State not seeking death penalty against Kittemran murder suspects

OKANOGAN – Prosecuting attorney Karl Sloan announced the State would not be seeking the death penalty against three of the defendants in the Michelle Kitterman murder investigation during appearances from the defendants in the Okanogan County Jail In-Custody Courtroom on Thursday, May 28.

Judge Christopher Culp granted the State’s motions to elevate the First Degree murder charges against Brent L. Phillips, David Eugene Richards and Tansy Fae Arwen Mathis to Aggravated Murder in the First Degree as well as adding a fourth count of Kidnapping in the First Degree against Phillips and Mathis and a third count of Kidnapping in the First Degree against Richards.

“One of the co-defendants talked about compensation and about a vehicle being used to take the victim to the location where she was killed under the guise of going to the casino,” Sloan said regarding the kidnapping charges. “The State is not intending to seek the death penalty; however the charges would carry a minimum of life in prison.”

Aggravated Murder in the First Degree is a Class A Felony punishable by life in prison without parole and/or the death penalty, Culp said.

No objections against the charges came from Phillips or his defense attorney, nor from Richards’ defense attorney, however, Richards objected to his trial date being moved from Tuesday, June 2 to Tuesday, Sept. 22, stating the date was too far away.

“The record will reflect your opposition to the continuance, but I’m granting the continuance for three reasons,” Culp said. “One is you now face life without parole if convicted of aggravated murder. The second is you are now charged with kidnapping and the third is the stakes are higher so it’s imperative for your attorneys to review the information.”

He added that if Richards had gone to trial on June 2, there was a high possibility that there could be a mistrial due to ineffective council, since that date wouldn’t have given Richards’ attorneys enough time to review the new information before going to trial.

Mathis’ attorney, Mike Haas, did not object to the charges or the continuance for the trial date, but said he seeks a continuance regretfully.

“We don’t have all of the discovery yet so we are placed in the position of delaying speedy trial,” Haas said. “My issue with discovery is not with the prosecutor’s office. My understanding is the sheriff’s office is not handing over evidence in a timely manner.”

No consolidation of defendants has been done, and as of May 28, none was expected. A review hearing has been set for Thursday, June 25 for all three defendants and their new trials dates are now set for Tuesday, Sept. 22.

On Sunday, March 1, the body of Kitterman was found in the driveway of 193 Stalder Road in the Pine Creek area south of Tonasket. According to court documents the autopsy’s preliminary results indicated the cause of death was homicidal violence and that Kitterman was about 11 weeks pregnant.

Mathis was arrested in Spokane after midnight on Thursday, March 26. Phillips was arrested in Seattle around 10 p.m. on March 26. Richards turned himself in to the Spokane Police Department on Sunday, April 5 after a warrant for his arrest was issued on Tuesday, March 31. All three defendants have pled not guilty to first degree murder, first degree manslaughter and tampering with physical evidence.

The fourth defendant, Lacey Hirst-Pavek, was arrested on March 31. She pled not guilty to conspiracy to commit murder in the first degree and conspiracy to commit manslaughter in the first degree. On Thursday, April 2, she was released on $250,000 bail and her jury trial has been set for June 30.

According to court documents, Kitterman was having an affair with Hirst-Pavek’s husband, Daniel Pavek, and was pregnant with his child. Hirst-Pavek allegedly made comments that she wanted Kitterman “taken care of.”

Through the investigation, the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Department determined that Hirst-Pavek eventually made contact with Mathis referencing Kitterman and over several meetings, in Okanogan County and Spokane, they came to an agreement for Mathis to take care of Kitterman for $500.