SKAGIT COUNTY, Wash. -- Convicted mass murderer Isaac Zamora, who killed six people in a shooting rampage in 2008, wants to withdraw his guilty pleas.
A motion filed by his attorney, Skagit County public defender C. Wesley Richards, claims Zamora only pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty, and since the death penalty is now considered unconstitutional in the state, he wants a retrial.
In 2008, Zamora stole firearms and went on a shooting spree around his hometown of Alger, killing six people, including a Skagit County sheriff's deputy. He was facing 20 charges, and the prosecuting attorney was considering whether to seek the death penalty.
Just before making that determination, the two parties entered a plea agreement. The state agreed not to seek the death penalty if Zamora pleaded guilty to four counts of aggravated first-degree murder, six counts of attempted first-degree murder, and not guilty by reason of insanity for two counts of aggravated first-degree murder. He also pleaded guilty for eight other charges.
"I accepted the plea bargain because I was afraid I would be sentenced to death, and would ultimately be executed if I went to trial and was unable to convince a jury I was insane at the time of the crimes," Zamora wrote in a declaration.
His attorney detailed several diagnoses of schizophrenia. A doctor detailed that Zamora thought he was shooting demons that day.
Initially, Zamora was sent to Western State Hospital but soon after, the hospital sought to have him removed, declaring him an escape risk and a threat to staff. After a change in law, the state was able to transfer him from the hospital to prison, where he is set to remain the rest of his life.
In 2018, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty is unconstitutional. Months later, Zamora wrote his attorney, requesting to withdraw his plea.
"It is fundamentally unfair that because of the threat of the death penalty, which is unconstitutional, Mr. Zamora gave up his right to a jury trial where he could have presented a well-supported insanity or diminished capacity defense," Richards wrote in the motion.
"It's not a frivolous argument and the courts need to weigh in on it, that's for sure," famed criminal defense attorney John Henry Browne told Q13 News.
Browne said the argument had the potential to "open the floodgates," however, and that the court may try to sidestep the issue.
He also said that if they did take the case and reverse his guilty pleas, it would most likely bring the case in front of a jury trial, which may not go in Zamora's favor.
"Juries rarely buy an insanity defense, no matter how clearly it's demonstrated that the defendant is mentally ill," Browne said.
"Given the evidence I know in Mr. Zamora's case, he would be convicted," he said. "So he would then be sentenced, most likely, to life in prison without parole. And I think that is the most likely outcome so the question is, why go through all of that and why put the victims through all of that again?"
Q13 News reached out to Richards, who responded that he cannot comment on pending litigation.