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State v. West

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 3

January 29, 2015

The State of Washington, Respondent,
Michael Lynn West, Jr., Appellant

Oral Argument October 23, 2014

Appeal from Spokane Superior Court. Docket No: 11-1-00101-7. Judge signing: Honorable Tari S Eitzen. Judgment or order under review. Date filed: 03/13/2013.

Andrea Burkhart (of Burkhart & Burkhart PLLC ), for appellant.

Lawrence H. Haskell, Prosecuting Attorney, and Mark E. Lindsey, Deput y, for respondent.

Authored by George B. Fearing. Concurring: Stephen M. Brown, Laurel H. Siddoway.


Page 1234

[185 Wn.App. 627] Fearing, J.

¶ 1 We address a common argument of a criminal defendant on appeal: his trial attorney provided ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of his constitutional rights. The argument arrives in a new setting. Michael West complains of his trial counsel's failure to ask the trial court, in addition to the jury, to acquit him by reason of insanity. He also faults trial counsel for failing to [185 Wn.App. 628] object to prejudicial and misleading testimony. We affirm Michael West's convictions for assaulting cellmates because none of trial counsel's deficiencies prejudiced him.


¶ 2 According to one examining psychiatrist, Michael Lee West is the most dangerous man he ever evaluated. In 2004, West attacked and killed his cellmate, Christopher Rentz, while awaiting trial for raping his girlfriend. For his crimes, West was incarcerated at the Walla Walla state penitentiary. His violence did not end with confinement in the penitentiary, and, upon a transfer to another prison, he brutally assaulted two other cellmates. Those assaults give rise to this prosecution.

¶ 3 At the Walla Walla penitentiary, Michael West became " clearly [and] unequivocally psychotic." Report of Proceedings (RP) at 466. " He started talking about the coming of Christ." RP at 466. He claimed to be a prophet of God. He boasted that God taught him Hebrew and that God paid Barack Obama $4 million to spring him from prison. West believed Barack Obama would arrive in a limousine to drive him home. West stayed awake for days chanting and declaring himself to be one of the kings of the twelve tribes of Israel. West told other prisoners that Israelis paid $400,000 for his release so they could return him to Israel to serve as one of their kings.

¶ 4 To quell Michael West's psychosis, Department of Corrections (DOC) physicians prescribed a hefty dose of antipsychotic medication.

Page 1235

West calmed enough to work with knives in the penitentiary kitchen, but he continued to proclaim he was a prophet of God.

¶ 5 DOC adjudged Michael West sufficiently stable to transfer him to Airway Heights Corrections Center, a long-term minimum security prison. Before he left the state penitentiary, West announced his intention to cease imbibing medications since he was not mentally ill. West discontinued [185 Wn.App. 629] medications on September 28, 2010, twelve days before the brutal assaults.

¶ 6 On October 1, 2010, DOC transferred Michael West from Walla Walla to Airway Heights. He told staff at Airway Heights that he was not mentally ill nor under treatment. At Airway Heights, West shared a cell with Chad Bolstad and Gary Welch.

¶ 7 Around 10:00 p.m. on October 10, 2010, Airway Heights prison officers locked inmates in their cells for the evening. Chad Bolstad then beaded a necklace while seated on his bunk. Gary Welch read a book. Michael West sat on the toilet when he looked toward Welch and said, " [W]orship me like I'm God. I just want to know what it feels like." RP at 264. Welch said, " [N]o." RP at 264. West urged him, " Come on, please. I just want to know what it feels like." RP at 264. Welch responded, " Okay. You are God." RP at 264.

¶ 8 Michael West then looked at Chad Bolstad and said, " Worship me like I am God or I will smash you in the face." RP at 264. Before Bolstad could respond, West sprang from the toilet. With one hand, West pulled Bolstad's hair. With the other hand, West repeatedly punched Bolstad in the face. West threw Bolstad to the floor, smashed his head into the floor, and strangled Bolstad. West then pushed his fingers into Bolstad's eye sockets and, in a demented voice, repeated, " [G]ive me the apple." RP at 266.

