Killer sentenced for ax murder on Lummi Reservation

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDOctober 18, 2013 

LUMMI RESERVATION - A burglar who beat a blind man to death with a bat and an ax must serve 23 years in prison for killing the tribal elder last year on the Lummi Reservation.

Levi Eugene Charles, then a 25-year-old member of the Nooksack Tribe, broke into Kenneth Joseph's home in the early morning hours of Oct. 23, 2012. In the past Joseph had bought trinkets, homemade crafts and art from Charles - "in the spirit of charity, rather than consumerism," according to federal court records filed by prosecutors.

Charles planned to steal those things back and sell them again, according to court paperwork. He crept into the small house, 4667 Lake Terrell Road, armed with a miniature baseball bat.

Joseph, 67, was legally blind, slept with a CPAP machine to help his breathing and had diabetes. He awoke to find Charles in his home.

Charles beat him with the bat. Then he grabbed an ax near the front door and killed Joseph. He put the ax back where he found it, covered the body in blankets and shrouded the windows with more blankets. He took Joseph's wallet. Later he withdrew $420 from the victim's bank account.

"In a post-arrest statement," prosecutors wrote, "when asked whether he 'beat the PIN code out of' Mr. Joseph before killing him, Charles made the dubious claim that he simply 'guessed' the correct code on his own after the fact. No one will know for sure, except for the defendant."

An unsuspecting family member found Joseph dead hours later.

Family recounted Charles' troubled upbringing in letters to the court: He'd been abandoned by his mother and beaten at the hands of a drunken relative. Treatment for a back injury snowballed into a painkiller addiction. Shortly before the murder, a girlfriend introduced him to heroin, according to a letter he sent from behind bars to his former guardians.

Charles had several past run-ins with the law, for forging prescriptions and breaking into a mini-mart looking for a drink. But he'd never been convicted of a violent crime.

He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in June. The sentence was handed down last week in U.S. District Court in Seattle. Charles will get mental health counseling at a medium-security federal prison. Also, he must cover costs for Joseph's funeral.

Joseph, a 68-year-old member of the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe, tutored math students at Northwest Indian College for more than a decade, according to family letters to the court. He played guitar in a worship group and loved to fish. A recovering drinker himself, Joseph sponsored many people through Alcoholics Anonymous so they could get sober.

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

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