Prosecuting Attorney’s Office disqualified from murder case

August 9, 2018

Terrance Jon Irby whispers to attorney Corbin Volluz in 2016 as Skagit County Superior Court Judge Dave Needy hands down a sentence of 32 years, 4 months, for the murder of James Rock.

MOUNT VERNON — The Skagit County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office was disqualified from prosecuting the evidentiary hearing of a man convicted of murder.

Terrance Jon Irby has been convicted three times for the 2005 murder of a Hamilton man.

In April, a state appellate court ruled that Irby’s Sixth Amendment rights were violated during his third trial in 2016 when Skagit County corrections deputies improperly opened mail from Irby to his public defender.

The court later ordered an evidentiary hearing, which places the burden of proof on the state to determine that Irby’s right to a fair trial had not been jeopardized by the deputies’ actions.

On Wednesday, the ruling to disqualify the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office was handed down by Skagit County Superior Court Judge David Needy on the basis that Erik Pedersen, the attorney prosecuting Irby, is a necessary witness in the hearing.

Pedersen has been handling the case since 2007 with almost no involvement by supervisors, documents state.

“If I were conducting the evidentiary hearing, I would want you as the star witness,” Needy said.

At this time, it is unknown who will prosecute Irby at the evidentiary hearing.

Prior to the ruling, Pedersen argued he would not be a necessary witness. He stated in a court document that no members of the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office handling Irby’s case received or participated in the collection of any of Irby’s letters and should therefore remain on the case.

However, Irby’s defense lawyer Peter Mazzone disagreed.

“As the central witness in this prosecution, (Pedersen’s) testimony on behalf of the State is not only crucial, but necessary,” Mazzone wrote in a court document. “As a result, the Prosecuting Office finds itself in the unenviable position of defending itself, while simultaneously seeking justice for Mr. Irby at the same hearing. This is the definition of a conflict of interest.”

If prosecutors cannot prove Irby’s case was not prejudiced, Irby’s 2016 conviction — for which he was sentenced to 32 years and 4 months in prison — must be vacated, documents state.

While that doesn’t mean Irby would be released, he would be entitled to a fourth trial, one possibly prosecuted by an agency other than the Skagit County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

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