Frank Evans testifies during a Sept. 8 state Clemency and Pardons Board hearing. Screenshot, TVW Washington

Frank Evans testifies during a Sept. 8 state Clemency and Pardons Board hearing. Screenshot, TVW Washington

State board: Reduce sentence for man convicted in Kent shooting

Frank Evans shot and injured 5 people in 2007 at Denny’s restaurant

The state’s Clemency and Pardons Board has recommended that Gov. Jay Inslee reduce the prison sentence of a man who shot and injured five people in 2007 at the Denny’s restaurant in Kent.

Frank Lee Evans, 39, but 23 at the time of the shooting, broke into tears as he listened to comments from the five-member board about why they unanimously supported his petition for commutation of his sentence, according to a video of the Sept. 8 hearing.

“I’m appreciative of your remorse and respect the changes you made in your life and the changes you mentioned,” said board member Doug Baldwin, a former Seattle Seahawk receiver, during the hearing prior to the board’s vote and after Evans spoke to the board. “If we grant commutation, you have a responsibility to positively contribute to our community and I believe you will do that.”

A King County Superior Court jury convicted Evans, of Kent, of five counts of first-degree assault with five gun enhancements, and a judge sentenced him in 2008 to 63 years in prison. A King County judge reduced that sentence to 36 years in 2020, which still leaves Evans with 20 years to serve. He is currently housed at Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen, according to state Department of Corrections jail records, but previously was housed at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.

It is unknown when Inslee will rule on the case.

“We haven’t received the recommendations yet and there is no specific timeframe for the governor to make a decision,” said Mike Faulk, spokesperson for Inslee, in an Oct. 6 email. “In clemency cases, the governor will consider a broad range of information, including the entire record that was before the board, the board’s recommendation, and any input from stakeholders (for example, the prosecuting attorney, victim(s)/family member(s) of victims, others).”

The city of Kent and the Kent Police Department opposed a reduced sentence.

“The city objected to the commutation of the inmate’s sentence, noting he had previously received a significant reduction of his sentence in 2020 – reducing it from 63 years to 36 years,” said Pat Fitzpatrick, city of Kent chief administrative officer, in an Oct. 3 written report to the Kent City Council.

The shooting

According to previous newspaper stories, court documents and testimony at the Clemency and Pardons Board hearing, Evans was drinking at H.D. Hotspurs, a Kent bar, prior to showing up early in the morning of Jan. 27, 2007 at Denny’s restaurant, 1246 Central Ave. N.

Evans had numerous shots at the bar before getting in arguments with other patrons and told to leave the club. Evans then showed up with a friend at Denny’s and walked to his usual table where people were sitting. That upset Evans, who threw food and plates off the table and got into an argument with the people sitting at the table finishing up their late breakfast.

One of the men at the table stood up and punched Evans, sending him flying. Evans, still upset, then left the restaurant with a friend.

Evans, who grew up in Seattle, went outside to the parking lot and came back into the restaurant with a Glock .40 semiautomatic handgun. He started firing shots all over the dining area before he fled. He fired 11 shots.

Nobody was killed, but five people were shot and injured. Two shots in the back rendered one man, Steven Tolenoa, of Kent, a quadriplegic. He was sitting in Denny’s having a Grand Slam breakfast with his brother and wasn’t part of the earlier conflict.

Kent Police arrested Evans shortly after the shooting and found the gun used in the shooting inside his vehicle. Evans told detectives he had bought the gun for $250 off the streets.

Evans states his case

Frank Evans spoke from prison to the board about his case during a hearing that lasted about two hours and 30 minutes.

He first wanted to address the five individuals he injured and the numerous other people in the restaurant that night.

“I apologize to each and every one of you and your families and friends,” Evans said. “My actions were unwarranted and unprovoked. I’m deeply hurt by the pain and suffering I have caused you, but it doesn’t compare to your pain. …there’s nothing I could say to you, and you’d say, ‘OK thank you.’”

Evans, who has a 19-year-old son, said he wants his actions to speak louder than his words.

