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Doomed vigilantes: Three of four people in case die

11-12-2003 Washington:

REPUBLIC, Wash. - Three of four people who tried to take the law into their own hands in a Ferry County child-molestation case have died, fueling rumors of a deadly vendetta against the vigilantes.

"People's imaginations are running wild," Sheriff Pete Warner said.

Authorities see no evidence of foul play in the death last week of Marshall L. Butler II, Warner said Tuesday.

Butler is the third of four people who tried to assault a child molester in September 2002 who have subsequently died.

Only Butler's sister, 27-year-old Monique Ermine remains alive. Ermine could not be reached immediately for comment on Tuesday as her phone was not listed.

While the deaths are mysterious, Warner said most likely they are related to the chronic health problems and methamphetamine use of the deceased.

"I think it's going to be a medical issue," Warner said. Still, the first two deaths were considered odd enough that the Washington State Patrol was asked to investigate. Butler's death will be added to that investigation.

"It's just an awful twist of circumstances," said James von Sauer, the Ferry County prosecutor and coroner. "The only thing I can think is voodoo."

Butler, 25, was found dead last Friday in his bed at his parents' home near Republic. Investigators believe he died there Thursday night.

Vigilante co-defendants Ronald G. Webster, 25, and Robert Hughes Jr., 22, died in the company of friends or family members on July 3 and Sept. 13, respectively.

No cause has been determined for Webster's and Hughes' deaths, but both had medical problems and were found to have methamphetamine in their systems when they died, Warner said.

An autopsy on Butler has not been completed, he said.

Warner acknowledged that the three deaths, each coming two months apart, are mysterious.

Butler visited a doctor Thursday morning, then went home and went to bed and did not get up, Warner said.

Butler reportedly had a history of seizures, but "it's really kind of sketchy about what actually was wrong with him," Warner said.

Butler, Ermine, Hughes and Webster were charged with first-degree burglary with a deadly weapon for allegedly breaking into or conspiring to break into the home of Pine (34) and Mariah Smith while armed with clubs in September 2002. The four defendants suspected the Smiths had molested children with whom Butler and Ermine had a connection.

Pine Smith drove off the attackers with a shotgun, and neither he nor his wife was injured. Both were charged with child molestation, but the single count against Mariah Smith was dismissed.

Pine Smith was convicted in May of two counts of fourth-degree assault with sexual motivation. He was sentenced to six months, and was in jail when Webster, Hughes and Butler died.

The Smiths do not have a listed telephone number.

In the burglary cases, a jury acquitted Webster, and the others pleaded guilty to reduced charges. Butler pleaded guilty July 15 to attempted second-degree assault, and was sentenced to 67 days in jail. ..Source.. by Seattle Times

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