¶ 9 Gary Welch jumped off his bunk to stop Michael West from attacking Chad Bolstad. West turned to Welch and said, " Get on the bunk, bitch, or I'll kill you." RP at 267. Fearing for his life, Welch complied. But when West began to remove Chad Bolstad's eyeballs, Welch mustered the courage to rush by West and press the button to open the cell door. The door would not open.

¶ 10 Michael West turned his attention to Gary Welch. West said, " I'm going to give you two choices. You either slit your own wrists, or I'm going to do the same to you." RP at 268. Welch asked for the razors. As West retrieved the [185 Wn.App. 630] razors, Welch ran to the door and screamed as loud as he could.

¶ 11 Airway Heights correction officers heard screaming in the cell of Chad Bolstad, Gary Welch, and Michael West. As officers arrived at the cell, West choked Welch, first with a towel and then with his hands. West also pressed his fingers into Welch's eyeballs. Welch pleaded with officers to open the door. Officers ordered West to release Welch and to lie down on the ground. West asked, " Are you my God? If you tell me you're my God, I will obey your command." RP at 128. The officers refused to play god and again ordered West to lie down. West complied.

¶ 12 When Michael West lay down, Welch rushed to the cell door, which officers finally opened. Officers then saw blood pooling around Chad Bolstad's limp body. Bolstad sustained significant trauma to his face, including lacerations, abrasions, and significant bleeding in his left eye. His right eyeball lay on his cheek.

¶ 13 Airway Heights correction officers ordered Michael West to lie under his bunk. West complied, and officers removed Bolstad, put him on a backboard, and carried him to the infirmary. Later, an ambulance scurried Bolstad to Spokane's Sacred Heart Medical Center.

¶ 14 Back in the cell, Michael West told Corrections Officer Bradley Saari that he was Lucifer and he ordered Saari to kill everyone. Other officers donned protective gear to remove West from the cell, while West cleaned blood from the floor, walls, and sink with sheets and blankets.

¶ 15 Corrections officers moved Michael West from his cell to the segregation unit. During the move, West screamed and raved incoherently about God, Satan, archangels, and President Barack Obama. At one point, he kneeled and prayed in what sounded like Hebrew.

Page 1236

¶ 16 The following day, a corrections officer overheard another inmate ask Michael West why he was in solitary. West explained, " I killed my cellie and [plucked] his [185 Wn.App. 631] [fucking] eyes out ... my cellie is a child molester, child molesting mother ... 666." RP at 217-18.

¶ 17 Chad Bolstad lost sight in both his eyes.


¶ 18 After the attack on his cellmates, Michael West underwent several evaluations and was placed on antipsychotic medication. After several continuances to evaluate his competency, the trial court found Michael West competent to stand trial. The State of Washington then arraigned West on first and second degree assault charges. West pled not guilty by reason of insanity.

¶ 19 In February 2013, the State tried Michael West before a jury. Gary Welch, Chad Bolstad, and numerous Airway Heights correctional officers testified for the prosecution.

¶ 20 Michael West presented one witness, psychologist Kenneth Muscatel, PhD, to testify about West's competency. After earlier interviewing West, Dr. Muscatel diagnosed him with schizoaffective disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and persecutory ideation. In an amusing attempt to simplify the psychiatric terms, Muscatel explained:

[Schizoaffective disorder is] a psychotic disorder that has both schizophrenic and affective mood components [including] some bipolar features, mood lability up and down, and has schizophrenic disturbances in thinking and interpersonal relationships and in reality testing ... when you combine the two, you can get an individual who may .... superficially seem ... less psychotic, but, in fact, ... can be very much prone to mood instability and reactivity.

RP at 412.

¶ 21 During his trial testimony, Kenneth Muscatel explained that legal insanity requires more than mental illness. The mental illness must render the person incapable of understanding the nature and quality of his or her [185 Wn.App. 632] actions or unable to understand the wrongfulness of his or her conduct. RCW 9A.12.010. Dr. Muscatel testified that despite Michael West's mental illness, he had no doubt that West " understood the nature and quality of his actions." RP at 417. Muscatel encountered difficulty, however, in ...

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