Finlay seeks reduced sentence

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A Rathdrum man serving prison time for manslaughter has been returned to the Kootenai County jail to have his sentence reconsidered today in First District Court after accusing a judge of bias in the case.

Tyler Finlay, who is serving a 4- to 15-year prison sentence for the death last year of 29-year-old Jeffrey Marfice, was transported to Kootenai County from a Kuna correctional facility to ask Judge Lansing Haynes to reduce his sentence.

The Rule 35 hearing would normally be held before Judge John Mitchell, the same judge who sentenced the 23-year-old Finlay, but attorneys for the defendant accused Mitchell of bias, something the judge denied before voluntarily stepping aside.

Two affidavits filed with the court allege that Mitchell during his re-election campaign earlier this year used Finlay’s sentencing as an example in a candidate’s debate.

Defense attorney Ben Onosko, in an affidavit states that during the debate last spring Mitchell “stated that he made certain mistakes during his sentencing in that case …”

Deputy public defender Christopher Schwartz in an affidavit said Mitchell had spoken incorrectly in the Finlay case and that he had to admit his mistake to other district judges.

Anne Taylor, the county’s public defender, used the affidavits to try barring Mitchell from today’s Rule 35 hearing.

“The defendant has the right to have an unbiased judge throughout the proceedings,” Taylor said in an earlier hearing before Mitchell, who denied the request to disqualify himself.

There was no basis in the affidavits to require him to turn the case over to another judge, Mitchell said.

Mitchell later voluntarily stepped aside and Haynes was assigned the case.

According to court records, Finlay will appear in Coeur d’Alene this morning, instead of telephonically, because he is scheduled to be moved to a Texas facility and may not have another opportunity for a Rule 35 hearing anytime soon.

Finlay was convicted for killing Jeffrey Marfice after punching him near a downtown bar around 1:30 a.m. June 18 on Fourth Street. After being punched, Marfice fell and struck his head. He was transported by ambulance to Kootenai Health and died the next day.

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