Man gets life sentence in murder case

Austin Blake Thrasher is led from court after receiving a life sentence for the murder of Michael Wyatt Smith. (Photo by KEITH KINNAIRD)

SANDPOINT — First District Judge Barbara Buchanan sentenced a Cocolalla man on Tuesday to life in prison for luring a romantic rival to his home and executing him.

Austin Blake Thrasher will have to serve at least 25 years of the sentence before he can become eligible for parole. Thrasher was given a concurrent two-year sentence for an unrelated burglary of a Ponderay pawn shop.

Thrasher, 20, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder for shooting Michael Wyatt Smith to death outside Thrasher’s home in the fall of 2011. Smith, 19, was reported missing and his killing went undetected until early 2012, when Thrasher, his wife and Christopher Robin Garlin were charged with breaking into Pawn Now and stealing firearms.

Garlin, also 19, disclosed to investigators that he witnessed Thrasher shoot Smith to death with a pistol.

Thrasher’s wife, Jennifer, ultimately led Bonner County sheriff’s detectives to a shallow grave in the Rapid Lightning Creek drainage.

Jennifer Thrasher, 24, and Garlin were charged with being accessories for initially withholding knowledge of Smith’s murder. Jennifer Thrasher pleaded guilty to the accessory charge and a federal firearms theft charge and is serving a two-year sentence.

A similar plea agreement is proposed in Garlin’s case. Garlin’s sentencing hearing is still pending because the court has not received a presentence investigation.

Austin Thrasher allegedly killed Smith because they were dating the same 16-year-old Clark Fork girl, according to court records.

“He committed this crime out of jealousy. He committed this crime with premeditation,” Bonner County Prosecutor Louis Marshall said.

It was divulged during the hearing that Austin Thrasher had at one point phoned Smith’s father, David, in California and posed as his son to cover the fact that he had been murdered, which Marshall called one of the cruelest acts he’s seen as a prosecutor.

David Smith described he and his wife’s only child as an Eagle Scout and honor student with an infectious laugh, gentle heart and a promising future.

“When most couples are beginning to enjoy the fruits of their labor, we were grieving for our son,” an emotional Smith said.

Smith attempted to make eye contact with Thrasher as he spoke, but Thrasher cast his gaze on the defense table. When Smith said Thrasher’s only hope was to find the Lord, Thrasher nodded his head in agreement.

Marshall recommended a 25-to-life sentence for Smith’s killing and a concurrent two-year sentence for the Pawn Now break-in. He said the state’s forensic pathologist determined Smith’s arms were raised and the bullet traveled in a downward direction, indicating the defenseless teen was on his knees when he was initially shot.

Chief Public Defender Isabella Robertson recommended a 15-to-life sentence and said her client viewed life through a prism warped by post traumatic stress and other personality disorders.

“My client did and does see the world through delusion,” said Robertson.

Thrasher said he understood the gravity of his actions and the effect they have had on the Smiths.

“I feel terrible for what I did,” he said. “I was wrong to do what I did and I wish I could give back the life I robbed.”

Buchanan adopted the state’s recommendation due callousness of the shooting and a paucity of mitigating factors.

“This was a senseless, inexplicable act. I don’t find any provocation,” said Buchanan.

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