By Debbie Bryce
For the Journal
POCATELLO — Upon first meeting, you might get the feeling that you’d seen Frank Holden on the cover of an L.L. Bean catalogue. He is handsome, articulate and confident. But when the conversation turns to his daughter, Cassandra Ann, he softens and becomes vulnerable — his emotions are as raw today as they were 26 years ago when Cassandra, or Cassie, was killed.
Cassie, Frank’s only child, was murdered in 1988 in Bremerton, Wash., when she was 12 years old.
“It was devastating,” Frank said. “It was then and it still is.”
The man who was convicted of bludgeoning Cassie to death with a two-pound rock, Jonathan Lee Gentry, was sentenced to death in 1991. Today Gentry is the longest-sitting death row inmate in Washington. Gentry was due to be executed this year.
However, last month, just one year into his first term, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee announced that he was suspending the death penalty in Washington stating that capital punishment is unequally applied.
The Associated Press reported on Feb. 11 that Inslee hoped the move would enable officials to “join a growing national conversation about capital punishment.”
Inslee told reporters that he had spoken to the families of victims, prosecutors and law enforcement officials and that they supported his decision.
“There have been too many doubts raised about capital punishment. There are too many flaws in this system today,” Inslee said at a news conference Feb. 11. “There is too much at stake to accept an imperfect system.”
Frank, who owns and operates Snug Fleece on Poleline Road, said the governor did call him and tell him what he had decided to do, but Inslee wasn’t looking for input.
“He talked circles, it was a courtesy call, that’s all it was,” Frank said. “(Inslee) didn’t ask my opinion and there was nothing that I could say to him, he’s not going to change his mind.”
Frank said the execution of his daughter’s killer would have brought closure for him and justice for Cassie, instead the governor’s move opened up the wound and brought back the terrible memories of that summer.
It was Cassie’s first big trip alone and her first time on an airplane. She went to Bremerton to visit her mother, Terry Holden.
Cassie hadn’t seen her biological mother for about six months and she was a little apprehensive and didn’t know what to expect.
“We have an 800 number here and I told her that she could pick up any phone and call it any time she needed to and that she could come home anytime she wanted to,” Frank said.
Cassie made it to Washington and seemed to be enjoying her visit. Frank talked to his daughter a few hours before she went missing.
“She was enjoying herself, everything was going well,” Frank said.
Cassie had just finished seventh grade at Franklin Middle School where she played soccer. She had started skiing with her dad at a young age, was an avid reader and she wanted to write a book.
An only child, Cassie said she wanted to have a big family.
“She always said she wanted to have twins,” Frank said. “I’m not sure where that came from.”
Cassie also loved to pick wild flowers, in fact, a small bouquet of flowers were found nearby when her body was recovered. She had left picked the flowers while her mother prepared dinner.
Frank was notified the morning after Cassie went missing and he and his second wife, Diane Holden, immediately headed to Washington.
Pre-cell phone era, Frank stopped along the way and called his father in Pocatello. That’s when he learned that Cassie’s body had been found. She had been dragged off the trail which bordered the Rolling Hills Golf Course near her mother’s home.
“I hope no one ever has to experience that,” Frank said. “I can’t even describe what that felt like.”
Gentry was out of jail on bond when he killed Cassie. He was charged with the rape of a 15-year-old girl he had attacked in the garage of her family’s home while she was washing her car, Frank said. Gentry also served six years in a Florida prison for manslaughter after shooting a man who had fought with his brother.
“Gentry’s brother was stationed with the Navy in Bremerton and thought maybe a geographic change would help him stay out of trouble,” Frank said. “It did not.”
Gentry was arrested following a routine traffic stop and he jumped bond on the rape charge.
A witness reported seeing a man matching Gentry’s description on the walking trail near where Cassie’s body had been recovered. And a biker, who luckily was also an artist, reported seeing the man on the trail as well.
“This cop just happened to hear the description and he said, ‘Hey, I just arrested that guy, he’s in jail right now,’” Frank said. “The witnesses both said that he was wearing a welder’s hat, like a skull cap.”
A search of Gentry’s residence by Kitsap County officials turned up a pair of shoes that had been thoroughly scrubbed, but blood spatter remained on the laces.
Gentry was convicted of the rape charge, but it would be two years before he would be charged with Cassie’s murder.
DNA testing was conducted on the blood sample and on a hair found on Cassie’s body. The case was the first murder conviction in the state using DNA evidence.
Another inmate testified that Gentry made the statement that “they found my hair on that bitch.”
The hair turned out to be Gentry’s brother’s and the convicted sex offender tried to point the finger at him.
“But the brother was in the middle of the Pacific when Cassie was killed,” Frank said. “Gentry was wearing his brother’s clothes.”
When the case finally did make it to court in 1991, Frank was the first person to testify. Following his testimony, Frank assumed a permanent place in the courtroom.
“No one knew who I was. But there was this one detective, Doug Wright, who always sat at the defense table, but his chair was always turned toward me,” Frank said “I ended up staying with him at his house. He said he needed to get to know me.”
Frank was instructed not to sit behind Gentry and not to make eye contact with him. While he admits thoughts of taking the law into his own hands did cross his mind, he complied with the court’s instruction.
“(Gentry) was not human, he was not even an animal,” Frank said. “There was no regret, no remorse and very little emotion. It was never a question of whether or not he did it, just if protocol was followed.”
In June 1991, Gentry was convicted of first-degree murder and one week later he was sentenced to die for the crime.
During one of several appeals, Frank was also accused of witness tampering by Gentry’s legal team.
“I was told to not have any contact with the jurors, if I saw them in the hall, I went the other way,” Frank said. “During the appeal, they interviewed all the jurors, but one had died, so guess which one I allegedly talked to.”
While initial DNA tests on the blood stains on the shoelaces were damning to his case, Gentry’s team asked that the blood spatter be tested again. The results of the second tests were more conclusive than the first — it was Cassie’s blood.
During the past 26 years, Frank attended four state and federal appeals.
“He was out of appeals. He would have been executed this year,” Frank said.
Terry Holden died last year, and Frank and Diane divorced two years ago after 22 years of marriage. They didn’t have children.
“We talked about having kids, but I knew that I just couldn’t go through that ever again,” Frank said. “Diane seemed to understand that.”
Jaime Smith, spokeswoman for Inslee, said last week that in Washington, some counties can’t fund capital punishment cases. That means the penalty is not equally applied and the death penalty is also used as a plea-bargaining tool in some cases.
“The governor acknowledges that this is an emotional issue and he respects the feelings of the victim’s families,” Smith said. “But he has made it clear that under his administration, he will not lift the moratorium on the death penalty.”
Currently, there are nine inmates on death row in Washington. Gentry’s case is the only one that would have likely came across the governor’s desk this year.
Frank will not see justice for Cassie as long as Inslee holds the state’s highest post.
Gentry’s execution will not bring Cassie back, but Frank said it will bring closure for him.
“It doesn’t get easier, ever,” Frank said. “It’s something that you never get over, or get past.”