to the charges filed in May. The evaluation, obtained by The News Tribune, was completed Oct. 19, five weeks before the shootings.

It was one of the factors considered by Thomas Felnagle, the Superior Court judge who set bail for Clemmons at $150,000.

Felnagle could not be reached for comment Monday. County prosecutors say the bail amount was unusually high, given the underlying charges.

The reported threat to kill jail workers appeared in the evaluation, along with notes describing hallucinations. Clemmons said he had them back in May before his arrest. He remembered seeing “people drinking blood and people eating babies, and lawless on the streets, like people were cannibals.”

Those visions had passed, he said.

Two psychologists from Western State Hospital, Melissa Dannelet and Carl Redick, concluded Clemmons was dangerous.

“He presents with increased risk for future dangerous behavior and for committing future criminal acts jeopardizing public safety and security,” the evaluation states.

The forensic mental health report was ordered by Pierce County Superior Court Judge Kitty-Ann van Doorninck to determine whether Clemmons was mentally competent to stand trial on the rape and assault charges.

On Nov. 6, van Doorninck signed an order finding Clemmons competent. She later ordered Western State Hospital to evaluate Clemmons again to determine if he was insane or had a diminished mental capacity at the time of the alleged rape and assault. That opinion is pending.

Clemmons’ attorney on those charges – Daniel J. Murphy Jr. – notified the court that he intended to pursue an insanity or diminished-capacity defense for his client.

Dannelet and Redick wrote that Clemmons “denied thoughts of harming any officers or anyone specific when pointedly asked.”

He went on to say he had “no faith in the justice system” and that he thought he was being “maliciously persecuted because I’m black and they believe the police,” according to the report.

Though dangerous, Clemmons was sane enough to know how court worked.

There was a prosecutor and a defense attorney, a judge and a jury and eventually a verdict, he said. He knew the child rape charge was a possible third strike that could send him to prison for life.

The psychologists found him competent to stand trial, not a candidate for involuntary commitment. On Nov. 24, he bailed out of jail on a $190,000 bond – the most recent example of his 20-year drift through the criminal justice system.

Records of that journey, stretching from Arkansas to Washington, show a series of standard decisions based on moments in time, before any police officers were shot, when Clemmons was just an average thug with an average record – a stocky, small-time thief with a nasty disposition who spent 13 years in Arkansas prison.

His alleged role in the police shootings has prompted a national round of second-guessing and scapegoating.

The targets include former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who commuted Clemmons’ prison sentence in 2000, and Pierce County Superior Court Judges John McCarthy and Thomas Felnagle, who respectively set and granted the bail bond Clemmons received a week ago, before he walked out of the Pierce County Jail.

The odyssey started in 1989, when Clemmons, then 16, was convicted of eight felonies in Arkansas, including aggravated robbery and burglary. He was ordered to serve consecutive rather than concurrent terms. Total sentence: 108 years in prison.

“He was a mean SOB,” Larry Jegley, prosecutor in Pulaski County, Ark., said Monday. Clemmons was transferred from a juvenile court to adult court, and faced a jury trial.

“Juries are pretty smart,” Jegley said. “If they want to attribute something to the relative youth of an individual and all that, they’ll do it. The flip side is that they saw in Maurice Clemmons what the juvenile judge saw who transferred him to adult court: grave potential for violence and criminal behavior.”

Records from Arkansas show that Clemmons, at age 27, applied for clemency in 1999, after he’d served 10 years of his 108-year sentence. The clemency application is a seven-page form.

One question reads, “What is your reason for requesting executive clemency at this time?”

Clemmons answered with a single word: “Mercy.”

“He walked out in August and was back in trouble in less than a year,” Jegley said.

Clemmons applied for parole again in 2003. Again, Jegley’s office objected. Again, the objection was overruled. Clemmons was paroled. He applied for an out-of-state transfer to Washington and got it, arriving in 2004.

He moved in with his wife and had a child with her. There were two other children in the family.

He had no arrests, no troubles with the law, until May of this year, and the incident that led to charges of third-degree assault and malicious mischief, along with the child rape.

In November, prosecutors declared their intention to label Clemmons a persistent offender. That meant a conviction on the child-rape charge could lead to a third strike and life in prison under Washington’s three-strikes law.

While that argument raised the prospect of higher bail, Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said it wasn’t so simple. “This was not a clear third strike. This was a case where we were going to argue that it was a third strike. The defense was certainly going to argue that it was not,” said Lindquist

The final bail decision came down on Nov. 6, approved by Judge Felnagle. The amount: $190,000. Working through a Chehalis company, Clemmons posted the bond.

The conditions of his release included an order not to possess guns.

Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486


Staff writer Adam Lynn contributed to this report.