Convicted murderer Brian Bassett returned to Grays Harbor Superior Court for his fourth appearance and third resentencing hearing on Thursday.
Thurston County Superior Court Judge Sharonda Amamilo sat at the bench for the hearing.
In 1995, Bassett was convicted as a 16-year-old in the murder of his parents Michael and Wendy Bassett and his 5-year-old brother Austin. A crime he committed along with his then-boyfriend Nicholaus McDonald.
Court documents state that the parents died of multiple gunshot wounds, while Austin, was drowned in the bathtub at the family home outside McCleary.
In 1996, a jury found Bassett guilty of three counts of aggravated first degree murder and he was sentenced to three “life without parole” sentences.
Following a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court judgment that ruled the eighth amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment forbids sentencing that mandates life in prison without the possibility of parole for juveniles, Bassett’s case was brought back to the local court for resentencing.
The high court said that when a youth is convicted of murder before the age of 18, the judge must focus on the youth and assess their chances of becoming rehabilitated and a sentence of life without parole could only occur if it “proportionally” punishes the youth.
At that time, the resentencing court again imposed three life sentences.
That decision was appealed.
In 2019, Bassett was resentenced in Grays Harbor County Superior Court to 60 years in prison, including two concurrent 25 year sentences for parents Michael and Wendy and a consecutive 35 year sentence for 5-year-old Austin.
This latest appearance in local court comes after the State v. Haag case in Washington Supreme Court that held a 42-year-old sentence for a 17-year-old who strangled his 7-year-old neighbor, was a de facto life sentence.
The Court said that sentencing courts must give greater weight to the juvenile offender’s potential to change than the facts of the crime.
Since Bassett’s sentence was longer than Haag’s 46 years, he returned for resentencing.
On Thursday, Bassett was in the courtroom to hear arguments in regards to resentencing.
Attorney Eric Lindell argued to Judge Amamilo that Bassett should be eligible for retroactive “Good Time” credit due to his performance within prison since original sentencing. Lindell called Bassett “almost a poster child” for the Miller decision that caused the resentencing due to his age at the time of the crime, and added that he has been a model prisoner. Throughout the day he talked about his behavior and efforts toward rehabilitation.
Dr. Steve Herbert, Professor of Law, Societies, and Justice at the University of Washington and author of Too Easy to Keep: Life-Sentenced Prisoners and the Future of Mass Incarceration (University of California Press, 2019), spoke during testimony that Bassett was part of a program and research done on the impacts of life sentences. He stated that he felt that Bassett was prepared for release.
Mark Cunningham, a clinical and forensic psychologist, spoke in testimony saying that judgment of Bassett at the age of 16 was on a juvenile with an underdeveloped sense of morals or perspective, and that in the decades since his brain and judgment has matured. He indicated that maturity should be put into consideration.
Bassett’s wife Joanna Pfeifer also spoke during the court proceedings and of her experience with her husband and stated she looks forward to his companionship upon release, adding that their marriage is “rock solid”.
Grays Harbor Prosecutor Jason Walker called to the stand Bassett’s sister Stephanie, who described the defendant as “biologically my brother”, when she recounted growing up in a household she described as loving, with Bassett being the outlying troublemaker.
She broke down on the stand when talking about learning about the death of her family members that she learned of while in Chicago at a sports tournament, saying “I went from having everything, to losing everything”.
She argued against lessening his sentence, saying “I ask the court, for myself, for my family, especially for my kids, my parents, and for Austin, every day he’s behind bars I can breathe, I can feel safe, and I can live.” asking that he spend every day “humanly possible“ behind bars.
She stated that reliving the memories of the crime has haunted her, “It’s one thing to have your family murdered. It’s another thing to have them murdered by your brother.”, and said that her other family members are unable to come back to the area due to the difficult memories,
Bassett read a statement prior to closing arguments, apologizing to his family and anyone impacted by his actions, and stating, “It’s my utter lament I cannot erase or take back the errors of my youth, but I do hope that I can somehow atone and make amends for those actions. I deserve every day that I’ve spent in prison, and will spend in prison, for my participation in the crime of 1995; and I will never refute that.”
Judge Amamilo spoke in sentencing that it was not lost on her that how impressive the case is, as for the impact for the family and the community, and noted that this will be the fourth sentencing for the same crime.
The Judge announced that she would make a final sentencing decision within the next two weeks.