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Plea entered in Bristow murder

Hagadone News Network | January 29, 2021 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — A former Bonner County man indicted for the strangulation of Tammy Rae Bristow 34 years ago entered a plea to an amended charge of second-degree murder on Wednesday, 1st District Court records show.

William Rey Acosta entered an Alford plea to the amended charge, which means he admits no culpability, but concedes he could be convicted if the case went to trial.

Acosta's plea will be treated no differently than a standard plea of guilt when he is sentenced on April 20. He remains held at the Bonner County Jail in lieu of $1 million bail.

A plea agreement in the case binds the court to a fixed sentence of no more than 20 years. Counsel for Acosta remains free to argue for a lesser fixed sentence. There are no recommendations on the indeterminate portion of the sentence, which is served upon completion of the fixed portion, according to the plea agreement.

A grand jury indicted Acosta on a charge of first-degree murder in 2019, after the Bonner County Prosecutor's Office and the Sandpoint Police Department reopened the investigation into Bristow's murder.

Bristow, 18, was found slain in a south Sandpoint apartment on Jan. 8, 1987. She was strangled with a piece of guy line from a tent, according to contemporary press accounts of her killing.

There were no signs of forced entry, which suggested Acosta was acquainted either with Bristow herself or the apartment she was living in, according to Sandpoint Police. Robbery was a suspected motive because there was money that was unaccounted for at the scene.

Acosta was not the primary suspect in the initial investigation into Bristow's killing. Suspicion fell on another man who was found to have one of her personal effects, but the case against him was dismissed pending the emergence of new evidence in the case.

The city and the county reopened the investigation in 2016. Sandpoint Police detectives recovered a male's DNA on some of the evidence that was collected. The DNA evidence ruled out the initial suspect and was entered into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, also known as CODIS, which produced a match with Acosta’s DNA.

After Bristow's killing, Acosta apparently split his time between Bonner County and Arizona, where he served prison time for felony assaults. Authorities here believe those brushes with the law caused Acosta’s DNA to be entered into CODIS.

Acosta, 51, pleaded not guilty to the offense and was scheduled to stand trial in March. However, civil mediation to resolve the criminal case was ordered in December of last year.

Second District Judge Fred Gibler presided over the mediation at the Bonner County Courthouse on Wednesday. A change of plea hearing followed the closed-door mediation proceedings, records show.


Keith Kinnaird can be reached at or followed on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.