A Tieton woman accused of threatening her brother’s recently paroled killer remains in custody on $500,000 bail more than a week after the incident.
Beverly Gwin Sterling, 52, has been in custody since March 21, when she was arrested by Yakima police in connection with a disturbance at the Sommerset Apartments, 711 W. Walnut St.
According to an arrest affidavit, officers described Sterling as highly intoxicated and armed with two knives when they arrived at the public housing project between Davis High School and Yakima Regional Medical and Cardiac Center.
Witnesses told officers Sterling had been pounding on doors looking for a 44-year-old parolee named Orlando Matute, who had recently been released from prison for fatally stabbing Sterling’s brother in 2008.
The witnesses said Sterling had made numerous statements that she wanted to kill Matute, who apparently has been residing at the complex with his girlfriend and her children since his release. Neither he nor his girlfriend or her children were home at the time.
Police arrested the 5-foot-3, 120 pound woman after she repeated the threats in the presence of officers, according to the affidavit. The weapons, located in her purse, were described as a large, black-handled kitchen knife and a smaller folding knife.
The arresting officer wrote that Sterling used a racial epithet when she stated dozens of times that she went to kill Matute, who is African-American.
The officer also said the threat was relayed to Matute and that Matute said he was afraid for his life as well as the safety of his girlfriend and her children.
According to court records, Sterling was subsequently booked on a suggested charge of attempted murder. During a preliminary appearance last Friday, her bail was set at $500,000.
Prosecutors earlier this week opted instead for a lesser charge of felony harassment, which carries a minimum sentence of 1 to 3 months under state sentencing guidelines. The bail figure remains in place, however.
Sterling’s stepfather, Keith Turner, said in an interview Thursday that he and his family had been unable to determine the name of Sterling’s court-appointed attorney.
Turner said his stepdaughter has a serious drinking problem that was only exacerbated by the death of her brother, Steve Sterling, at the hands of Matute, who was sentenced to 70 months in prison for second-degree manslaughter.
State prison records show Matute served 52 months before his release on March 6. He stabbed Steve Sterling in the chest after a confrontation at an apartment complex on East E Street. Sterling, 46, was unarmed.
“Running her mouth at the wrong place, wrong time,” Turner said of his stepdaughter, who characterized her bail of $500,000 as “ridiculous for what happened.”
Dan Fessler, head of Yakima County’s Department of Assigned Counsel, or public defender’s office, said an attorney was assigned to the case Wednesday and will meet with Sterling soon.
Fessler noted that the way Yakima County’s court system is set up, suspects in felony crimes are not formally represented by legal counsel when they make their first appearance before a judge.
Although a public defender attends court every day when suspects make their initial appearance, it is an informal system and not the equivalent of a bail hearing, Fessler said.
Arraignment in the case is set for April 5, at which time Sterling’s attorney may have an opportunity to ask the court for a bail review, he said.
• Chris Bristol can be reached at 509-577-7748 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ChrisJBristol.