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Charges dropped in Okanogan homicide after mishandling of evidence

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Okanogan County Courthouse - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
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  • Okanogan County Courthouse

The vehicular homicide and assault charges against a man once accused of running over two people, killing one, has crumbled in Okanogan County.

Due to an egregious mishandling of evidence by law enforcement and their failure to notify the defense attorney, the charges against James Faire, 58, were dismissed "with prejudice" by Okanogan County Superior Court Judge Christopher Culp last month. Charges cannot be refiled, but Okanogan County Prosecutor Branden Platter has indicated he intends to appeal the dismissal.

Judge Culp determined that he had no choice but to scrap the entire case after law enforcement withheld the fact that crucial evidence — cell phone data from one of the victims — had been corrupted by ransomware, "perhaps of a Russian origin," on Detective Kreg Sloan's computer, according to court records. Documents show that Sloan knew the cell phone data was no good as early as August 2015, but did not tell the defense, or even the prosecutor, for another 32 months. Additionally, by the time Sloan discovered the corrupt phone data, he had already returned the cell phone to its owner, George Abrantes, the only living victim. Debra Long, 51, was killed when Faire ran over her twice with his pickup truck, according to news reports.

Faire, who has ties to militia and anti-government groups, and his attorney, Stephen Pidgeon, believe that the cell phone contained text messages and a video that would have supported Faire's claim of self-defense. Pidgeon says Abrantes attacked Faire with a heavy chain while Long stood in the way of his truck, preventing him from escaping.

Culp's dismissal order indicates that Sloan made no attempt to extract Abrantes' cell phone data a second time and could offer no explanation as to why. By the time Faire's defense attorney learned of the missing evidence, Abrantes had deleted the data off his phone, court records show.

"The combined effect and consequences of the state's actions prevent the defendant from having a fair trial," Culp writes in his dismissal order, continuing: "There can be no excuse for the [32] month delay ... before law enforcement notified the prosecutor of the lost evidence."

The original print version of this article was headlined "Lost Evidence"

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