John Lee, the suspect in the Jan. 10 shooting that left three dead in Moscow, appeared for the first time in Latah County Court Tuesday.
Lee faces three counts of first-degree murder and one count of aggravated battery in Latah County, and is now being held without bail in the Latah County Jail.
Lee allegedly killed his adoptive mother, Terri Grzebielski, 61, as well his landlord David Trail, 76, and Moscow Arby’s manager Belinda Niebuhr, 47. Lee is also charged with shooting and wounding Michael Chin, 39, of Seattle.
According to the court affidavit submitted by Moscow Police Sgt. Tyson Berrett, Grzebielski was the last victim allegedly shot by Lee and not the first victim, as previously believed.
It was initially believed that Lee shot Grzebielski before going on the shooting spree that resulted in the death of Trail and Niebuhr, and the hospitalization of Chin.
According to the documents, Lee is seen on video surveillance footage putting in earplugs and pulling out a semi-automatic handgun before walking into Trail’s office, where he allegedly shot Trail.
In an interview with Moscow Police Lt. James Fry, Chin said he thinks Lee intended to kill Trail but not him, according to the documents. Instead, Chin said he thinks it was Lee’s intent to slow him down so he could not call the police, according to the documents. Chin said Lee had the opportunity to shoot him more times, but decided not to, according to the documents.
According to the documents, Berrett interviewed a local taxi driver who trailed Lee after witnessing him exit the Moscow Arby’s, where he allegedly killed Niebuhr.
The taxi driver said he was filling his car up with gas at the station next to the restaurant when he heard multiple loud pops and saw people running from the building, according to the documents. Moments later, the taxi driver said he saw Lee, who appeared to be calm and in no panic, exit the building carrying a black handgun, according to the documents.
As Lee got into his car, the taxi driver said he moved his car forward and stopped briefly to see Lee grab the steering wheel and take a deep breath, according to the documents.
The taxi driver said he called 911 and followed Lee across town to the 400 block of East Veatch Street where he watched Lee from down the street, according to the documents.
Fearing Lee had seen him, the taxi driver said he then circled the block and parked his car at CD’s Smoke Pit where he had a clear view of Lee siting in the driver’s seat, according to the document. After a minute of watching Lee, he said he circled the block again and saw Lee turn onto Highway 8, according to the documents.
Lee allegedly fled across the border and was apprehended in Whitman County where he had been held without bail since January on one count of felony eluding.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Magistrate John Judge appointed Deborah McCormick and Charles Kovis as Lee’s defense attorneys. Latah County Prosecutor William Thompson said Judge appointed two defense attorneys to represent Lee because of the seriousness of the charges.
If convicted of the murder charges, Lee faces up to three life sentences in prison or the death penalty. He also faces an aggravated battery charge for shooting Chin, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Lee was extradited to Idaho Monday evening after Whitman County Prosecutor Denis Tracy filed a motion to drop Lee’s felony eluding charge in Washington.
Thompson said he plans to have a large number of witnesses give testimony during a preliminary hearing, which is set for 8:30 a.m. April 23. At that point, he said Judge, who is scheduled to oversee the preliminary hearing, will decide whether or not to move the case to Latah County District Court.
Thompson said he is still in the process of determining who will testify and how many witnesses will be needed.
The case against Lee, Thompson said, has many different elements because it involves three different crime scenes and many witnesses.
“So it has a substantial degree of complexity,” he said.
Since Jan. 10, Thompson said his office has continuously been working with the police to gather evidence.
“We always work very closely with law enforcement in all of our cases,” Thompson said.
In the motion that dropped Lee’s Washington charges, Tracy said resources in Washington are limited and, realistically, Lee “will never be released from custody in Idaho.”
Since the signed motion to drop the Washington charge was without prejudice, the eluding charge could be re-filed in Washington if Lee is not convicted in Idaho, according to the court document.
“While the allegations of defendant’s conduct in Washington are very serious, the class C felony he faces here pales in comparison to the multiple charges of murder and attempted murder in Idaho,” Tracy wrote in the document.
A preliminary hearing for the murder charges has been set at 8:30 a.m. April 23.
Ryan Tarinelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org