Re-trial begins in Edgewood ‘Craigslist Killing’ case

Pierce County prosecutors have offered a deal to two people convicted and sentenced to long prison terms in the death of Jim Sanders, the Edgewood resident gunned down in front of his family during the notorious “Craigslist Killing” of 2010.

If Amanda Knight and Joshua Reese testify for the state in the retrial of co-defendant Clabon Berniard, prosecutors would ask Gov. Jay Inslee to grant them clemency and drastically reduce their sentences. There’s no guarantee Inslee would consider such a request, much less grant it, but prosecutors hope it entices Knight and Reese to take the witness stand to implicate Berniard in Sanders’ death.

The terms of the proposal came out Thursday afternoon during and after attorneys delivered their opening statements in Berniard’s second trial.

He’s charged with multiple felonies, including first-degree murder and robbery, for allegedly taking part in the home-invasion robbery that left Sanders dead on his living-room floor and his wife and two sons traumatized in April 2010. The intruders gained access to the Sanders’ home by responding to a Craigslist ad the family had posted offering a diamond ring for sale.

Kiyoshi Higashi, 27, was convicted of shooting Sanders, 43, three times during a struggle, mortally wounding him. Higashi was sentenced to 124 years in prison.

Deputy prosecutor Greg Greer told jurors Thursday that the evidence will show it was Berniard who held a pistol to the head of Sanders’ wife, Charlene, during one point in the robbery while demanding the location and combination of the family’s safe. It also will show that it was Berniard who pistol-whipped the Sanders’ 14-year-old son when he and his father chose to fight the robbers, Greer said.

But that evidence consists mostly of the statements his co-defendants gave detectives and Charlene Sanders’ identification of his voice from a TV broadcast.

Berniard pleaded not guilty. He has contended since his arrest 5 years ago that he did not participate in the crime, something his attorney said again Thursday.

“Clabon Berniard was not there. He was not there,” attorney Michael Schwartz told jurors. “What happened to James Sanders and his family was a tragedy. The tragedy should not be compounded by convicting an innocent man.”

Berniard, 28, was convicted at his original trial and sentenced to nearly 124 years in prison.

The Court of Appeals later overturned his convictions, saying now-retired Judge Rosanne Buckner erred when she let in statements Berniard’s co-defendants gave to detectives that implicated him in the crime. That violated Berniard’s Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against him, the Court of Appeals ruled. None of the co-defendants — Knight, Reese and Kiyoshi Higashi — testified at his trial, so his original attorney was not able to cross-examine them.

Greer told jurors Thursday that he intended to call the co-defendants to the stand during the latest trial. He did not mention the deal to the jury, but Schwartz brought it up during his opening statement.

Schwartz told the jury that Knight is serving a nearly 72-year sentence and Reese a 100-year sentence, essentially life terms. The prosecution was offering them a chance to one day get out if they testified against his client, he said.

“I want you to remember that,” Schwartz said.

Outside court, Greer said prosecutors would recommend that Reese’s sentence be commuted to a term of 18-20 years to be served out of state. They would recommend to Inslee that Knight’s sentence be reduced to 30 years, he said.

The deputy prosecutor said he wasn’t sure if Knight, 26, and Reese, 25, would testify, but prosecutors could use their testimony in what’s a tough case against Berniard.

Testimony is set to begin Monday.