Judge rejects plea deal in 1991 killing on Colville reservation

Spokane, Washington (AP) 9-07

A federal judge has rejected a plea agreement by a man accused of killing his cousin for spattering his baby daughter with urine at a home on the Colville Reservation in 1991.

In what had been planned as the sentencing of James H. Gallaher Jr., 49, during late August, in U.S. District Court, Judge Robert H. Whaley declared that he could not be bound by conditions of the deal and set a trial date of Feb. 25 for a charge of first-degree murder.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph H. Harrington said outside the courtroom that he was surprised but would be ready to go to trial.

Based mainly on confessions he reportedly made to others, Gallaher was charged in December of 2005 with fatally punching Edwin “Eddy” Pooler, 45, his cousin.

According to court records, Pooler splattered Gallaher’s 11-month-old daughter while urinating in the living room of a house in Keller on April 14, 1991.

In a previous court hearing, Gallaher told the judge he then killed Pooler with a punch to the head. Witnesses told FBI agents Gallaher broke Pooler’s neck after putting him in a headlock, coerced a friend into helping him hide the body in a remote area, then moved the body several days later.

A witness who served time with Gallaher in prison told FBI agents that he admitted killing Pooler and described burying the other man’s head, hands and feet and had “shot the body up in an animal pit.”

Facing the likelihood of spending the rest of his life in prison if he were convicted, Gallaher pleaded guilty in May to involuntary manslaughter, which likely would have meant another four to six years in prison, on condition that he retain the right to appeal some legal issues, including the application of the statute of limitations.

As part of the deal, Gallaher took FBI agents to a place on the reservation north of Keller where he said he hid the body. Agents said they found some evidence but not a skeleton.

“This plea agreement is odd,” Whaley said.

Defense lawyer Stephen R. Hormel argued unsuccessfully last year that murder on the reservation was not a capital crime under federal law because the Colvilles had not adopted a death penalty provision. Under the plea agreement, he still could have appealed on that issue.

Whaley, however, noted that under the plea agreement Gallaher would have been sentenced for a crime on which the five-year limit for filing charges had expired.

Gallaher, who has a long criminal record, was sentenced to five years and 11 months in prison in 1999 for being a felon in possession of ammunition and has remained remains in custody since his arrest in the killing of Pooler.

Information from: The Spokesman-Review http://www.spokesmanreview.com