WALLA WALLA -- A career criminal accused of setting up a large methamphetamine lab at the Walla Walla Vineyard Inn last spring pleaded guilty Monday as his trial was beginning in Walla Walla County Superior Court.
Clifford E. Chew, 57, entered the guilty plea to possessing meth with intent to manufacture the substance within 1,000 feet of a school bus route stop. He faces a standard-range prison term of seven to 10 years when he's sentenced later.
In a plea agreement, both the prosecution and defense are recommending the low end of that range. The prosecution also agreed to drop two additional charges against Chew -- manufacturing meth and possessing pseudoephedrine with intent to manufacture the substance.
Chew pleaded guilty after the jury for his trial was selected, negating the need for the proceedings to continue. In entering the plea, he didn't admit guilt, but acknowledged the prosecution has evidence that could convict him.
Chew was arrested May 18 in a SWAT-team raid at the Vineyard Inn, 325 E. Main St. Police said they recovered many items used to manufacture meth -- in addition to the finished product -- when they served a search warrant in room 106 of the motel, occupied by Chew.
The lab reportedly was one of the largest ever discovered in Walla Walla County. But in pretrial proceedings, the defense maintained no meth was being manufactured at the location before the raid.
At the time of his arrest, Chew had been sought for allegedly absconding from Umatilla County. He has more than 35 felony arrests and convictions on his record for crimes such as attempted murder, first-degree assault, robbery and numerous drug violations.
Terry McConn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8319.