Trial set for teen charged with role in robbery

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WALLA WALLA -- A Walla Walla teenager pleaded innocent Monday afternoon to criminal charges related to the reported robbery of a man in Eastgate several weeks ago.

Michael R. Zuniga, 18, of 924 W. Willow St., is set for trial Sept. 20 in Superior Court on the charges of complicity to first-degree robbery and obstructing a law enforcement officer.

Officials claim Zuniga was an accomplice of Matthew E. Poarch, who beat up an acquaintance in early May and stole items from him. Zuniga is suspected of driving Poarch to and from the scene.

Poarch, 22, of 683 Pima Road, No. 277, pleaded guilty Friday to third-degree assault and third-degree theft, admitting he repeatedly struck Spencer Caldwell in the head and face and took Caldwell's cellphone and wallet.

In exchange for Poarch's guilty pleas, the prosecution agreed to reduce the case against him from the initial charge of first-degree robbery and to recommend a sentence of time served since his arrest May 6. Sentencing will be held later.

Police said Poarch confronted Caldwell in the parking lot area of Taco Bell, 202 N. Wilbur Ave., about 7:35 p.m. May 4 while Caldwell was on a break from his job there. The two had worked together at another restaurant in the past and Poarch was angry for some reason, according to a police report filed in court.

Poarch shoved Caldwell against a fence, the two started fighting and Poarch struck Caldwell repeatedly, the report says.

Poarch then took Caldwell's cellphone and wallet, and threw the phone at Caldwell causing it to hit the concrete and break. Poarch then left in the vehicle driven by Zuniga and officials were notified, police said.

Caldwell reportedly suffered facial and head injuries, which were examined by paramedics at the scene.

Caldwell recognized Zuniga as the driver of the vehicle, the police report says. When Zuniga was contacted by authorities for an interview, he allegedly told them he was at his girlfriend's residence at the time of the robbery, but that reportedly is refuted by the girlfriend's father.

Zuniga was charged May 19 and a warrant was issued for his arrest. He was apprehended June 27, but later was released on bail.

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