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Shelton man pleads guilty, sentenced to 66 years

Shelton-Mason County Journal of Shelton, Washington

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After a day and a half of testimony in a murder trial expected to last more than a week, a Shelton man changed his plea to guilty June 26 and was sentenced Tuesday to more than 66 years in prison.

Michael Justiniano, 53, pleaded guilty to murder in the first degree, attempted murder in the first degree, robbery and unlawful possession of a firearm.

"(Justiniano is) really, I believe, being affected by this trial. I believe it is affecting him on an emotional level," said Justiniano's attorney, F. MacNamara Jardine. "I understand his desire to put this behind him."

Justiniano entered an Alford plea, also known as a Newton plea, which means he did not admit that he committed the crimes he was charged with, but believed he would be convicted by the prosecution's evidence.

Mason County Prosecutor Mike Dorcy asked for a sentence of 66 years in prison. Justiniano was previously convicted of assault in 1986 and first-degree murder in 1988. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the murder charge, but was released early for good behavior, Dorcy said.

Justiniano was charged in the Aug. 13 shooting of George Alan Harmon, 54. Another man, Lee Barnard, was also shot, and testified for the prosecution June 25. He identified Justiniano as the man who shot him and Harmon.

Jardine of F. MacNamara Jardine & Associates in Tacoma interrupted the prosecution's questioning of a member of the Washington State Patrol's Crime Scene Response Team on June 26 to announce she needed to confer with the prosecution.

Since June 25, the prosecution had questioned eyewitnesses to the shooting, law enforcement officers who responded to the incident, and a Mason General Hospital Emergency Department physician who treated one of the victims after the shooting.

"He and I had quite a bit of discussion on whether this is something that will benefit him," Jardine said.

In return for the guilty plea, Dorcy agreed to reduce his sentencing recommendation by 10 years.

The court was not required to abide by either the prosecution's or the defense's sentencing recommendation.

However, Justiniano told the court the sentencing reduction had no bearing on his decision to plead guilty.

He said he didn't want the victim's family to have to see autopsy and crime scene photos in court, and wanted the trial to be over.

"It don't matter to me," Justiniano said. "I want this to be over."

Jardine said her client changed his plea because "it was the right thing to do."

"He believes this is the last offer he can make to the family to show any amends," she said.

Dorcy said he was concerned the Alford plea was not appropriate because Justiniano was not motivated by the sentencing reduction.

"We didn't have any discussion on this being an Alford or Newton plea," Dorcy said. "I think an Alford plea is even less appropriate if there's no benefit. We're trying to make sure that both his rights, and the conviction is protected."

Jardine said her client saw other benefits to pleading guilty, aside from the sentencing reduction.

"He is not trying to say he wasn't a part in any way shape or form (to the shooting)," she said. "The benefit or absence of benefit is a personal decision of his."

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Original Publication Date: July 3, 2014

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