EPHRATA — 2017 was a big year in the Grant County court system. From victories in trials, to reaching plea deals with several high-profile suspects, many noteworthy cases came to an end and were heard in 2017.
Perhaps the biggest case to be heard in a Grant County courtroom in 2017 relates to the fatal Frontier Junior High School shooting in 1996. Barry Loukaitis was back in Grant County in April, over 20 years after he entered a classroom at Frontier Middle School in 1996 and shot and killed classmates Arnie Fritz, Manuel Vela and algebra teacher Leona Caires. A third student was wounded and survived.
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding juvenile homicide offenders brought Loukaitis back to the Columbia Basin for resentencing. The resentencing itself was a foregone conclusion with regard to the actual sentence itself, as Loukaitis opted not to fight against the recommended sentence from the state and a 189-year prison term was handed down after an emotional day in Ephrata in mid-April.
The world’s eyes were also turned to Grant County back in January 2017 after arrests were made in connection with the December homicide of Quincy resident Jill Sundberg. Five arrests were made and the case gained national attention after it was later revealed that the five suspects are illegal immigrants and have ties to a notorious Mexican drug cartel.
2017 was also a big year for long sentences and plea deals. Jeffrey Faircloth, of Moses Lake, who stabbed and killed his son, Dakota Faircloth, during an altercation in Moses Lake in January, struck a plea deal and will spend six and a half years in prison. A plea deal was also struck between prosecutors and Margarito Leyva, who will be spending almost 22 years in prison for shooting and killing Juan Gonzalez Jr. in Moses Lake in 2015.
Another case that came to an end in 2017 was that of Shawn Wachter, who was arrested in February in connection with the stabbing death of his twin brother Shane Wachter in Coulee City. Shawn was 17 when he was arrested and charged as an adult due to the severity of the crime he was accused of. The charge was later dropped after investigators were able to corroborate Shawn’s story of self-defense and his claim that his brother was the aggressor in the incident that resulted in his death.
One last high-profile case came to a close in 2017, but the case is almost sure to come around again at some point in the future. Ephrata resident Chad Bennett was sentenced to 55 years in prison in May for murdering his elderly landlord, Lucille Moore, in 2014. Two jury trials were held, one of which resulted in a mistrial, but the second trial yielded a second-degree murder conviction. Bennett still maintains his innocence and has made clear his intention to file an appeal.
Richard Byrd can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.