State v. Haag

Decision Date23 September 2021
Docket NumberNo. 97766-6,97766-6
Citation495 P.3d 241
Parties STATE of Washington, Respondent, v. Timothy HAAG, Petitioner.
CourtWashington Supreme Court

Mary Katherine Young High, Attorney at Law, Jennifer Vickers Freeman, Department of Assigned Counsel, 949 Market St. Ste. 334, Tacoma, WA, 98402-3696, for Petitioner.

David Phelan, Cowlitz County Prosecutor's Office, 312 Sw 1st Ave. Rm. 105, Kelso, WA, 98626-1799, for Respondent.

Robert S. Chang, Melissa R. Lee, Jessica Levin, Seattle University School of Law, 901 12th Ave., Korematsu Center For Law & Equality, Seattle, WA, 98122-4411, for Amicus Curiae on behalf of Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality.


¶1 It is well established that "children are different from adults" for sentencing purposes. State v. Houston-Sconiers , 188 Wash.2d 1, 18, 391 P.3d 409 (2017). When a child commits the crime of aggravated first degree murder, the federal and state constitutions, the enactments of our legislature, and our case law demand that such a child be treated differently from an adult. Here, this body of law demands another resentencing hearing for Timothy Haag.

¶2 In 1995, Haag was sentenced to mandatory life without parole for a crime he committed at the age of 17. In 2018, at a Miller -fix1 resentencing conducted pursuant to RCW 10.95.030, the resentencing court expressly found that "Haag is not irretrievably depraved nor irreparably corrupt." 1 Verbatim Report of Proceedings (VRP) (Jan. 19, 2018) at 25. Yet the court resentenced Haag to a term of 46 years to life; the earliest that he could be released is at the age of 63. Id. at 27. Haag sought review in this court, arguing that the trial court erroneously emphasized retribution over mitigation and that his sentence amounts to an unconstitutional de facto life sentence. We agree.

¶3 We hold that the resentencing court erred because it gave undue emphasis to retributive factors over mitigating factors. We also hold that Haag's 46-year minimum term amounts to an unconstitutional de facto life sentence. We reverse and remand for resentencing in accordance with this opinion.


¶4 In July 1994, at the age of 17, Haag killed Rachel Dillard, his 7-year-old neighbor. At that point in his life, Haag had already gone through several difficult experiences: abandonment by his father; poverty; bullying at school; "psychological maltreatment by his stepfather[;] and the sudden loss of his best friend," Alex Dillard2 —the victim's older brother—who had recently fled the Dillard family home. Clerk's Papers (CP) at 68. He was also a closeted gay juvenile in a small community in the early 1990s; he worried that if anyone learned he was gay, he would be rejected. Id. at 71-72.

¶5 Convicted in 1995 of aggravated first degree murder for the killing of Rachel Dillard, Haag has spent the decades since in prison. During that time, Haag has shown tremendous growth and maturity. He accumulated only one infraction, in 1997. Id. at 88-89. He earned a high school diploma "as soon as he got to Walla Walla [State Penitentiary]." 2 VRP (Jan. 12, 2018) at 159. He has worked throughout his incarceration, including in the prison chapel and in the kitchen. Id. He became a Jehovah's Witness, testifying that "as [a] [W]itness I believe in trying to help others." Id. at 162.

¶6 In 2018, Haag was resentenced under our Miller -fix statutes, RCW 10.95.030(3) and RCW 10.95.035. Two expert witnesses, Dr. Marty Beyer and Dr. Ronald Roesch, wrote detailed analyses and testified on Haag's behalf at the resentencing hearing. Additional testimony was offered by a volunteer prison chaplain, Kenneth Pearson; Dorcy Long, who was incarcerated with Haag; Sharon Owens, Haag's mother; Janice Beaty, Haag's aunt; and Haag himself.

¶7 Both of Haag's expert witnesses independently administered the SAVRY test (Structured Assessment of Violence Risk in Youth test) to analyze whether, at the time of the crime, Haag would likely have reoffended. CP at 76, 90. Both concluded that Haag would have been at a low risk of reoffending at the time of the offense. Id. at 77, 92.

¶8 One of the experts, Dr. Roesch, performed further tests: the Personality Assessment Inventory (PAI), a self-reported test used to analyze "adult personality and psychopathology," and the HCR-20 (Historical Clinical Risk Management-20), which assessed Haag's current risk of reoffending. Id. at 89, 92. According to Dr. Roesch, "the PAI does not indicate any serious mental health issues that would demand treatment." Id. at 90. Similarly, the HCR-20 showed that Haag "is currently considered a low risk for reoffending." Id. at 93.

