Exoneree Tyler Gassman

At a Glance

  • Innocent Years Served: 4 Years
  • Sentence: 26 Years
  • Wrongful Conviction: First-Degree Robbery, Assault
  • Year: 2008
  • Jurisdiction: Spokane County
  • Released: December 2012
  • Exonerated: July 2013
  • Cost of Wrongful Incarceration*: $155,728
  • Lost Wages**: $131,261

About Tyler

In 2008, Tyler was 21 years old and living in Spokane Valley.

The Investigation

In April of that same year, 17-year-old Matthew Dunham was charged with a robbery in Spokane and took advantage of the opportunity to reduce his own charges by assisting police with other investigations. Dunham claimed responsibility for other robberies that he and others committed in the area, at one point driving around town with detectives to point out the various locations.

Based on information provided to police by Dunham in June 2008, Dunham was charged along with Anthony Kongjunchi, Paul E. Statler, Tyler Gassman, and Robert Larson with a drive-by shooting on April 15, 2008. The crime involved a rip-off of three men who were attempting to buy drugs. In addition, Paul, Tyler, and Robert were charged with three additional robberies based on Dunham’s statements. Dunham pled guilty and received a sentence of less than 18 months in juvenile detention, although he had been facing as much as 40 years in adult prison before “cooperating” with police. Kongjunchi also pled guilty.

By 2009, one of the other three robbery cases against Paul, Tyler, and Robert had been dismissed for lack of evidence, and juries acquitted them of all charges in the other two cases. All that remained was the charge for the robbery on April 15. Prior to trial, Kongjunchi told defense lawyers that Paul, Tyler, and Robert were not involved. However, Kongjunchi said that if called as a witness, he would claim his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and refuse to testify. As a result, their attorneys failed to call Kongjunchi as a witness for the defense.

On the first day of trial for the April 15 robbery, Spokane County prosecutors amended the date the crime was alleged to have occurred, now claiming the crime occurred on April 17, not April 15. The last-minute change torpedoed the defense alibis of Paul, Robert, and Tyler. Over the objections of defense attorneys, the trial judge allowed prosecutors to change the date of the crime charged, delaying the trial for one month to allow the defense to investigate. While the trial judge fined prosecutors $8,000 for the last-minute amendment, it was later reduced on appeal to $2,000 and eventually vacated by the Washington Supreme Court.

According to Dunham’s trial testimony, he and Kongjunchi picked up Paul, Tyler, and Robert and drove them to a pre-arranged meeting place where Clifford Berger, Eric Weskamp, and Kyle Williams planned to buy a quantity of Oxycontin for $4,000. Dunham further alleged that as Weskamp and another man approached the vehicle, Paul, Tyler, and Robert, whose faces were covered with red bandanas, robbed them of the $4,000 and fled in the vehicle. Weskamp was beaten during the attack. When Williams and Berger gave chase in a car, Dunham said, Paul fired shots at the vehicle with a shotgun.

Dunham further testified he was “100 percent” sure that Paul, Tyler, and Robert took part in the robbery. The victims of the robbery, however, testified and none were able to identify Paul, Tyler, or Robert as the attackers. The victims did positively identify Dunham and Kongjunchi as participants in the attack against them.

On February 17, 2009, a jury convicted Paul, Tyler, and Robert. Tyler was sentenced to 26 years in prison, Robert was sentenced to 20 years, and Paul was sentenced to 42 years.

Post-Conviction and Exoneration

Washington Innocence Project began investigating the case after the convictions were upheld on appeal, discovering that Weskamp testified at the trial that he went to work the day after the crime, but left early due to his injuries. His work records showed he left early on April 16, the day after the crime was originally charged — not April 18, the day after prosecutors had amended the charges to reflect.

Washington Innocence Project lawyers also discovered phone records showing that Dunham had spoken with one of the victims of the robbery before and after the crime. Kongjunchi gave a sworn statement saying that Paul, Tyler, and Robert were not involved in the crime.

In December 2012, Superior Court Judge Michael Price vacated Paul, Tyler, and Robert’s convictions, and ordered a new trial. The judge criticized the police investigation and the trial defense attorneys for failing to assemble the phone and work records that showed their innocence. And, the judge said that the lawyers should have called Kongjunchi at the trial: because he had pled guilty to the robbery, and thereby admitted that he did it, he could no longer assert his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination for that crime.

The defendants were released and the last of the charges against Paul, Tyler, and Robert were eventually dismissed on July 24, 2013.

Exonerees Paul, Robert and Tyler

*Based on the average annual per-person incarceration costs in Washington State as of May 2019. Does not include the financial cost of trial, appeals, community supervision, retrial, or related civil proceedings.
**Based on the average salary by age https://smartasset.com/retirement/the-average-salary-by-age; not including retirement or social security contributions.