“I want to be a positive influence and work with youth and prevent them to do what I did,” he said. “All of you who do not want to see me released, I understand that. I want to show I can impact the community in a positive way.”

Evans offered his condolences to the family of Tolenoa. Tolenoa, who lived in Auburn after the shooting, died in May 2020 at the age of 41, according to his obituary published on the website of Yahn & Son Funeral Home in Auburn.

Seattle attorney Jennifer Horwitz, who represented Evans at the hearing, testified that the shooting compromised Tolenoa’s health and made him more vulnerable to pneumonia, which she said killed him.

“My condolences to family of Mr. Tolenoa for the loss of their loved one,” Evans said. “I hope and pray his family can heal and find peace in their life.”

Evans said when he arrived at prison in Walla Walla, his intake counselor told him his life expectancy was 78, which with his original sentence, essentially meant he would die in prison.

“I was still processing what I had done to innocent individuals,” Evans said about his initial years in custody. “In prison, there’s a lot of violence and I was full of anger and had to work myself out of situations, which is why I was involved in a riot in 2012.”

Evans said he started to change after the riot.

“I was sent to the hole, with my own thoughts and I had to face the man in the mirror and be frank with him, with what severe and horrific things I did to individuals and how badly I affected their lives,” he said. “It was not a situation I wanted to be in. I needed a new outlook for life.”

Evans said that was when he separated himself from other individuals in prison and the negative lifestyle. He said he took programs and read and educated himself to become a better person. He read a lot of self-help books.

“I worked with younger individuals inside prison to help them grow and not make the same bad decisions I made,” Evans said. “That led me to want to reach the community at a wider level. My objective is to work with youth in the community.”

Board questions Evans

After his testimony, Evans was asked by Kazi Joshua, a member of the Clemency and Pardons Board and the vice president of student affairs at Whitman College in Walla Walla, to explain what happened at Denny’s on Jan. 25, 2007.

“I came into Denny’s in Kent and went up to a table with people there,” Evans said. “I wanted them to leave so I could use the table. I was throwing their plates off the table, cussing at them, and they kicked my butt. I was hurt physically and embarrassed. I got beat up, but I deserved it. I started it.”

Once the fight was broken up, Evans said he briefly left the restaurant.

“I went and grabbed a handgun and went back inside and began shooting this gun in a random fashion, injuring people not even involved in the original incident,” Evans said. “I left again and was pulled over by Kent Police and arrested.”

Joshua then asked Evans how a person described earlier in the hearing by friends as someone who couldn’t hurt a fly and the person in the restaurant that night were the same person?

“The person (they) knew is not the same person who did the crime in 2007,” Evans said. “They weren’t in my life at the time, my actions are not the same person they knew me to be and not the same person I am now. That was a person that had not been shown to anyone.”

Baldwin asked Evans if he ever had gang ties.

“Yes, I have been affiliated before prison and in prison, but I no longer have ties to gangs,” Evans said. “I removed myself from gang life.”

Baldwin then asked Evans if he receives commutation, should the board be concerned about gang ties when he’s on the outside.

“There’s no concern with gang life. I removed myself from those type of people, it’s behind me now,” Evans said. “Walla Walla is a violent environment, but I don’t let prison issues get to me. I choose to move like one day I will be home soon.”

Grant petition

Horwitz, the Seattle attorney, represented Evans before the Clemency and Pardons Board.

“The crime was absolutely horrific,” Horwitz said to the board. “I cannot imagine being someone who was present at the restaurant for the unjustified violence that was involved.”

Horwitz said Evans had his sentence reduced in 2020 to correct the originally scheduled court’s sentencing, and the judge could not reduce it further because he couldn’t consider the rehabilitation and transformation of Evans at a resentencing hearing.

But the attorney said this board can consider the changes in Evans.

“Another 19 to 20 years in prison will not make him a better person and not make society a safer place,” Horwitz said. “It was at the time, but not now.”

Horwitz, a criminal defense attorney for more than 30 years, said Evans owned up to committing the crime and apologized to everyone impacted by the shooting. She also said a psychological evaluation of Evans was never done after he was arrested and charged, but should have been.

