A Cowlitz County jury convicted Donald Howard McElfish of kidnapping, attempted rape and sexually motivated assault Monday in the 2012 case of a woman who testified that she was bound naked to a chair and told she would be raped by three men.
Sentencing was set for April 23. McElfish, 63, of Woodland faces up to life imprisonment on both the kidnapping and attempted rape charges.
It took two tries before the verdicts were final.
The first set of verdicts was read in court at 10 a.m., but only three of the four decisions were read. The fourth verdict form -- for the charge of indecent liberties with forcible compulsion -- had been left blank, which wasn’t noticed until after the other three guilty verdicts were read in open court. After a quick conference between the judge and lawyers, the jury was sent back to the deliberation room and told to be sure to fill in all four forms. That also meant they could change any of the previously read verdicts, Superior Court Judge Marilyn Haan told them.
McElfish had already handed over his keys and other personal belongings to two female friends in the audience when it was announced the jury would go back for additional deliberation. He had sat quietly with his hands folded while the verdicts were read.
Twenty minutes later, the jury was back again, this time with four verdicts.
The first three didn’t change. Jurors again found McElfish guilty of first-degree kidnapping, second-degree attempted rape and second-degree assault with sexual motivation. McElfish had been charged with first-degree attempted rape but the jury couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict on that, so they agreed on the lesser charge of second-degree.
As for the fourth charge, jurors acquitted McElfish on a charge of indecent liberties.
McElfish had been out on bail but was immediately handcuffed and taken into custody after the second round of verdicts was read.
“Love you Don,” one of his friends called out.
“You be good,” he told her as deputies led him from the courtroom.
All told, the jury spent a little less than a day deliberating, getting the case just after closing arguments concluded at midday Friday and then coming back to finish up Monday morning. Testimony in the trial took two days.
The convictions found that McElfish participated in the Oct. 5, 2012, kidnapping and assault of an Ariel woman who testified that Brandt Jensen threatened her, made her strip and then taped her naked to a chair in a bedroom of McElfish’s rural Woodland home. The woman, 43, testified that Jansen told her she had to have sex with McElfish and two others to pay off an alleged debt. She was able to break free when left alone with McElfish, and she ran naked through the woods and a river bed before breaking into a house and finding a place to hide.
“It was like a horror movie from hell,” she said of the ordeal and her panicked escape. (The Daily News is not naming the woman under its policy to not identify sexual assault victims).
McElfish’s lawyer, Richard Suryan, questioned the woman’s testimony during his closing arguments Friday, saying she and two other witnesses could have concocted it to cover up a burglary plot. He also told jurors that it wasn’t clear what exactly happened on the day in question because some witnesses weren’t consistent.
The victim was arrested last month after she missed meetings with prosecutors. The “material witness” warrant didn’t charge her with a crime, but did allow her to be arrested to ensure her participation in the trial. The woman spent one night in jail and testified last week.
Jensen pleaded guilty to lesser charges in the case in exchange for testifying. He has not yet been sentenced.