It’s rare that the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office receives two unrelated homicide cases within the same week; and even rarer that each case requires investigation that will take longer than a 72-hour investigative hold will allow.
Yet, that’s the situation the prosecutor’s office found itself in on Wednesday.
On the preliminary hearings docket Wednesday afternoon were Michelle LeAnne Steffens, 52, of Mineral, who is suspected of killing her husband on Sunday; and Haylea A. Hutchings, 31, of Olympia, who is suspected of causing the death of an 8-month-old baby girl in Centralia December 2022.
Steffens was arrested by the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office Monday morning and was being held at the Lewis County Jail on a 72-hour investigative hold, which was set to expire Thursday morning, pending charges.
Hutchings was arrested by the Centralia Police Department Tuesday afternoon.
Both women were expected to be charged in their respective cases Wednesday afternoon, but both were released from the Lewis County Jail within an hour of the 4 p.m. hearing.
Jail records indicate Hutchings was released at 3 p.m. and Steffens was released at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
The two women were released because the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office has yet to make charging decisions in their respective cases, according to Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer.
The prosecutor’s office is waiting for additional investigation, namely “exams,” to be completed in each case before it makes those charging decisions, Meyer said Wednesday.
“When we’re doing a 72-hour hold, we’re hoping answers come quickly,” he said, adding that when it becomes apparent the answers necessary for charges will take longer to obtain, it makes more sense to release the suspect until the investigation is complete.
“We don’t want to put ourselves in a timeline. … We want to make sure we get the right answers, not just the fast ones,” he said.
Olympia Woman Suspect In December Homicide of Baby in Centralia
Hutchings is suspected of causing the death of an 8-month-old baby girl in Centralia late last year.
The baby reportedly died at Providence Centralia Hospital after Centralia police officers and emergency medical personnel responded to a report that she was “unconscious and not breathing” at a residence in the 500 block of Girard Street at approximately 1:45 p.m. on Dec. 20, 2022.
An autopsy later revealed the baby’s cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head, according to a news release from the Centralia Police Department. The baby “had also sustained multiple other injuries to her body,” according to the news release.
Following an investigation by the Centralia Police Department and the Lewis County Coroner’s Office, detectives developed probable cause to arrest Hutchings for homicide by abuse.
The Centralia Police Department encourages anyone with information on the incident to call the department at 360-330-7680.
Mineral Woman Allegedly Admits to Shooting Husband on Sunday
Steffens is suspected of shooting her husband, identified in court documents as Michael Johnson, with a pistol at their residence in the 100 block of Washington Street in Mineral on Sunday.
The Lewis County Emergency Dispatch Center dispatched a deputy with the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office to the residence at approximately 9:39 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 22, after receiving two calls from the area, according to court documents.
The deputy reportedly arrived at the residence to find Johnson dead in the bathroom with multiple gunshot wounds, according to court documents.
When questioned by the deputy, Steffens allegedly “said she shot her husband,” according to court documents.
Steffens’ sister reportedly filled in the rest of the story with information Steffens had told her prior to the deputy’s arrival. According to Steffens’ sister, Steffens shot Johnson after Johnson assaulted Steffens with a shotgun.
Steffens reportedly sustained significant bruises during the incident, according to her defense attorney.
Steffens’ sister reportedly gave the deputy the five-shot revolver Steffens allegedly shot Johnson with.
“All five shell casings were still in the cylinder. All five cartridges had been fired,” noted the deputy.
The Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office filed an affidavit in Lewis County Superior Court Tuesday afternoon requesting a 72-hour no-bail hold so detectives can complete follow-up interviews and the prosecutor’s office can review autopsy results from the Lewis County Coroner’s Office and forensics from the Washington State Patrol’s firearms lab before filing charges, according to court documents.
The sheriff’s office encourages anyone with information on the incident to call the office at 360-748-9286 or Lewis County Communications at 360-740-1105.