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In re Personal Restraint of Light-Roth

Supreme Court of Washington, En Banc

August 2, 2018

In the Matter of the Personal Restraint of KEVIN LIGHT-ROTH, Respondent.

          MADSEN, J.

         Kevin Light-Roth was convicted of second degree murder in 2004, and the trial court sentenced him to 335 months' confinement. In an untimely personal restraint petition (PRP), Light-Roth argued that State v. O'Dell, 183 Wn.2d 680, 358 P.3d 359 (2015), constitutes a significant and material change in the law that applies retroactively to his sentence, excepting him from RCW 10.73.100's time bar. In O'Dell, this court held while "age is not a per se mitigating factor," a sentencing court "must be allowed to consider youth as a mitigating factor when" relevant. Id. at 695-96.

         The Court of Appeals granted Light-Roth's PRP and remanded for resentencing. We reverse the Court of Appeals and hold that O'Dell does not provide an exception to the time bar.

         FACTS

         On February 5, 2003, Light-Roth, who was 19 years old at the time, shot and killed Tython Bonnett. At that time, Light-Roth was living with Chris Highley and dealing methamphetamine. The evening that he was shot, Bonnett came to Light-Roth and Highley's apartment. Convinced that Bonnett stole his shotgun, Light-Roth confronted Bonnett and subsequently shot him in the chest. Light-Roth then told Curtis Stream, another friend who was present and witnessed the murder, "'[I]f you don't want to be a part of this, you can go ahead and leave. But if you say anything....' Light-Roth then showed him his gun and made a slicing gesture across his throat." Mot. for Discr. Review, App. at 23 (alterations in original). Moments later Light-Roth enlisted the help of Highley to dispose of Bonnett's body. Highley followed Light-Roth's instruction, though he later testified that he did so only because he feared for his life.

         Hoping to avoid any suspicion, the next morning Light-Roth told Bonnett's girlfriend that he believed Bonnett had moved to New Mexico. Bonnett's body was subsequently found and Light-Roth was taken into custody. After detectives interviewed him, Light-Roth attempted to escape by using a pen to remove his leg shackles and handcuffs.

         On June 1, 2004, a jury convicted Light-Roth of murder in the second degree while armed with a firearm and unlawful possession of a firearm. At sentencing, the State requested a maximum standard range sentence of 335 months' confinement. In justifying its recommendation the State said,

Here we have a Defendant who basically in cold blood murdered an acquaintance, or perhaps even a friend of his, for really no good reason at all, if ever you could have a good reason for taking the life of another human being.
After doing so, he demonstrated a complete disregard not only for human life but also just a considerable amount of contempt by the manner in which he disposed of Tython Bonnett's body and how he conducted himself in the six to seven days following the murder.
There is absolutely nothing redeeming about this man.

Id. at 45. Defense counsel requested that the court "impose the sentence in the mid to low range." Id. at 50. In support of his request, defense counsel added that Light-Roth was only 21 years old at the time of sentencing and that attention deficit disorder "has plagued him throughout his life." Id. at 50-51.

         The court sentenced Light-Roth to 335 months' confinement. The sentencing judge explained his decision, stating,

I am satisfied that Mr. Light-Roth demonstrates classic sociopathic behavior, didn't care about anybody but himself, and I am satisfied he is dangerous. I am satisfied, as I pointed out, if he makes it out of prison and does not somehow change his life, then he is going to get his third strike, or try to escape and be killed by the police or run into somebody who is tougher than him who will take his life.
It is a shame that Mr. Light-Roth at such a young age is basically wasting his life. But at this point I am satisfied, having listened to the trial, and listened to the pre-trial, looking at the record, that Mr. Light-Roth's return to society, if he makes it out, . . . needs to be delayed as long as possible.

Id. at 57-58.

         The Court of Appeals affirmed that judgment and sentence on direct appeal, and this court denied review on April 30, 2008. The United States Supreme Court subsequently denied a petition for a writ of certiorari on October 6, 2008. In 2016, Light-Roth filed a PRP, arguing that he was entitled to a resentencing under O'Dell. The Court of Appeals granted Light-Roth's PRP in a published decision and remanded for resentencing. In re ...


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