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Man Convicted Of Friend's 2005 Murder 4 Times Promises To Appeal Guilty Verdict, Again

A Washington state man whose three prior murder convictions were thrown out on technicalities now plans to try again.

By Megan Carpentier
Handcuffs Court

A Washington man who successfully appealed his three prior murder convictions in the same case has vowed to appeal his fourth conviction after being handed a prison sentence of over 32 years on Tuesday.

Terrance Jon Irby, 63, was first charged in the murder of James Rock in 2005 after police found guns and ammunition missing from the victim's home, blood on a flashlight, and a pair of boots inside Irby's truck. He was convicted in 2007 of first-degree murder with aggravating circumstances, first-degree felony murder and first-degree burglary. But the Washington Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 2011, ruling that an agreement made between the trial judge, the prosecutor and Irby's defense counsel over email to dismiss seven jurors without the defendant's input or presence had violated his 14th Amendment right to due process.

Irby went to trial again in Rock's murder in 2013 and insisted on representing himself pro se. On the first day of jury selection, Irby chose not to appear in court for the duration of the trial or present any defense, stating that he did not believe any trial could be fair; still, he was made to appear before the court each day of the trial to affirm he still did not wish to appear or present a defense. The jury convicted him on the same three charges as in the first trial.

Then, the trial judge threw out the felony murder conviction to avoid double jeopardy but sentenced Irby on the first-degree murder with aggravating circumstances and burglary charges.

On appeal, Irby's second convictions were also thrown out and he was granted a new trial because, during jury selection, the judge and prosecutors seated a juror who stated she "would like to say he's guilty."  At the time, the appeals court also ruled that there was not enough evidence to sustain the aggravated circumstances element of Irby's felony murder conviction, as it was unclear whether he had allegedly killed Rock to cover up or flee from the burglary, or committed the burglary after murdering Rock.

In 2016, Irby went to trial for Rock's murder a third time, charged with one count of premeditated murder in the first degree and one count of burglary in the first degree. While he was initially represented by a lawyer, within six weeks of the start of pre-trial hearings, he was once again representing himself.

In the summer of 2016, Irby filed to have the charges against him dismissed. During the time he was represented by a lawyer, the jail guards had improperly opened and read privileged attorney-client communications, he said. While it was ascertained by the court that Irby's allegations were true, the judge refused to dismiss the charges, ruling that Irby had not proven that the guards' actions had prejudiced the case.

At that point, Irby refused again to appear at the trial or present a defense; the jury once again convicted him. On appeal, the court ruled that, in fact, the reading by his guards of privileged attorney-client communications should have forced the state to prove the absence of prejudice; the burden was not on Irby to prove its presence, the court said, and his conviction was vacated. His case was remanded to the trial court, and it was suggested the incident needed to be further investigated.

This resulted in a fourth trial on the first-degree murder and first-degree burglary charges, which began in June. Irby once again representing himself and, again, refused to appear in court or present a defense. He was found guilty by a fourth jury on June 14.

Appearing at his sentencing hearing on July 20, Irby reportedly told the victim's daughter, Candy Rock, that he planned to appeal this conviction. According to the Skagit Valley Herald, he said that he would not plead guilty because the "real murderers or murderer" would still be free.

Irby did not indicate on what grounds he planned to appeal his fourth conviction. The appeals court, in its second and third rulings, stated with increasing detail that most of his stated causes for appeal in those cases were invalid.

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