The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the death penalty for Clark Elmore, who confessed to raping and murdering his 14-year-old stepdaughter 20 years ago

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The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the death sentence for Clark Richard Elmore, convicted of raping and murdering his 14-year-old stepdaughter in Bellingham in 1995.

The unanimous ruling by the three-member panel rejected several avenues of appeal sought by Elmore, and affirmed a lower-court decision upholding his death sentence. Elmore, 63, is the second-longest serving inmate on Washington’s death row.

From a practical point of view, the opinion does not move Elmore closer to execution since Gov. Jay Inslee declared a moratorium on the death penalty while he’s in office. However, that moratorium involves the state’s implementation of the penalty, not its legality, and Inslee has said the penalty remains in place.

Nor does the state’s moratorium impact the federal appeals process, and the ruling handed down Wednesday upheld the dismissal of Elmore’s claims of ineffective assistance of counsel and due-process.

Elmore claimed his trial was prejudicial because the jury was allowed to see him shackled; he said his attorney made mistakes by having him plead guilty and by not pursuing a brain-injury defense. The federal judges said the state’s Supreme Court was correct in rejecting those claims as well.

A request for comment from Elmore’s appeals attorney, Robert Gombiner, was not immediately responded to. It was not clear whether Elmore will seek a rehearing or ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the 9th Circuit’s opinion.

A telephone call to the state Attorney General’s Office was not immediately returned.

Elmore, of Bellingham, was convicted July 6, 1995, of one count of aggravated first degree murder and one count of rape in the second degree for the rape and murder of Christy Ohnstad, 14.

Ohnstad, a Fairhaven Middle School student, was the daughter of Elmore’s live-in girlfriend at the time of her death on April 17, 1995.

In a graphic taped confession, Elmore said the girl had threatened to tell on him for molesting her when she was younger. Elmore picked her up at school that day, took her to a secluded area, and then raped and strangled her.

He then played the grieving stepfather. Within days of her disappearance, Elmore helped organize a search party for her and publicly criticized the police for not doing enough to find her. A Whatcom County Sheriff’s search party eventually found Ohnstad’s body near the south end of Lake Samish.

Elmore fled to Oregon, but turned himself in to Bellingham police within two days and confessed to raping and killing Ohnstad.