16-year sentence for Arlington woman who killed, buried husband
Dan Bates / The Herald
Convicted murderer Michele Donohue reacts as someone at the other side of the room calls out to her as she is led from the courtroom following sentencing Tuesday in Everett.
Dan Bates / The Herald
Sharon Diehl, the sister of victim Byron Wright, turns back from the bench after testifying to Judge George Bowden Tuesday at Snohomish County Superior Court.
Dan Bates / The Herald
Defense attorney Jesse Cantor helps his client Michele Donohue throughout the process following her sentencing for murder Tuesday at Snohomish County Superior Court.
Dan Bates / The Herald
Larry Ringstad testifies about murder victim Byron Wright on Tuesday during Michele Donohue’s sentencing at Snohomish County Superior Court.
She bragged to the neighbor girl about buying a big television and toyed with the idea of installing a new jetted tub in the couple's Arlington house. She sold off his beloved automobile collection, including a couple of muscle cars.
She took half of his Boeing pension, netting her about $124,000. She also sold the property next to the house on Wade Road for about $110,000.
Donohue told anyone who would listen she was a scorned woman. Byron Wright, she said, ran off with a redheaded twentysomething, driving a sports car. She tweaked some of the details, depending on who she was talking to. She told Wright's sister the pair was headed to Wisconsin. She told the divorce judge that Wright left behind all of his belongings. She claimed that he'd bragged his new girlfriend was wealthy and he didn't need his longtime job at Boeing anymore.
Donohue filed for divorce in October 2004. She said she couldn't serve Wright with the paperwork because she didn't know where he was.
Secretly she knew Wright's exact whereabouts. Likely in September of that same year, Donohue repeatedly stabbed her husband, dismembered his body and buried him under 48 yards of fill dirt next to the shop. He was 53.
She and her new husband burned through Wright's money. She said they “spent the money on vacation trips and had fun.”
A Snohomish County Superior Court judge on Tuesday sentenced Donohue to 16 years in prison. She faced up to 18 years under the law. Judge George Bowden said Donohue deserved to “be locked up,” but he also believes the community would be better off if she serves some time under the supervision of the state Department of Corrections once she is released from prison. That wouldn't have been possible if she'd received the maximum.
Donohue, 48, finally confessed to killing her husband after nearly a decade of trying to keep her crime hidden beneath dirt and later concrete. She pleaded guilty earlier this month to second-degree murder.
She apologized to Wright's family on Tuesday, saying that nothing she could say would make up for what she did. She also adamantly denied planning the slaying. She said the marriage was volatile and she “lost control of her emotions and anger,” the day she killed her husband.
“I want his family to know I'm so sorry,” Donohue said.
Wright's younger sister said Donohue drove a wedge between her brother and his family.
“He was always around until Michele entered his life,” Sharon Diehl wrote in a statement to the judge.
He had spent every holiday with his family and doted on his young nieces. The women have memories of dying Easter eggs with him and visiting on Christmas Eve as they listened to “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
“He was the uncle that got us silly gifts and he would be laughing about them as he watched us open them. He would be on the living room floor playing with my sister and I. He was our silly uncle that made us laugh and smile and just had a good time being with us. Growing up with my uncle's presence felt like I had two amazing dads,” his niece Karen Robinson wrote.
Larry Ringstad grew up with Wright. They were best friends, bonded over their love for cars.
“I have to say that if you were lucky enough to have Byron befriend you, he would do anything to help you. He was a very gentle, kind and caring person,” Ringstad wrote.
He saw less and less of his friend once Wright married Donohue in 2000.
“She began to isolate him from his friends and family,” Ringstad said.
Relatives called and sent cards and letters, but all went unanswered. Diehl tried to file a missing persons report but she was turned away. Other relatives set up a Facebook page, trying to locate him.
“We loved Byron,” Diehl said Tuesday.
The family suspected something was amiss. Ringstad said Wright would never have left behind his car collection. “He was a car guy,” Ringstad said by way of explanation.
Wright was proud of the home and property that he had worked so hard to buy. “It wasn't much for most people but it was perfect for him,” his sister wrote.
Diehl sent another birthday card in May 2006. This time Donohue called, claiming that Wright had left her three years prior for a younger woman.
“We tried to find him and all that time Michele knew exactly where he was,” Diehl wrote.
Snohomish County sheriff's detectives found Wright's body in February, inside a plastic tote and two bags, buried under two feet of dirt and a cement floor.
A jailhouse informant had tipped them off to the murder.
Donohue had shared her secret with her new husband, telling him that she stabbed Wright. After the attack, she said Wright pleaded with her to call an ambulance. She said she refused because Wright wouldn't apologize. Donohue told her new husband she dismembered Wright in the kitchen, buried him in a shallow grave next to the shop and bought four loads of fill dirt to hide the grave.
At some point Donohue became afraid that she would lose the house to foreclosure. She recruited her new husband and his two buddies to dig up Wright's body for reburial under the shop floor.
Late last year Donohue's secret began to surface. A jail inmate told detectives he knew something about a killing. He explained that there was illegal activity going on at Donohue's place, including a “chop shop.” He became nervous that Donohue might call the cops to get back at her current husband.
Donohue's husband had moved his younger, pregnant girlfriend onto the property.
One of the men who helped moved Wright's body assured the informant that Donohue wouldn't call police because she had killed her ex-husband.
The informant later agreed to wear a wire while talking to one of the body movers. The man admitted to his part in covering up the killing. The conversation was caught on the wire.
Donohue also was recorded complaining about her current husband and making statements about “hoping someone would get rid of him.”
Ringstad said Tuesday he's not convinced that Donohue is sorry for what she did.
“She showed no remorse. She lived a life of spending his money while Byron lay in the dirt,” he said.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463, firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @dianahefley
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