From the July 1999 Idaho Observer:

Sandpoint man shot, imprisoned for being asleep on his couch

SANDPOINT -- Rex Prewitt was asleep on his couch January 25, 1999, at 11:30 p.m. when his dogs started barking. Prewitt, 42, got up, opened the door to his trailer home and was shot through the hand and the shoulder by Bonner County Sheriff's Deputy Tillson.

The deputies apparently interpreted sketchy information incorrectly and wrongfully concluded that Prewitt had attempted to burglarize a Sandpoint business earlier that same evening.

Transcripted witness description of the burglar indicates that Prewitt could not have been the culprit. The story, as told under oath by Bonner County Sheriff's deputies Tillson and Skinner, who were the officers at the scene, illuminates several inconsistencies that a reasonable person could interpret as being perjurous.

According to witnesses at the May 27, 1999 hearing, Tillson told his story in a cold, calculating manner while Skinner was visibly shaken. Soon after the shooting, Skinner resigned, took a job in Sandpoint and is reportedly an emotional wreck.

Bonner County Prosecutor Phil Robinson has stacked enough charges to keep Prewitt in prison for a long time if found guilty. Judge James Michaud announced that he would not permit potentially exculpatory evidence into the courtroom when he stated that he would not allow potential jurors to visit the scene of the shooting.

“There is no way that a jury could believe the story that Tillson and Skinner told the court if they were to come here and see that it's impossible for right-handed Rex to have been holding a gun in his right hand and be shot through the left hand and the right shoulder. The angles and the circumstances make it impossible,” explained Prewitt's wife Lucy.

Prewitt sensed that Michaud was setting the stage to ignore the evidence and find Prewitt guilty regardless. If Michaud were to find Prewitt guilty, he would be protecting the county from being held responsible for damages which could be awarded to an innocent man who has suffered permanent disabilities after being shot by overzealous county police in the middle of the night.

Rather than face over 50 years in prison for a crime the evidence indicates he did not commit, Prewitt has accepted the Alford plea of aggravated assault. An Alford Plea is not admitting guilt but allows the court to proceed with sentencing the defendant for an agreed upon charge.

Interestingly, Mark Tyler of Moyie Springs took an Alford Plea of aggravated assault in Michaud's court for the same reasons (The Idaho Observer, May and June, 1999). Both men were facing nearly 50 years in prison for crimes which the evidence powerfully indicates they are not guilty of having committed. Both men took the Alford Plea to avoid trials in what they both perceived to be a kangaroo court. Both men felt that their only option was to face 2-10 years in prison for crimes that they did not commit rather than face upwards of 50 years in prison for them.

Mistaken identity

Rookie deputy Tillson and Skinner suspected Prewitt of having attempted to rob Snow River Sheepskin at N. 113 First in Sandpoint at approximately 10 p.m. that evening. May 27 hearing testimony from Snow River owner Dennis Coats, who interrupted the burglary in progress and called police, described a man of medium build, 5'6” to 5'10 with straight, medium length hair and a mustache. He also described the man as having attempted to break the storefront glass with a tool described as a pick-axe or a miner's tool.

After calling 911, Coats described the man's vehicle as being a white 1975-1985 Ford pick-up truck with two 9s in the license plate number -- the only information that linked the attempted burglary to Prewitt whose truck also has two 9s in the license plate number.

Although Prewitt does wear a mustache, he is 5'5”, slight build and has kinky, curly hair. His king cab Ford truck is mustard yellow and brown. Admitted as evidence is a ball peen hammer -- not a pick axe -- that was found after obtaining a search warrant to search Prewitt's truck and after the man had been awakened in the middle of the night and shot by Tillson.

Tillson and Skinner apparently ran the plates of every Ford pick-up in the county and a red flag came up when they found that Prewitt had been in prison for a crime he had committed when he was 17 years old.

Except for that one incident, Prewitt has never been in trouble with the law. He was asleep on his couch and had to get up at 3:30 the next morning to be at work where he was going to start his first day of a promotion. His employers respect and like him and he has a blemishless work record.

“If they (Tillson and Skinner) had simply put their hand on the hood of Rex's truck, they would have seen that the engine was cold and that the truck hadn't moved in several hours,” commented Prewitt's wife Lucy who was in California visiting family at the time of the shooting.

Tillson and Skinner have admitted that they did not check to see of the engine was warm.

Tillson and Skinner maintain that Prewitt was armed with a handgun when they approached his door. Indeed, an unloaded handgun was found at the scene, but it was never checked for fingerprints and blood was spattered only on one side -- leaving a curious outline on the wood floor that would not be consistent with a gun held by a man shot down for defending his home against unknown intruders in the middle of the night.

