MOUNT VERNON — A judge has denied a request from Isaac Lee Zamora, who is serving a life sentence after a 2008 killing spree that left six people dead and four injured, to withdraw his guilty pleas.
Zamora pleaded guilty in November 2009 to 18 charges, including murder and attempted murder, for the September 2008 shooting spree that began in Alger and ended in Mount Vernon.
He also pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to two counts of murder for the deaths of Skagit County sheriff’s deputy Anne Jackson and Alger resident Chester Rose.
His pleas came as part of an agreement in which Skagit County Prosecuting Attorney Rich Weyrich agreed not to seek the death penalty.
In October, however, Zamora’s lawyer, Skagit County public defender Wesley Richards, filed a motion on his behalf stating that since the state Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that the death penalty was unconstitutional, Zamora had the right to have his pleas withdrawn.
“Mr. Zamora pled guilty to avoid a punishment our state has deemed unconstitutional,” Richards said in court Tuesday.
The threat of the death penalty “chilled” Zamora’s desire for a trial, amounting to a violation of his constitutional right to due process, Richards said.
Had the death penalty not been in play, Zamora likely would have gone to trial and argued diminished capacity or insanity — results that could have gotten him sent to Western State Hospital, possibly even with the chance to be released, Richards said.
Instead, he was sentenced to life in custody at either Western State Hospital, or, should he be deemed fit, prison.
He is currently being held at the Monroe Correctional Complex’s Special Offender Unit, according to state Department of Corrections records.
Flanked by four Department of Corrections officers, Zamora was brought from the prison to Skagit County for Tuesday’s hearing, for which he wore a green button-up shirt.
Skagit County Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Rosemary Kaholokula argued that Zamora should not be allowed to withdraw his pleas because a law was changed nearly a decade after they were made.
Aside from that, she said, it was Zamora’s defense team who brought the plea agreement to prosecutors in an effort to give him the opportunity to be incarcerated at Western State.
“He would have wanted this plea bargain anyway because it presented him a pathway to stay in the hospital,” she said. “Post-conviction changes in the law do not render a plea invalid.”
Needy, who said he had reviewed Zamora’s case thoroughly, said he believed that the prospect of the death penalty undoubtedly made an impact in Zamora’s decision to plead guilty and, without the threat of it, the negotiations would likely have gone differently.
“It would be very naïve to think the negotiations would have been identical,” Needy said. “The death penalty is always a factor when it is hanging over someone’s head.”
Still, he said he had no reason to believe Zamora’s pleas were not made willingly and voluntarily, and that he understood the pleas he was making.
Because the death penalty was law at the time, using it in negotiations was not “unlawful coercion.”
Zamora’s case will now go to the state Court of Appeals as a personal restraint petition, which is a civil matter stating a person is being held unconstitutionally.
“We feel we’re right and hopefully we will prevail at the Court of Appeals,” Skagit County Prosecuting Attorney Rich Weyrich said after Tuesday’s hearing. “We feel the law and facts are on our side.”
Family members of at least three victims were in court for the proceedings, including the family of Greg Gillum, who was 38 when he was killed.
“You want to be here so you can show you haven’t forgotten,” said Gillum’s mother, Debbie Winblad.
Gillum’s stepfather, Gordon Winblad, said he appreciated Needy’s thoughtfulness and felt he made the right decision.
“In a sense, we won today,” Gordon Winblad said.
Still, he said, sitting feet away from the man who pleaded guilty to killing his stepson was painful.
Debbie Winblad said she had no thoughts or feelings about Zamora, but teared up when thinking about how her son Jeffrey, Greg’s twin brother, and daughter had to see him for the first time.
“It’s very emotional,” Gordon Winblad said. “It’s unpleasant to even see him.”
Zamora also pleaded guilty to killing David Radcliffe, Julie Binschus and Leroy Lange. Four others were wounded.
The Court of Appeals process may take up to a year, Kaholokula said.