Governor Gregoire's Former Chief Counsel Now Seeks Clemency for Barry Massey, The Man Gregoire Turned Down

barry and rhonda massey.jpg
Courtesy of Massey's Facebook page
Barry married his former prison guard, Rhonda Massey, last June.
Barry Massey, sentenced to life in prison for a crime he committed at age 13, was scheduled for a clemency hearing next week. But the man who in 1988 became the youngest person in this country ever to receive such a sentence will have wait a little longer for his shot at mercy.

The state Clemency and Pardons Board recently delayed his hearing until September 10 at the request of the Pierce County Prosecutor's Office, which needed more time to file its response to the "voluminous" materials submitted on Massey's behalf, according to Mary Robnett, the office's chief criminal deputy.

Those materials include a memo (see pdf) written by none other than Richard Mitchell, Governor Chris Gregoire's former chief counsel. In that capacity, he advised Gregoire on her clemency decisions. Gregoire turned Massey down the first time he applied for clemency in 2006, inviting him to try again this year.

This time around, Mitchell is lobbying the board and his former boss on Massey's behalf.

Mitchell, who left the governor's office in 2008 after four years of service and now works for a Seattle law firm focusing on real estate, does not actually represent Massey. Instead he says he has submitted the memo as a "friend of the quasi-court," meaning the board (which recommended clemency in 2006). He also sent the memo to the governor.

"Governor Gregoire," he writes, "in this instance, clemency is everything that is compassionate and right."

He says the document took more than a year to research and write. "My instinct told me that there was more to this case than I knew," he says.

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Massey's last school picture before he was convicted of murder.
He ended up taking a close look at Massey's conviction for aggravated murder in the shooting death of a Steilacoom store owner. While prosecutors held up a confession by Massey that he personally shot and stabbed the man, Mitchell notes that forensic evidence pointed to a co-defendant as the killer. The attorney also brings up the questionable conduct of an interrogating officer who recorded over sections of the tape where Massey confessed. (He later recanted his confession.)

Mitchell lists a number of other reasons that he considers Massey's case "extraordinary," including his status as a model, infraction-free prisoner who last year married a woman who had previously served as his prison guard.

The NAACP and Human Rights Watch are also urging mercy in this case. And last month's U.S. Supreme Court decision tossing out state laws that allow life sentences for juveniles in cases other than murder, while not directly affecting Massey, cast new light on kids who are locked up for good.

Nevertheless, Robnett of the Pierce County Prosecutor's Office says: "I don't anticipate we're going to support clemency," declining to discuss the matter further. Another complication: Massey's co-defendant, Michael Harris, is scheduled for a clemency hearing the same day. "That may put both in the position of pointing fingers at each other," Mitchell says.

"Barry is a very positive person," says his wife, Rhonda Massey, who now works as an investigator for the Snohomish County Public Defenders Office. "His feeling is that this is a hearing about Barry, not about Michael."

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