The Yakima woman who is now the only defendant still facing murder charges in the 2011 slayings of a West Valley family has had her trial pushed into next year to allow time for attorneys to review all the evidence.
Tracy Culton is charged with three counts as principal or accomplice to first-degree murder in the Feb. 18, 2011, beating deaths of Bill and Pauline Goggin and Bill Goggin’s 98-year-old mother, Bettye.
Prosecutors said Monday that sheriff’s detectives are still interviewing or reinterviewing witnesses and need time to conduct tests on at least two new pieces of evidence, which were not detailed in a hearing Monday in Yakima County Superior Court.
Judge Ruth Reukauf stressed during the hearing that she would keep a firm rein over deadlines and legal discovery in hopes of avoiding a repeat of the delays that led her to issue a rare sanction against Ken Ramm, Yakima County’s chief criminal deputy prosecutor.
That $1,000 fine for evidentiary delays came as attorneys prepared for the trial of Kevin Harper, who had been charged with three counts of aggravated first-degree murder. Prosecutors eventually dismissed the murder charges, saying they could not prove he was involved.
That left Culton as the only defendant facing murder charges, though the former lead investigator has said he doesn’t believe she was involved despite statements she made to friends.
Sheriff Ken Irwin earlier said new detectives were assigned to the case because of the evidentiary problems that came to light during the Harper trial, including attorney phone calls that were listened to by detectives.
Defense attorney Barry Woodard suggested the detectives are indeed scrutinizing the case.
“I don’t think they’re reinventing the wheel, but they’re taking a good look at changing it,” he said.
Questions have been raised about Culton’s mental health. She was found competent to stand trial following a mental health evaluation.
Officials with the county Department of Corrections confirmed Monday that she was found unresponsive in her jail cell earlier this month after an apparent suicide attempt. She was revived after corrections staff removed a towel or similar item from around her neck, officials said.
Reukauf set a Dec. 27 status hearing for the case and said she hoped evidentiary matters would by then either be resolved or have clear timelines for conclusion.
Woodard said he believes he has reviewed all major evidence in the case that’s available so far, but he’s waiting for prosecutors to turn over two boxes of indexed and dated material just to make sure.
The unspecified testing of two new pieces is the biggest outstanding factor.
Court documents indicate that DNA testing has already been requested to look for a possible match between Culton and blood found in the house.
Reukauf voided the previously set Dec. 10 trial date and set March 4 as the new date.
She also agreed to a request from the county’s public defense office to pay Woodard up to $30,000 for his work on the case before trial. An hourly rate of $85 would apply during trial.
Woodard, a private lawyer in Yakima, was appointed before Culton was charged with murder and before the Harper case collapsed. Culton was first charged with burglary, but the charges were later upgraded.
Dan Fessler, the county’s chief public defender, said the previous pay cap was $9,000. The higher amount is appropriate for the amount of work required in a much more serious case, he said.
That figure does not include the costs for any defense experts. Documents related to those expenses are sealed during the trial.
Only one other defendant faces charges related to the case. Tennance Buckingham was arrested last year for allegedly fencing stolen property connected to the Goggins. He remains out on bail. Prosecutors agreed earlier to dismiss an accessory charge against Harper’s wife.
• Reporter David Lester contributed to this report.
• Mark Morey can be reached at 509-577-7671 or firstname.lastname@example.org.