Trial set for man accused of setting up meth lab at motel

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WALLA WALLA — A trial date has been set for a career criminal who police say set up a large methamphetamine lab at a local motel in 2011.

Clifford E. Chew, 58, is scheduled for trial starting Jan. 22 in Walla Walla County Superior Court.

He had pleaded guilty last year to possessing meth with intent to manufacture at the motel and was sentenced by Judge John Lohrmann to nine years in prison.

But Chew’s case was returned to the Superior Court as the result of an opinion issued this June by a three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeals in Spokane.

Chew was arrested in Walla Walla in May 2011 in a SWAT-team raid at what was then the Walla Walla Vineyard Inn, 325 E. Main St. The motel now is a Red Lion Inn & Suites.

Police said they recovered many items used to manufacture meth — in addition to the finished product — when they served a search warrant in a room occupied by Chew.

The lab reportedly was one of the largest ever discovered in Walla Walla County.

In pleading guilty, Chew didn’t admit guilt, but agreed there was evidence to convict him.

He claimed in his appeal that the prosecution breached its plea agreement with him at sentencing by inappropriately uttering statements that undermined a promised recommendation of a seven-year prison term, which is two years shorter than what Lohrmann ultimately imposed.

In a 12-page decision, the appeals court judges agreed with Chew, saying Lohrmann apparently was influenced by the prosecution’s remarks.

Chew’s attorney, Gail Siemers, had asked Lohrmann to consider a drug-offender treatment alternative, which would have significantly reduced Chew’s period of confinement.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Gabriel Acosta told the judge he was recommending seven years and was against the alternative sentence.

But Acosta and Chris Buttice, the lead detective on the case, then spoke of Chew’s extensive criminal record and the dangers of methamphetamine, points later mentioned by Lohrmann as reasons for the nine-year sentence he handed down.

The Court of Appeals panel ruled the prosecution remarks went beyond what was necessary to respond to Siemers’ alternative-sentence proposal.

Chew currently is incarcerated at the Washington State Penitentiary. He has more than 35 previous felony arrests and convictions on his record for crimes including attempted murder and assault in other jurisdictions.

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