Clemency rejected for Steilacoom marina owner's killers

Two Pierce County men convicted in the gruesome slaying of a Steilacoom marina owner in 1988 were refused clemency Thursday by the Washington State Clemency and Pardons Board.

Michael Harris and Barry Massey, who were 15 and 13 at the time of the killing, both were convicted of aggravated first-degree murder for killing Paul Wang, a popular Steilacoom businessman. They shot him twice and stabbed him several times during a robbery.

Despite their ages, both were tried as adults and and given life sentences without possibility of parole.

The Clemency Board rejected Harris’ petition with little discussion, voting unanimously after just two hours of testimony.

Massey’s case, which has attracted national attention because of his age when sentenced, took 5½ hours to resolve and was narrowly rejected on a 3-2 vote of the board.

Massey’s supporters, who packed the hearing room and included the NAACP and top religious leaders in the African-American community, portrayed Massey as an impressionable child who did not realize what he was doing.

Pierce County Deputy Prosecutor John Sheeran passionately urged the board to deny clemency in both cases, in part because of what he said would be the effect on the people of Pierce County.

“The town of Steilacoom remembers this crime to this day,” Sheeran said. “This is not a case where we look at it and say, ‘Two wayward boys made a mistake a long time ago.’ This case ripped the heart out of the community.”

In Massey’s case, the Clemency Board essentially reversed a decision it made four years ago.

In October 2006, the board voted 4-1 to recommend that Gov. Chris Gregoire change Massey’s sentence of life without parole to a sentence of 25 years, which would have put him out this year.

Gregoire didn’t take that advice and denied the clemency in March 2007.

Board member John Turner cast the only no vote in 2006, and Thursday he voted to deny clemency again, this time joined by board members Raul Almeida and Cheryl Terry.

Turner and Almeida said they were swayed by what they believed was Massey’s lack of judgment in having a sexual relationship with a corrections officer, a woman he later married.

“It troubles me that this relationship happened,” Almeida said.

Board Chairwoman Margaret Smith and member Amanda Lee, who was not on the board in 2006, favored clemency.

“I don’t think a board that approved this last time would be swayed by the fact that he engaged in the most basic and positive human endeavor – loving another human being,” Lee said.

The board’s recommendation now goes to Gregoire, who can accept or reject it.