Trial underway for man accused in fatal wreck after robbery of Lakewood truck

Anthony Hem pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide for the fiery wreck that killed his girlfriend as they fled police last year.

But as his trial got underway Tuesday on other charges, he contended he didn’t steal the truck he was driving or attack the Lakewood man it was stolen from, as Pierce County prosecutors allege.

In addition to the vehicular homicide charge, Hem pleaded guilty this week to vehicular assault, second-degree assault and attempting to elude police. Prosecutors dropped a misdemeanor charge of hit and run.

That leaves the 24-year-old on trial for second-degree murder and first-degree robbery in connection with the attack on the truck owner and the death of 26-year-old Marisa Richie.

Hem opted for a bench trial, which means Superior Court Judge Edmund Murphy will hear the case and return a verdict in lieu of a jury.

Deputy Prosecutor Greg Greer gave this account of the robbery and the fatal wreck in his opening statement Tuesday:

Hem, Richie and 21-year-old Pierre Jennings were sitting in a car outside a Lakewood apartment complex May 9, waiting for another member of their group.

When another man approached and asked them to move out of his assigned parking space, the three men attacked him and stole his 2004 GMC pickup.

The man suffered significant brain injuries and was in critical condition after the attack.

Police later spotted the truck, and a high-speed chase began. Hem lost control of the pickup near East 64th Street and Waller Road, and crashed the truck into a utility pole.

Richie’s injuries were fatal, and Hem’s and Jennings’ were serious.

Defense attorney Walter Peale disputed the prosecutor’s account of the robbery.

He argued Tuesday that Hem was not present and did not take part in the theft. Hem was with Jennings and Richie at the time of the crash because they’d picked him up after the robbery, Peale said.

“Mr. Jennings is the one who without provocation struck (the truck owner),” Peale said.

Jennings pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery in December and was sentenced to 14 years, three months in prison.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell