VIDEO: Judge convicts second suspect in Selah murder
Feb 16, 2013 (Yakima Herald-Republic - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
YAKIMA, Wash. -- A judge has convicted Frank Brugnone of second-degree murder, saying she was convinced he was at least an accomplice in the 1997 murder of Carolyn Clift -- or worse.
Click to Watch Attached Video
"In fact, I'm not even convinced that you weren't the principal, Mr. Brugnone," Yakima County Superior Court Judge Ruth Reukauf told the 59-year-old defendant on Friday. Brugnone had no visible reaction even as a female relative in the courtroom began sobbing.
Reukauf's verdict, which included a deadly weapon enhancement, means Brugnone shares the same fate as co-defendant Michael O. Gorski, 62, who was convicted by a jury Monday for his role in the case.
Sentencing for both men was set for March 8. They face a range of 12 to 20 years in prison under state sentencing guidelines.
The defendants were tried jointly for the murder of Clift, 56, who was found stabbed to death in her Selah apartment on the night of Aug. 28, 1997.
The trial was unusual in that Gorski's fate rested in the hands of a jury, while Brugnone waived his right to a jury and instead put his fate in the hands of the judge.
That strategy did not work out, as Reukauf made clear during a lengthy recitation of the evidence that led her to believe Brugnone was not, as she put it, an "innocent bystander" to the killing the way he claimed.
Reukauf said she took into account both witness testimony during Gorski's portion of the trial -- which hinged on DNA tests that placed him at the scene of the crime -- and Brugnone's statement to Selah police detectives following his arrest in 2011.
In his statement, which was videotaped, Brugnone initially denied having anything to do with Clift's murder, then claimed he was there but that Gorski was to blame.
Reukauf said she reviewed both a transcript of the statement as well as the video itself, and felt satisfied that Brugnone was neither tricked nor coerced by detectives into falsely implicating himself.
Aside from his statement, she said it was clear from witness testimony that he and Gorski were longtime friends and drinking buddies, not merely roommates. Both men were in their mid-40s at the time. Their physical appearance now is much different.
"You were the best man at his wedding," she noted.
As for the night in question, Reukauf said it was also clear from witness testimony two men were involved in the attack.
Although no physical evidence tied Brugnone to the scene of the crime, Reukauf pronounced herself satisfied that Brugnone was either an active accomplice or worse given the "totality" of the witness testimony and his statement, which she called self-serving.
"The evidence doesn't support your version of the attack," she told the defendant, adding it was clear from the victim's injuries that Clift "fought for her life, not the scuffle that you described."
Veteran deputy prosecutor Patti Powers called Reukauf's verdict "an excellent decision. I'm especially glad for (the Clift) family to be given this measure of finality," she added.
As he was throughout the trial, Clift's brother, Curtis Clift, was in attendance and said he was relieved at the verdict. The victim's son, Chucky Wiley of Hood River, Ore., also was in attendance.
Curtis Clift said he was impressed with Reukauf's analytical skills versus Brugnone's version of events, which had always placed blame on Gorski as the aggressor.
"I kind of went with that, too," he said, "until I saw how the judge put it all together."
--Chris Bristol can be reached at 509-577-7748 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ChrisJBristol.
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