Saturday, July 27, 2002

Spokane

Murder charges filed in crash that killed girl
Prosecutors say driver accused of running red light showed `extreme indifference'

Kevin Blocker
Staff writer

Spokane County prosecutors filed first-degree murder charges against a man accused of running a red light and causing a crash that killed a 15-year-old girl.

Abdulwahab Al Jazairy, 20, previously was charged with vehicular homicide in the July 2 crash that killed Tesia Parris, 15, of Oldtown, Idaho.

County Prosecutor Steve Tucker said Friday that Al Jazairy showed "extreme indifference" to human life when he reportedly plowed through the intersection at Francis and Monroe at 70 mp
h.

"What stands out in this case is the high rate of speed for such a long time -- roughly two miles," Tucker said. "It was just pure speed and a disregard for anyone else on the road."

In addition to first-degree murder, Al Jazairy faces a count of vehicular assault and third-degree driving with a suspended or revoked license.

Al Jazairy's attorney, Uche Umolo, said the prosecutor has "overcharged" his client.

"When we get our hands on some evidence we'll be in a better position to comment," Umolo said. "We haven't received one bit of discovery. What we seem to learn about this case always comes from the media."

First-degree murder cases involving extreme indifference are relatively rare.

The law states that people show extreme indifference when they commit an intentional act that puts the lives of others in jeopardy "with knowledge of the probable consequences."

In 1996, county prosecutors charged James Barstad with first-degree murder when he ignored a red light at the Hamilton and Mission intersection, accelerated to about 50 mph and crashed his pickup into three vehicles.

It was Washington's first murder conviction in a drunken driving case, and Barstad's conviction was upheld by the state Court of Appeals in 1999.

Killed were 14-year-old Julie Allen, a passenger in one car, and 26-year-old Karen Sederholm, a driver in another. Five other people were injured.

Based on witnesses who described Barstad's erratic and hostile behavior before and after the crash, prosecutors charged him with first-degree murder with extreme indifference to human life.

Barstad's blood-alcohol content was .16 percent; the legal limit in 1996 was .10 percent. The jury convicted Barstad and he was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

Barstad's attorney argued to the appeals court that prosecutors should have charged him with vehicular homicide. Convictions on those charges would have carried a 20-year sentence.

But the court disagreed, saying the state correctly allows for an extreme-indifference murder charge, even in traffic cases.

Deputy Prosecutor Larry Steinmetz, who prosecuted Barstad, declined to make comparisons between Al Jazairy and Barstad. Steinmetz will also prosecute Al Jazairy.

But longtime defense attorney John Clark said he doesn't know why prosecutors have charged Al Jazairy the way they did Barstad.

"There's no indication that he was intoxicated or engaged in taunting the victims the way Barstad did," said Clark, who has defended dozens of clients in traffic cases but isn't handling the Al Jazairy case.

Tucker said prosecutors are awaiting toxicology reports from the Washington State Patrol for Al Jazairy. Tucker said the native of Saudi Arabia didn't have to be intoxicated to show extreme indifference.

Al Jazairy remains in the Spokane County Jail on $1million bail.

ĽKevin Blocker can be reached at (509) 459-5513 or by e-mail at kevinb@spokesman.com.


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