Nooksack ax murderer pleads guilty, agrees to serve up to 27 years

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 6, 2013 

LUMMI RESERVATION - A Nooksack tribal member admitted guilt Thursday morning, June 6, to the ax murder of a 68-year-old man on the Lummi Reservation last year.

Levi Eugene Charles, 26, entered the plea in exchange for a recommended sentence of 22 to 27 years in prison for second-degree murder. But a federal judge could give him up to a life sentence at his next court hearing on Aug. 2.

Charles figured Kenneth L. Joseph, a Sauk-Suiattle tribe member, would be asleep when he broke into his house on the night of Oct. 23, 2012. Court records show Charles meant to steal valuables so he could pawn them for cash.

He found a miniature baseball bat outside the home at 4667 Lake Terrell Road. He grabbed it and walked inside, making enough noise that Joseph - who slept with a respirator - woke up. Joseph saw Charles and confronted him.

But Joseph, a much older man in poor health, couldn't fend off the burglar. Charles bludgeoned him with the bat, according to the plea agreement. To finish the job, Charles grabbed an ax that was by the front door and struck Joseph again and again in the head and face with it.

Afterward, Charles covered the body with a blanket. He shrouded the windows with more blankets. He put the ax back where he found it, near the front door, and left the baseball bat in the woods behind the house. He stole Joseph's wallet and television. But he abandoned the TV near the end of the driveway.

A few hours later, he used Joseph's debit card to withdraw $420 from an ATM. He turned himself in to police for an unrelated warrant a few days later. Soon afterward, investigators named him as a murder suspect.

Nobody else has been charged in connection to the murder.

Joseph worked as a math tutor and a fisheries enforcement officer. In an obituary, his family recalled his love for fishing, hunting and riding motorcycles.

Under the terms of the plea, Charles must cover the funeral costs.

Charles had a history of crimes fueled by substance abuse: forging painkiller prescriptions and breaking into a minimart, for example. Once, he stole his grandmother's debit card to buy $102.80 in minutes for his phone. But he had no past convictions for violent crime.

Reach Caleb Hutton at 360-715-2276 or caleb.hutton@bellinghamherald.com. Read his dispatcher blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/dispatcher or follow him on Twitter at @bhamcrime.

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