Michelle Knotek follows husband to prison cell

SOUTH BEND - In a surprise move Friday, Michelle Knotek pleaded guilty under an Alford plea to second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter in Pacific County Superior Court before Grays Harbor County Judge Mark McCauley. Relatives of at least one of the victims were in the court room during the plea hearing.

In an Alford plea, the defendant pleads guilty, but asserts factual innocence. This happens when a defendant says he or she is innocent, but will plead guilty to a lesser charge to avoid the possibility of a death sentence.

Knotek, 50, and her husband, David, 51, were charged with the murder and abuse of three people and of disposing of their victims' bodies on or near their Raymond-area property. The couple were arrested Aug. 8 at their Monohon Landing Road residence and jailed after a number of local witnesses began coming to sheriff's deputies with information about the physical and mental abuse of two men and a woman who had lived with the Knoteks.

David Knotek, originally charged with first-degree murder, pleaded guilty in Pacific County Superior Court Jan. 30 to second-degree murder in the death of one of the alleged victims, Shane Watson, and to misdemeanor charges of first-degree rendering criminal assistance and unlawfully disposing of human remains. He remains in Pacific County Jail, awaiting sentencing.

On Friday, McCauley carefully explained to Michelle Knotek her rights and the standard range of sentencing - 123 to 164 months for second-degree murder and 78 to 102 months for first-degree manslaughter to be served consecutively, a minimum of 16 and 3/4 years.

"Both are serious violation offenses," he said, "The sentencing ranges are only a recommendation. I could give you an exceptional sentence, above the standard range."

Although Brian Moran, chief criminal deputy with the state attorney general's office, who is assisting Pacific County Prosecutor David Burke in the case, asked the judge to sentence Knotek Friday, McCauley said he wasn't ready.

"I need more time to get a true feel for the facts of the case so I can appropriately judge what the sentence is," he said. "Very seldom does sentencing happen the same day, even for Class C felonies. I certainly won't do it for a case as serious as this one." Sentencing must be completed within 40 days of Friday's hearing. A date hasn't been set.

After the hearing, Burke said his office and the Pacific County Sheriff's Office "have been working hard on this case for months. Most don't see the work the sheriff's office, especially Sheriff John Didion and Deputy Pat Lynn have done. But for them, we wouldn't have had what we needed to get to this point. One phase is behind us."

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