Sivak sentencing, day 1: Warden says Sivak hasn't kept clean slate

jsowell@idahostatesman.comAugust 26, 2013 

— During the 32 years Lacey Sivak has been in prison for killing gas station clerk Dixie Wilson, he has racked up 113 formal behavior violations, according to an Idaho prison warden.

Thirty-three of the violations took place after he refused to obey orders from corrections staff. Fourteen were for possessing contraband and seven for weapon violations, said Randy Blades, warden at the medium-security Idaho State Correctional Institution who formerly served as the warden for the state's maximum security prison.

The violations did not include incidents that did not result in a formal report, Blade said.

The number was more than what is typical for other long-term inmates and far more for those on death row, he said.

"I'd say it is in the top 1 percent," Blades said. "It's a total disregard of rules and even sanctions themselves."

Blades has spent 10 years with Sivak as a death row correctional officer and as warden and deputy warden.

Death row inmates typically try to stay out of trouble because of how it might look during the long appeals process.

"Typically, they like to keep a clean slate so that isn't on their record," Blades said.

EARLIER TODAY

Former Ada County Coroner Mike Johnson testified Monday morning that gunshot wounds to the head caused the death of Dixie Wilson on April 6, 1981.

Wilson was shot five times in the head with a .22-caliber firearm, Johnson said under questioning from Jonathan Medema, an Ada County deputy prosecutor. Three were to the face and forehead; she was shot twice more in the back of the head.

Wilson was also stabbed 20 times. While those wounds to the face and upper right shoulder were also serious, they did not cause Wilson's death, Johnson said.

The testimony came during the first day of the re-sentencing of Lacey Sivak for Wilson's murder. He was originally sentenced to death in 1981 after a jury convicted him of murder and burglary. He was given the same penalty during three subsequent sentencings, following appeals. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the fourth death sentence in 2011, leading to this week's hearing.

Sivak and Randall Bainbridge were both convicted in the case. While Sivak was given a death sentence, Bainbridge was sent to prison for life. In the current re-sentencing, prosecutors seek to send Sivak to prison for life.

The hearing is expected to last three or four days. It's unclear whether Fourth District Ada County Judge Ron Wilper will sentence Sivak at the conclusion of the hearing or will pass judgement on another day.

Johnson said Monday morning that he was present at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center when an emergency room doctor told Wilson's husband, Harry, that his wife had died.

"He was devastated. The look on his face told that his whole life had passed before him," Johnson said.

In the courtroom, Harry Wilson wiped his eyes with his hand as Johnson described that scene. His children and other family members reached for tissues to wipe their eyes.

Sivak, who sat sideways at the defense table, turned his head to watch the reaction from Wilson's relatives.

Dressed in bright yellow pants and a short-sleeve jail shirt covered by a lighter yellow, long-sleeve shirt, Sivak alternated gazing at the audience and witnesses.

After lunch, prosecutors objected to Sivak looking at family members. They moved him at the table so that it was more difficult for him to do so. Wilper declined to make a formal ruling ordering him to not look at the family.

"Please be respectful and I'll leave it at that," Wilper said.

THE WITNESSES

Prosecutors Roger Bourne and Jonathan Medema questioned five witnesses during the morning session before Wilper recessed court for lunch.

Earlier, witness James Bell testified that 32 years after walking in on a dying Dixie Wilson he's still shaken by the encounter.

"It's hard to talk about it right now," Bell told Wilper.

Bell worked for a garbage company located around the corner from the Baird Oil station at 37th and Chinden. He drove his truck to the station every day between 7 and 7:30 a.m. to fuel up before going out on his route.

The pump hadn't been turned on and Bell went to look for Wilson. He found her on the floor of the office and blood was coming from her mouth. He said her blouse had been pulled up over her breasts.

Bell went outside and notified Darren Roe, who had stopped to fill a front-end loader with fuel.

Roe stayed with Wilson and told Bell to call police. Officers arrived three or four minutes after the call was made, Bell said.

Bell and Roe were the first two witnesses to see Wilson after she was shot five times and stabbed 20 times. She died later that day.

Gary Chilton, a horse trainer who stopped at the Phillips 66 station two or three days a week on his way to or from the Ada County Fairgrounds race track before going to his second job as an insurance agent, encountered Wilson and two men when he stopped for gas and went in to pay.

He said he was surprised to see the station, which normally didn't open until 7 a.m., open 15 minutes early. He brought $5 worth of gas and said hello to Wilson and the two men when he went into pay but didn't get any response.

He said he always spoke to Wilson and thought it was odd she didn't say anything to him.

"I felt like I walked in on a conversation or something. No one said anything, so I paid and walked out," Chilton said.

After he left in his pickup, Chilton thought about driving around the block and coming back, but he continued to the horse track at the fairgrounds.

He said he regrets that decision.

"Maybe I could have done something," he said.

Wilper said he will not allow trial testimony from Bainbridge to be entered into the sentencing hearing for Sivak.

Bainbridge blamed Sivak for shooting and stabbing Wilson. Sivak, in turn, blamed the death on Bainbridge.

Bainbridge's testimony, along with that of two jailhouse informants who later were found to have perjured themselves during Sivak's 1981 trial, helped establish that Sivak was the one who killed Wilson.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2011 overturned Sivak's death sentence imposed at trial and during three subsequent resentencings. The decision by the appeals court cited the questions raised by the informants' perjury.

“Sivak simply did not receive a trial that resulted in a (sentence) worthy of confidence,” 9th Circuit Judge Milan Smith wrote in the court’s decision.

"The court was very reluctant to hear Bainbridge's testimony, especially in light of the 9th Circuit finding that his testimony was 'inherently unreliable,'" Wilper said Monday.

Hear James Bell testify Monday:

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