MONTESANO — Prosecutor Stew Menefee re-filed controlled substances homicide charges against a Satsop woman, who had her conviction overturned by the state Supreme Court earlier this year.
Brenda Zillyette, 47, had already served her entire sentence and been released from prison by the time the state Supreme Court threw out the conviction. Her original defense counsel was paid for by the county and, this time around, she will once again cannot afford an attorney and the county will have to pay the bill. Costs aren’t known.
Prosecutor Menefee said he was not taking the costs of the case into account. He said, although it’s unlikely Zillyette would ever serve more prison time, it’s a matter of principle.
Zillyette told KBKW radio station that she’s a changed person, who is now clean and sober.
Zillyette was serving a 55-month sentence for controlled substances homicide for providing the drugs that caused the death of 18-year-old Austin Burrows, also of Elma. She was sentenced in March of 2010 and began serving her jail sentence immediately.
The state Supreme Court ruled that the original charging documents filed against Zillyette “did not identify the controlled substance that Zillyette allegedly delivered to Burrows that resulted in Burrows’ death.” The court ordered that Zillyette be released and the charges dismissed.
“The trial court convicted Zillyette of the crime charged, and the Court of Appeals affirmed,” State Supreme Court Justice Mary Fairhurst wrote in the unanimous opinion. “We reverse because the information failed to set forth all of the essential elements of the crime of controlled substances homicide.”
Burrows died on April 1, 2009. He had taken the drugs the night before and died in bed, where his family found him. Zillyette and Burrows had snorted the pills together after she had retrieved them from a pharmacy.
Menefee noted, “We’ve looked at the evidence and we still have what we need. We contacted the family and they’re on board. We’re moving forward with this.”
Zillyette made her first appearance in Grays Harbor Superior Court on Monday, Sept. 16. This time, the charging documents were done right and specified the right drug.
Superior Court Judge Gordon Godfrey appointed attorney Scott Campbell to represent Zillyette, although it’s likely another defense attorney will take the case. Campbell defended Zillyette the first time around.
“The new defense counsel may try to argue some other angle, take a fresh look at it. I’m not going to try to predict that. But in terms of the nature of the case, it hasn’t changed and I don’t believe there’s going to be any change in terms of witnesses, for the state anyway,” Menefee said. “At this point we’re going to see pretty much a replay, for all practical purposes, of the original trial.”
Zillyette’s application for indigent defense notes she’s only been arrested in a crime twice — once for the controlled substance homicide and a DWI 20 years ago.
She notes she moved to Satsop in March of 2012 and has lived in Grays Harbor her whole life.
Zillyette learned her conviction had been thrown out when she was listening to KBKW radio. She later called in for an interview.
Now four years sober, she said, “There will never be closure for me, that’s something I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.”
She said she remains active in recovery, “I’m able to go in and tell my story to people, and hope that they learn something from it.”
On Monday, Godfrey ordered Zillyette be released from custody so long as she not leave Grays Harbor County, not possess firearms or dangerous weapons and not possess or consume intoxicated beverages or illegal substances.
Menefee is set to retire at the end of the month and Chief Criminal Prosecutor Gerry Fuller is likely to become interim prosecutor until a full-time replacement is appointed. Fuller worked the original case and Menefe said that Fuller wanted to move forward and re-file the charges.
“It’s important because she’ll have a homicide on her record as opposed to having a clean record. In other words, she won’t have access to firearms and the court can restrict her access to drugs, whereas if we don’t re-try she can indicate she’s an innocent person who’s never been convicted,” Menefee said. “It’s not a great result, considering the nature of the error the court found, which was a pretty technical ruling, but it’s something we have to go forward with.”
The Daily World contributed to this story.