Cocolalla man pleads guilty in Smith slaying

SANDPOINT — A Cocolalla man pleaded guilty Monday to first-degree murder for the shooting death of Michael Wyatt Smith.

Austin Blake Thrasher is scheduled to be sentenced on April 16. He remains jailed with bail set at $500,000. Thrasher also pleaded guilty to an unrelated felony theft charge.

Bonner County Prosecutor Louis Marshall is recommending a sentence of 25 years to life on the murder charge, court documents indicate. Chief Public Defender Isabella Robertson is free to argue for a lesser sentence, according to the terms of a plea agreement in the case.

The state is recommending a fixed, two-year sentence on the theft charge, which arose from a Ponderay pawn shop burglary. It would run concurrently with the sentence imposed for Smith’s killing.

Thrasher, 20, shot Smith to death with a handgun in the fall of 2011, but his murder remained a well-kept secret until Thrasher was arrested in connection with the Pawn Now burglary in early 2012.

Smith, 19, was allegedly slain because he was dating a 16-year-old Clark Fork girl that Thrasher was also seeing.

Word of the killing slipped after Thrasher, his wife and another Clark Fork teen were arrested for a pawn shop burglary in which numerous firearms were taken.

Christopher Robin Garlin disclosed knowledge of Smith’s killing while in custody and Jennifer Dunnagan Thrasher led sheriff’s detectives to a makeshift grave containing Smith’s body, court records state.

Garlin, also 19, and Jennifer Thrasher, 23, were charged with being accessories to Smith’s murder because they initially withheld knowledge of the killing. They were also prosecuted in U.S. District Court for the Pawn Now break-in.

Attorneys for Garlin and Jennifer Thrasher reached plea agreements which aim to resolve their federal and state cases.

Jennifer Thrasher received concurrent two-year sentences. Garlin is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court for the firearms thefts on Feb. 19. A sentencing date in his accessory-to-murder case is pending.

The plea agreement unveiled on Monday in Austin Thrasher’s case suggests the state possessed considerable leverage during plea negotiations.

In exchange for his pleas, the prosecution agreed not to file additional charges in connection with his sexual relationship with the Clark Fork teen. Those charges could have included statutory rape, lewd and lascivious conduct, and possession of child pornography.

The state further agreed not to file statutory rape and unlawful sexual conduct charges for a relationship Austin Thrasher allegedly had with a 15-year-old girl in exchange for an admission of guilt in Smith’s killing.

Austin Thrasher nervously bounced his shackled leg as his plea hearing got under way. First District Judge Barbara Buchanan methodically asked him if he understood his rights and the consequences of his plea.

“Yes, your honor,” Thrasher politely said.

Buchanan accepted the plea as being entered knowingly and voluntarily.

In his written plea, Austin Thrasher wrote:

“I have remorse for the crimes I am guilty of.”

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