Bail stays at $1 million in 1991 Tacoma robbery, slaying

Staff writerJanuary 23, 2014 

A Tacoma man involved in the local marijuana industry who’s now charged in a 23-year-old slaying failed to persuade a judge Wednesday to lower his bail to $50,000 from $1 million.

Michael Schaef did win a temporary victory in Pierce County Superior Court when his attorney fended off an attempt by prosecutors to secure a DNA sample from Schaef.

Schaef, 51, was arrested earlier this month and charged with first-degree murder in the May 6, 1991, death of Jerald Iafrati. Schaef has pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors say in charging documents that Schaef and another man planned to rob Iafrati and his girlfriend under the guise of a drug deal. Iafrati was shot in the chest during the robbery and later died.

Schaef long has been a suspect in the case, but prosecutors said they did not have enough to charge him until his now ex-wife provided them with key evidence in November. That woman, Nicole Wyatt, previously gave statements that incriminated Schaef in Iafrati’s death but later recanted.

Schaef’s newly appointed attorney, Michael Schwartz, on Wednesday argued that his client deserved a lower bail than the $1 million set at Schaef’s arraignment. His client has lived in the Tacoma area for more than 40 years, operates several local businesses, and has the support of family and friends in the region, Schwartz said.

Those businesses include a marijuana bar at the Stonegate and a medical-marijuana dispensary called GreenLight Expo.

What’s more, the attorney argued, Schaef has known all along he was a suspect in Iafrati’s death but made no move to leave the area.

“He is certainly not a flight risk,” Schwartz said.

Deputy prosecutor Phil Sorensen asked Judge Frank Cuthbertson to keep the $1 million bail in place. Schaef has lived in seven states since Iafrati’s death and in six of those states has “criminal history contact,” including robbery, burglary and drug possession convictions in Washington, Sorensen said.

Cuthbertson sided with the prosecution.

“He’s a risk of flight, probably even more so now given the charges he’s facing,” the judge said. “He’s also a risk to community safety.”

But Cuthbertson denied Sorensen’s motion to force Schaef to give up a DNA sample.

The deputy prosecutor said law enforcement wanted the sample to compare against any DNA profile detectives develop from the physical evidence collected in Iafrati’s death. According to charging documents, a pair of sunglasses thought to be Schaef’s were found in the car in which Iafrati was shot.

Schwartz argued that the taking of Schaef’s DNA at this time would violate his rights against unreasonable search and seizure guaranteed by the state and federal constitutions.

Detectives have no profile to compare Schaef’s DNA against, Schwartz said. Until they do, the state has no compelling reason to collect his DNA and hold it, he said.

“They don’t know if any DNA (evidence) even exists,” the attorney argued.

Cuthbertson sided with Schwartz but left open the possibility that prosecutors could come back and ask again if a DNA profile is developed from the sunglasses or other evidence in the case.

“At this point the search is unreasonable,” the judge said. “It may be reasonable at some other point in the investigation.”


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