¶9 Haag also presented evidence that he has matured in prison. Pearson, the volunteer prison chaplain, testified by video recording that Haag is "a mature adult." 2 VRP (Jan. 12, 2018) at 108. Dr. Roesch concluded similarly. Id. at 83. Haag himself testified about the sincere remorse he feels for the crime. Id. at 161. He also testified that he knew he would not commit another violent act because prison had presented him with situations where he could have responded with violence, but he had chosen not to. Id. at 165-66. Haag requested a 25-year minimum term. CP at 59.

¶10 In contrast, the State offered no expert testimony and no testimony designed to rebut the evidence produced showing that Haag was unlikely to reoffend. Instead, the State offered victim impact testimony from Judith Rodger Dillard, Rachel's mother; Alex Dillard, Rachel's brother; Susan Kahn Dillard, Rachel's older sister; John Dillard, Rachel's father; and Dan Huntington, a family friend and Rachel's former tae kwon do instructor. Alex Dillard testified, "I do not believe that this man is capable of being—I do not believe that this crime is capable of reform." 2 VRP (Jan. 12, 2018) at 141 (emphasis added). He also stated, "I don't think that you can equate a 25-year sentence for, you know, someone who murdered someone in a bar fight, and give that same sentence to a baby killer ." Id. (emphasis added). His family expressed similar sentiments. See, e.g. , id. at 142-47. The prosecutor asserted that the "sentencing isn't about [Haag]" but "about justice for an innocent little girl whose last 15 minutes of life were a struggle for breath while being throttled by that man's hands." Id. at 114 (emphasis added). The State requested a 60-year minimum sentence. Id. at 121.

¶11 The resentencing court acknowledged that the "State offered nothing to rebut [the] conclusions and assertions" of Haag's experts regarding Haag's rehabilitation. 1 VRP (Jan. 19, 2018) at 23. However, it also found that "there is no analysis that informs the Court that Mr. Haag has addressed and overcome certain factors that led to the violent murder of ... [a] small child." Id. In deciding on Haag's new sentence, the court explained its reasoning:

So the Court is faced with the daunting task of properly weighing a multiplicity of factors, which include a vile, cowardly, and particularly heinous multi-step strangulation and drowning of a defenseless, sixty-five pound little girl committed by a three hundred pound[,] seventeen-year-old young man that resulted in a convict[ion] for aggravated murder in the first degree. I'm also to consider the then-youthful brain of Mr. Haag with diminished decision-making capacity, who simultaneously lived through some very difficult circumstances while still enjoying a supportive relationship and activities. And also, a man convicted of murder who has exhibited a stellar track record in prison and has been assessed as a low risk for violently re-offending.
In balancing these pieces of the puzzle, the Miller court and the statutory factors, and all the other factors that I mentioned earlier, the Court does now hereby impose a sentence—a minimum sentence of forty-six years in prison and a maximum of life in prison.

Id. at 27.

¶12 Haag appealed, arguing that the resentencing court failed to meaningfully weigh the mitigating factors and that his sentence amounted to an unconstitutional de facto life sentence. State v. Haag , No. 51409-5-II, slip op. at 13, 15, 2019 WL 4273918 (Wash. Ct. App. Sept. 10, 2019, as amended Sept. 17, 2019) (unpublished), The Court of Appeals upheld his sentence. Id. at 13-16.

¶13 Haag petitioned this court for review. The State filed an answer. We stayed our decision to grant review pending our decision in State v. Delbosque , 195 Wash.2d 106, 456 P.3d 806 (2020). We then requested and received supplemental briefing regarding granting review from both parties. The Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality also filed two amicus briefs in support of granting the petition for review. We granted review. Haag and the Korematsu Center filed further briefs. Subsequent to oral argument, we requested and received further briefing on Jones v. Mississippi , 593 U.S. ––––, 141 S. Ct. 1307, 209 L. Ed. 2d 390 (2021).


¶14 "We will reverse a sentencing court's decision only if we find ‘a clear abuse of discretion or misapplication of the law.’ " Delbosque , 195 Wash.2d at 116, 456 P.3d 806 (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting State v. Blair , 191 Wash.2d 155, 159, 421 P.3d 937 (2018) ). "A trial court abuses its discretion when ‘its decision is manifestly unreasonable or based upon untenable grounds.’ " Id. (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting State v. Lamb , 175 Wash.2d 121, 127, 285 P.3d 27 (2012) ).

¶15 A decision is based on untenable grounds when its factual findings are unsupported by the record. Id. (quoting Lamb , 175 Wash.2d at 127, 285 P.3d 27 ). "We review findings of fact for substantial evidence," which " ‘exists where there is a sufficient quantity of evidence in the record to persuade a fair-minded, rational person of the truth of the finding.’ " Id. (citing State v. Dobbs , 180 Wash.2d 1, 10, 320 P.3d 705 (2014), and quoting State v....

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