“Had it been done it would have shown people are immature in their early 20s, a time in life when people’s brains continue to develop,” she said. “It’s not an excuse, but he’s not the immature person he was then. He had not fully matured.”

Horwitz answered a question from a board member about Evans’ involvement in a 2012 prison riot at Walla Walla.

“He was forced into it, a gang in prison,” Horwitz said. “From his perception, there was not a lot of choices in the prison setting, you have to be on one side or the other or there’s fallout later. Today, he’d see other options.”

Robert Evans, the brother of Frank Evans, testified that he will provide his brother a place to live at his house in Puyallup and a job driving trucks to deliver packages and unloading trucks.

“My brother was like a kid when he left. …now he’s approaching 40 and I’ve seen the growth in him,” Robert Evans said.

Frank Evans Sr. also testified. He said his son will have the resources he needs to return to society and that he has shown remorse for the families he harmed.

“He didn’t even know what happened three days after the event,” his father said about the shooting. “He didn’t know what he had done and why he was locked down. That’s hard to understand when you do a heinous crime and not know what he had done.

“I don’t think there was any intention to do what he did. His mind flipped, maybe because of alcohol, he had some 21 shots. …the bar served him . …consumption could have sent him to do what he did.”

Frank Evans Jr. filed an appeal after his conviction and was granted a resentencing hearing in 2020, when King County Superior Court Judge Roger Rogoff reduced his sentence by 27 years. Evans wrote in a Facebook post that he had one of his first-degree assaults run concurrent with the other four and four of his gun enhancements run concurrent with one to get the reduction. He said Judge Rogoff said at the resentencing hearing that he had done as much as he could legally in his case and strongly recommended that Evans file a petition for clemency.

Keep Evans in prison

Two people who were present at the Denny’s shooting, but not shot, testified at the hearing against a sentence reduction.

Debbie Roice Weiding was having dinner with friends. She saw the argument Evans had at another table and that management asked him to leave.

“He walked up to our table, yelled at our table and I told him to calm down and leave or you’re just going to get in trouble,” Weiding said to the board.

She said Evans and a friend left angry.

“I thought they were gone, but they came walking back into the establishment,” she said. “I had a bad feeling something was going to happen. They weren’t even inside a few seconds, his hand raised and I saw a gun, pushed my friends under the table and heard five to six shots.”

Weiding said she went up to Steven Tolenoa, who had been shot.

“His eyes were rolling back in his head,” she said. “My hands were covered in blood when I started to move him. I kept talking to him to keep him awake until EMTs arrived.”

Weiding said she identified Evans as the shooter to police.

“I testified at his trial when he was sentenced to many years due to the amount of people injured and additional gun charges,” she said. “I saw Steven in a wheelchair damaged from the neck down.”

Because of all of that, Weiding said she opposes any change in Evans’ sentence.

“I do not believe Frank Evans deserves clemency, he should serve time in jail,” she said. “He walked in to a restaurant a second time with a weapon with full intention to hurt somebody. …it was not accidental, he was not running away from a situation or protecting himself from danger. …he did this to himself and he needs to stay in prison to pay his debt for unreasonable, irresponsible and evil actions he made that night when he injured and scared so many people and I am sure many of those people have not put that night out of their minds.”

She asked the board to think of the families involved.

“Steven lost his life,” she said. “He would’ve never been in that situation if he was not shot that night. All he did is he went to have breakfast with his brother.”

Anthony Barnes Jr. was at the table Evans first approached that night.

“He walked up to the table slapped my friend’s money out of his hand and threw his food on the floor,” Barnes said. “My friend stood up, punched Frank and knocked him back 6 feet.”

Barnes said Evans left and then returned with a gun.

“He starting pulling the trigger, not aiming and shooting sideways,” Barnes said. “I would’ve been shot if he’d raised the gun 2 inches higher.”

Barnes asked the board to deny the petition.

“I can’t forgive a person like that,” he said. “My friend was just back from the Afghanistan war and didn’t get shot. But he returns home and is shot at a Denny’s.”

Barnes said that employees at the restaurant said Evans came in there every weekend and would be rude to them.

