Lawsuit raises safety questions

Another lawsuit against the state — this one stemming from last year’s murder of a Federal Way mother by a sex criminal who slipped under supervisors’ radar — is raising questions about public safety and taxpayers footing the bill for prison officials’ negligence.

Tacoma attorney Jack Connelly last week filed suit on behalf of Deborah Lee Funk’s mother. Funk, 40, was a daycare provider who was raped and killed with a her own steak knife in her apartment bathtub on April 14, 2000.

Connelly asserts the state lost track of convicted sex offender Roy E. Webbe after his release from prison in the final days of 1999. Webbe was listed as a transient at the time he murdered Funk.

“Basically, DOC isn’t doing it’s job,” Connelly said. “Somebody has got to start paying attention because too many people are dying.”

Webbe isn’t the only sex offender in King County without an address — 189 convicted sex criminals are listed as transients, according to the King County Sheriff’s Office. Their convictions range from such crimes as communicating with a minor for immoral purposes to first-degree child molestation, first-degree child rape and unlawful imprisonment.

In his six-page complaint filed in Pierce County Superior Court, Connelly alleges that state failed to properly supervise Webbe — even after he violated conditions of his release. Release conditions stipulated Webbe was supposed to maintain contact with corrections officers, but he did not. And he may have been using marijuana and alcohol — blatant violations of his release terms — just days after leaving prison, though no violation reports were filed, the complaint said.

In a phone interview, Connelly elaborated, saying prison officials in 1998 had discussed among one another whether Webbe’s movements should be acutely scrutinized after he left prison.

“They knew they had a man that had to be closely watched,” he said, referencing e-mails exchanged by prison officials at facilities in Monroe where Webbe was then housed. One called Webbe’s previous crimes “sadistic and, frankly, frightening,” and a 1998 pre-sentence investigation stated he was almost certain to re-offend, said Connelly, who won nearly $40 million last year in similar lawsuits against the state. Officials had also documented Webbe’s rehabilitation was not progressing prior to his release; he also had numerous infractions for theft, self-mutilation and fighting while imprisoned, Connelly said.

However, a risk management attorney for the state Department of Corrections said officials responsible for supervising Webbe made good-faith efforts to track him down after he failed to show up for a mental health evaluation on Feb. 25, 2000. After the drug violations, prison officials had slated a mental health evaluation for Feb. 8, 2000, but the chosen provider refused to diagnose Webbe, thus forcing a delay to Feb. 25. Community corrections officers contacted Webbe at least four times in February, but he had moved from Seattle to Federal Way by March and a report was drafted saying Webbe had violated his terms of release.

Andrews said Webbe, listed as a transient, had left a bogus forwarding address for contacts, but officials were later able to track him down at a local shelter and a relative’s home. Despite eventually finding Webbe, Andrews said the state does not have the solution to tracking down sex offenders who register as transients, especially when information is fabricated by the criminals.

“That’s a huge issue, and a difficult problem,” he said. “It makes a difficult job even harder, if not impossible.”

Andrews also expressed sympathy for Funk’s relatives.

“It was a terrible tragedy,” he said, “that no family should have to endure.”

Funk’s body was found by her mother on April 15, and police launched a homicide investigation that led to Webbe after witnesses placed him in the vicinity of Funk’s apartment near Redondo on the night of the murder. He was arrested April 26 for failing to register as a sex offender after moving and on suspicion of assaulting a 60-year-old Federal Way woman who lived near Funk.

Last December, King County prosecutors charged Webbe, now 33, with aggravated first-degree murder. The charge could have carried the death penalty upon conviction, but given Webbe’s history of mental illness they had planned to seek life imprisonment.

Webbe was later found mentally unable to stand trial and remains at Western State Hospital near Tacoma. Homicide charges have no statute of limitations in Washington.

Funk’s family had previously filed a $15 million claim. However, the lawsuit does not specify a dollar amount.

Washington state is self-insured to $5 million, but the insurance firm Lloyd’s of London picks up the tab after that point, Andrews said.

Connelly said it was entirely up to family if they wanted to seek an out-of-court settlement before the case comes before a judge, presently slated for October, 2002.

“They want to make sure this won’t happen to other people,” he said, adding Funk’s two daughters and son live motherless in Pierce County.

“How do you get the DOC’s attention so that they will start supervising these cases?” he asked.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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