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The Times' criminal justice team looks behind the scenes and behind the headlines.

October 29, 2009 at 6:17 PM

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Man behind bloody rampage at Seattle church pleads to reduced charges

Posted by Cathy McLain

From Times staff reporter Jennifer Sullivan:

A Seattle man who broke into a Rainier Valley church earlier this year and engaged in a naked, blood-smeared vandalism rampage pleaded guilty today to three reduced charges.

Daniel Saunders, 46, has a documented history of mental illness, said Ian Goodhew, deputy chief of staff for King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg. As part of the plea agreement, Saunders must enroll in King County Mental Health Court.

On June 6, Saunders was arrested for breaking into the Unity Church of God, where he demolished a trophy case, ripped photos from the walls and smeared his blood on doors walls and windows. Saunders, who police say has hepatitis C, left the congregation displaced while biohazard workers completed the cleanup, police said.

A miscommunication between the prosecutor's office and the King County Jail resulted in Saunders being released before criminal charges were filed, a spokesman for the prosecutor's office said. A warrant for his arrest was issued after his release.

On June 11, Saunders showed up at a Seattle Police Department evidence room to collect items confiscated during his arrest. When officers tried to arrest Saunders on the warrant he fought back, authorities said.

Saunders armed himself with a screwdriver during the fight, which left two officers injured, police said. T

Until Thursday, Saunders was charged with second-degree burglary, second-degree malicious mischief and third-degree assault, Goodhew said. The charges were reduced in the plea agreement to second-degree criminal trespassing, third-degree malicious mischief and resisting arrest.

Kevin McConnell, Saunders' lawyer, could not be reached for comment.

Had the case proceeded in felony court, Saunders wouldn't have been required to meet with Mental Health Court staff, which includes treatment providers, attorneys, judges and probation officers, Goodhew said.

"We reduced those charges from felonies to misdemeanors to make him eligible for Mental Health Court, where he will receive extensive probation and supervision not available for the low-level felonies," Goodhew said.

Saunders is expected to be released from the King County Jail on Monday.

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