Barnes said he listened to Evans’ testimony about how he has changed and he hopes he has changed.

“But I feel he should at least do five more years before being let out in public,” Barnes said. “He’s coming out from prison, who knows what else might anger him or set him off.”

Barnes asked the board to remember Tolenoa.

“Unfortunately, Steven died,” he said. “Mr. Evans must live with that the rest of his life, he injured somebody that now has passed away.”

Board comments

Each of the five Clemency and Pardons Board member spoke in favor of the petition by Evans for commutation of his sentence.

“Clearly, everybody wanted to say something to you because this story has impacted us all very deeply,” said Baldwin, appointed to the board by Inslee in 2022 and who played for the Seahawks from 2011-2018, including a Super Bowl title, before retiring in the Seattle area.

“You walked into that Denny’s with a gross disregard for human life and one of those victims, Mr. Steven Tolenoa, is no longer with us ultimately as a result of your action.

“Fortunately for you, you are still here and you have an opportunity to steward your life in a way that can take this tragedy and turn it into a lesson for our community. You have the obligation to do so. …not only for victims whose lives have forever changed but for folks in support of you.”

Kazi Joshua read aloud more than a dozen names of people impacted that night at Denny’s and had a message for Evans.

“Who is Frank Lee Evans, the one friends spoke about or the one at Denny’s at Kent, we do not know,” Joshua said. If the board recommends commutation and the governor agrees, it’s not a get out of jail free, it’s get out and do good.”

Board member Raymond Delos Reyes, an attorney who provides public defense services in King County, came away impressed with Evans.

“Hearing from Mr. Evans was the most powerful thing I heard today,” said Delos Reyes, just appointed to the board in July.

He hopes Evans follows up on his plan to do work in the community.

“South Seattle is being ripped apart by gun violence, things you want to have impact on. …south Seattle needs you,” he said.

Board member Rhonda Salvesen, who worked many years as a court reporter in King County Superior Court, agreed with Delos Reyes.

“Who you are is what we need in this community, not just in the Black community, but in the community as a whole,” said Salveson, appointed to the board in 2018. “I think you will make a bigger difference outside than what are you doing inside.”

$13 million settlement

The shooting received extensive media coverage in 2011 when a jury ruled three people injured or who suffered in the shooting should receive $46.3 million from Denny’s for the company’s failure to provide any security or reduce store hours despite numerous incidents at the restaurant.

Denny’s, through its insurance company, settled with the three people for $13 million, with almost of that money going to Tolenoa.

Attorney Ron Perey said at the time that the settlement kept the case from going on for a couple of more years through appeals and it enabled money to go sooner to Tolenoa, then 31, for his care and housing.

The fact that Evans had been able to wreak the havoc he did at Denny’s was the core of the lawsuit’s argument: that Denny’s as a company was not doing enough to assure the safety of its customers and employees.

“Their failure was a managerial failure in providing protection to customers at the Kent Denny’s, when they knew there was violence going on almost every weekend,” Perey said in an interview with the Kent Reporter after the verdict.

Tolenoa also commented after the settlement.

“They could have prevented this from happening,” Tolenoa said of Denny’s. “They knew they had a problem (with unruly customers) after the bar rush.”

Denny’s issued a statement after the verdict and settlement.

“We continue to believe that this tragedy was the result of a random act of violence that could not have been foreseen or prevented by the company or its local restaurant personnel,” according to the statement published in the Kent Reporter. “We understand that our insurance carrier chose to enter into a settlement for a much lower amount in the interest of bringing closure to this matter. Our sympathies have always been with the victims of this senseless act and we hope the best for them in the future.”


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Board member Doug Baldwin comments about the Frank Evans clemency case during the Sept. 8 hearing. Screenshot, TVW Washington

Board member Doug Baldwin comments about the Frank Evans clemency case during the Sept. 8 hearing. Screenshot, TVW Washington

Jennifer Horwitz, attorney for Frank Evans, at the board hearing. Screenshot, TVW Washington

Jennifer Horwitz, attorney for Frank Evans, at the board hearing. Screenshot, TVW Washington

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