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Court increases bail for suspect in teen gang member's shooting death

A 17-year-old gang member accused of fatally wounding a 14-year-old with a shotgun had his bail increased to $500,000 Thursday.

While the suspect’s bail was initially set at $100,000 Wednesday in Yakima County Juvenile Court, Superior Court Judge Kevin Naught increased the bail, citing concerns about public safety, witness tampering and the serious nature of the crime.

The suspect is being held in the Yakima County Juvenile Justice Center on suspicion of first-degree manslaughter and unlawful firearms possession in connection with the death of Charlie Taylor, a fellow Norteño gang member.

While he is being detained in the juvenile detention center because of his age, the suspect is being tried in Superior Court under a state law that allows teens facing charges for serious violent crimes to be automatically tried as adults.

Taylor was fatally shot with a shotgun the night of Sept. 14 at a home in the 1100 block of Willow Street. He was first taken to Good Samaritan Health Care Center before his associates were redirected to Virginia Mason Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to a probable cause affidavit.

Witnesses told police the suspect was playing with a shotgun, pointing it at people, when it went off, hitting Taylor in the leg. Police found the gun hidden in the attic of the home, the affidavit said.

Police identified the suspect through video surveillance footage, the affidavit said. During a preliminary appearance in juvenile court Wednesday, Judge Ruth Reukauff set bail at $100,000, after prosecutors pointed out the suspect’s prior criminal history and the fact that he had 23 bench warrants issued for him in the past, and ordered him tried in superior court.

He has prior convictions for third-degree theft, drug possession, fourth-degree assault, malicious mischief and taking a motor vehicle without possession.

At Thursday’s hearing, Deputy Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney Heather Thorn argued for a $500,000 bail, noting that a pretrial assessment recommending the suspect be released on court supervision failed to consider his prior juvenile criminal history.

Thorn, who had previously prosecuted the suspect in juvenile court, said the suspect was likely to intimidate witnesses or engage in violent activity if released.

“I think the juvenile department has done everything they can,” Thorn said, noting past failures at rehabilitating the suspect in juvenile court. “I think it is definitely time he be tried as an adult.”

But defense attorney Beth Wehrkamp argued for either a release or lower bail, noting that one of the people at the house did not pick the suspect out of a lineup, and the possibility that the case could be sent back to juvenile court.

But Naught said he was concerned with the seriousness of the crime, and the possibility the suspect would tamper with witnesses. He pointed out that the police report said someone had told the suspect to stop playing with the shotgun shortly before Taylor was shot, and the suspect said, “I can handle it.”

Police noted that after the shooting, the others at the home hid the shotgun, and sought medical attention for Taylor while trying to conceal their own identities as much as possible, Naught said.

A probable cause affidavit said one of Taylor’s companions abandoned the car that was used to take him to the hospital in Wapato. The car has since been recovered by police.

The suspect will be arraigned on Oct. 14. The Yakima Herald-Republic typically does not identify suspects until they are formally charged.

Taylor’s death was the 28th homicide in Yakima County this year, and the eighth in the city.

Reach Donald W. Meyers at dmeyers@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: donaldwmeyers, or https://www.facebook.com/donaldwmeyersjournalist.

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