The most likely scenario is that the deputies knocked on the unlocked door which swung inward as Prewitt was pulling his pants up and going to the door. The more experienced Skinner pulled Prewitt out of the house, maced him and then the rookie Tillson panicked and began shooting.

Blinded by mace, Prewitt maintains that he still had no idea that it was sheriff's deputies who had maced and shot him. "I thought I was being robbed," remembers Prewitt.

A neighbor who heard the shots was quietly listening in the woods and heard Prewitt, who was in shock at this time, asking the deputies over and over again, “Why did you shoot me?” and, "What did I do?"

Apparently concerned that they had done something wrong, the deputies, who, according to Prewitt had still not identified themselves as police, asked the traumatized man if he had any guns. Prewitt said yes and told where they were, thinking, "My God, they are here to steal my guns."

Then, somehow, the handgun that was always tucked into the far corner of a dresser drawer was carefully pulled out of the drawer and the holster was neatly placed on the bed. The drawer had also been reclosed. These pieces of circumstantial evidence are not consistent with how a man would behave if he were going for his (unloaded) gun to protect his home in the middle of a dark winter night -- especially since a loaded .22 rifle was much more accessible.

Tillson and Skinner maintain that there were no animals and there were no dogs barking. The Prewitt's have three dogs that bark at everything. One of their cats disappeared that night and returned three weeks later with a leg wound that two medical professionals agree must have been caused by a gunshot.

Prewitt's attorney is former Bonner County Prosecutor Tevis Hull. For whatever reasons, Hull has been unable to convince Judge Michaud to allow exculpatory evidence into his courtroom.

Hull lost to Robinson last last election because he refused to prosecute the Higgins boys. Interestingly, the Higgins boys shot Bonner County sheriff's deputies that came onto their property late at night without identifying themselves. Robinson ran on a platform that claimed Hull was soft on crime and vowed to reinstate charges against the Higgins boys. Robinson failed in his prosecution as the Higgins boys were finally acquitted in May because it was determined that they had no idea who the intruders were that night and that they had the right to defend their home against unidentified trespassers.

According to the evidence and witness testimony, Prewitt is guilty of being asleep on his own couch, on his own property, in the middle of a winter night. It is chronologically unlikely, if not impossible for Prewitt to have committed the attempted burglary. Prewitt's description, the description of his vehicle and the description of the tool allegedly used to break Snow River's storefront window glass are not consistent with the witness testimony of store owner Coats.

There is some circumstantial evidence that suggests this entire incident may have been a set up. Less than two weeks prior to the shooting, Prewitt had noticed an unusually large amount of traffic had been going up the gravel road past his place. Prewitt explained that he confronted the neighbor who was receiving the traffic and told him that he would not allow people to deal drugs in his neighborhood. Evidence is continually unfolding that links certain elected and deputized officials to major drug trafficking operations throughout north Idaho.

The deputies have made statements under oath that do not accurately describe the physical scene of the crime and are not inconsistent with each other's recounting of the incident, nor are they consistent with some crucial events such as the fact that other officers who arrived on the scene later stated that the Prewitt's dogs were aggressive and barking.

According to Mrs. Prewitt, the only evidence that Robinson has been able to provide in his prosecution of Prewitt were shards of window glass that were found in his truck that may heve been similar to the window glass from Snow River. "They found no glass in his hair or on Rex's clothes that night because he did not attempt to break into that store. What they found was some glass evidence in the cab of the truck from a job we did for a lady who wanted a lot of glass and trash hauled away from her property. All they would have to do is call and ask her about it,” said Mrs. Prewitt.

Prewitt sentencing scheduled for July 9

On Friday, July 9, Prewitt is going to be sentenced for aggravated assault by Judge Michaud. The evidence indicates that Judge Michaud will be sentencing Prewitt for criminally awakening from his couch and being shot by Bonner County sheriff's deputies.

Bonner County residents who can take the day off might want to plan on attending Prewitt's July 9 sentencing.

It should be of tremendous interest to ordinary citizens in the county to see how much prison time they can expect to serve if they are awakened and shot in the middle of the night by county police who mistakenly suspect them of having committed a crime.

At this moment, The Idaho Observer is aware of three cases, Tyler, Lance and Prewitt, where exculpatory evidence is not being allowed in Michaud's court and where provably innocent men are being sent to prison.

Please call the Bonner County Courthouse early on the morning of the 9th to determine exactly when the sentencing is going to take place. It is not unusual for controversial court case proceedings to be rescheduled at the last moment.

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