Thomas Butler had been serving a life sentence and believes that he was treated differently based on the color of his skin.
SPOKANE, Wash. — A Spokane Judge has denied a man’s request to remove Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell from his case.
Thomas Butler was 26 years old when a judge sentenced him to life in prison without parole. At 17, he was convicted of second-degree robbery. Years later, he robbed a bank. He served time in prison, then tried to rob a home.
Butler was shot three times and earned his third strike, which carried a mandatory life sentence.
“He’s done a lot of learning, a lot of thinking, a lot of repentance,” Butler’s lawyer Steve Graham said.
Graham says Butler is a changed man. State laws have also changed, as second-degree burglary no longer counts as a strike in Washington’s three-strikes law. That required Butler to return to Spokane for a resentencing.
“It just seemed like the prosecutor’s office was going overboard on him compared to the way they treat other cases we see on the news all the time,” Graham said. “We just didn’t understand it.”
Haskell’s office requested a new sentence of up to 72 years by stacking several firearm enhancements.
“What we find is a very pronounced difference in the way these are handled in western Washington compared to eastern Washington,” Graham said.
Graham asked the judge to remove Haskell’s office from the case, believing Butler to have been treated unfairly based on the color of his skin. He cited racist comments Haskell’s wife made against African-Americans.
“These people, when they come in, they need to know they are being treated fairly,” Graham said.
Haskell apologized for his wife’s comments in February, saying he does not tolerate racial bias or discrimination in any form. Haskell said his wife’s comments are not his views, nor the views of the prosecutor’s office, nor should they ever be.
“I do have a lot of respect for Mr. Haskell but I couldn’t bite my tongue on this,” Graham said. “It’s too serious and the community is troubled by these comments.”
The judge denied Graham’s request to remove Haskell’s office from the resentencing and gave Butler a 30 year sentence. Counting time served, he could be a free man in 17 years once he’s 52.
“Still a long time, but it’s not the life sentence he had 12 years ago,” Graham said. “We’re happy with the judge. We feel she listened to us and treated my client with respect.”
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