Joseph Ryan was the first homicide victim of 2009. Slain inside Capitol Hill nightclub Chop Suey on a cold night in January, Ryan, a rapper who went by the name 29-E, was the only one of three shooting victims who died from his wounds. Yesterday the shooter, Carlos Bernardez, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for Ryan's murder. But what of Roger La Branche, the man who Bernardez claimed put him up to the crime?
Later that night, cops found cocaine, Ecstasy, OxyContin, pot, a 9-mm handgun and $7,000 in cash in La Branche's rental car, which was parked across the street from Chop Suey. Yet La Branche escaped with only a drug charge and 12 months of work release.
Commenter Seattledeadhead spoke for many typically enraged Times readers when he wrote, "What isn't that lowlife scumpig LaBranche rotting in a jail cell? That loser is obviously a dnagerous criminla but got only a year on work release?!? What is that all about?"
Also wondering what that was all about, I called the King County prosecutor's office.
The short story is that La Branche wasn't charged with being an accomplice to the murder because there was insufficient evidence to do so. He was a guy without priors who just happened to have a drug dealer's starter kit in his car. A not uncommon scenario outside of Chop Suey.
The longer version is that Bernardez's story was shaky from the start.
At first he told police that La Branche had given him a gun with which to shoot Ryan before ever making a threat. Which is a dumb move for any bad guy, seeing as how you usually don't want to piss off the person you've just armed.
In a second round of talks with police, Bernardez left La Branche out of the story altogether. Then he asked for a lawyer.
Also, the gun found in La Branche's car wasn't the one used in the murder. Which still leaves open the possibility that La Branche had two and gave one to Bernardez. But when the credibility of your case rests on the statement of a man whose already admitted to murder, then you don't have a very credible case.
Hope that helps, Mr. deadhead.