Slain woman’s family calls killer’s sentence ‘slap in the face’

EVERETT — Cynthia Goldman’s family came to the courthouse Wednesday in search of justice for their slain sister.

Instead, her siblings said they left empty-handed, angry and heartbroken.

The young man who strangled Goldman faced a maximum of 20 years in prison. Gary McLaughlin III was sentenced to 13 years in prison, as recommended by prosecutors and the defense.

Goldman’s brother said even the maximum sentence would be a slap on the wrist for the brutal, senseless killing. Mike Goldman called the 13-year sentence “a slap in the face.”

“This is not about revenge. This is about justice,” the slain woman’s sister, Michelle Goldman said.

The murdered woman’s family questioned why the judge showed McLaughlin any mercy after what he had done to Cynthia Goldman and the pain he’d caused the people who loved her.

Berdella Durand, 78, told the judge that her daughter’s death has left a gaping hole in her life. She aches for their hour-long phone chats, sharing news and recipes.

“Life will never be the same again,” Durand said.

Cynthia Goldman was a kind, funny and smart woman, her siblings said. She was compassionate and trusting, Mike Goldman said.

“She was trusting to a fault and allowed an animal into her home,” he said.

Prosecutors alleged that McLaughlin, 23, strangled Goldman on Feb. 15, 2012, during a dispute over rent. He had been leasing a room in Goldman’s Arlington home and was behind on paying her. After he killed Goldman, he poured gasoline on her and set the house on fire. Detectives say once the house was ablaze he retreated to some nearby woods and smoked marijuana.

McLaughlin told investigators the killing was an accident and he set the house on fire in an effort to cover up the accident.

He pleaded guilty last month to second-degree murder and first-degree arson.

Defense attorney Phil Sayles said Wednesday that his client suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder brought on by his combat experiences in Afghanistan while serving with the U.S. Army. McLaughlin was in the military just under three years. He was less-than honorably discharged for drug use.

An expert who has studied PTSD among veterans testified Wednesday. She spent four hours with McLaughlin in September and diagnosed him with the disorder. She said she believed that McLaughlin’s response to the confrontation with Goldman likely was caused by the disorder. It caused him to see Goldman as a threat. He judgement also likely was impaired by his marijuana use.

There was no justification for McLaughlin’s actions, but it may explain his violent reaction, Sayles said.

“Gary is not an animal. He is a young man who made a huge mistake,” the defense lawyer said.

McLaughlin thanked his family and friends for supporting him. He also told the court that he is ashamed of his actions.

“I truly am sorry,” he said.

Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Marybeth Dingledy questioned why prosecutors recommended the 13-year sentence, clearly against the wishes of Goldman’s family.

Deputy prosecutor Chris Dickinson said that his office wanted to spare the family a trial and any lengthy appeals that could follow a conviction. McLaughlin took responsibility by pleading guilty. Some thought was given to the mental health evaluation, he added.

Dingledy said she doesn’t believe the slaying was an accident. She also explained to Goldman’s family that a trial would have been painful and the outcome uncertain. While they may not agree with the recommended sentence, a plea agreement ensured an end to the criminal proceedings, the judge said. Dingledy also wanted to ensure that McLaughlin will be under the supervision of the state Department of Corrections for three years once he’s released. If he’d been sentenced to 20 years, he wouldn’t have been supervised when free. She ordered McLaughlin to undergo a mental health evaluation and follow any treatment recommendations.

“Folks I know this is frustrating to you. I hope it begins the healing process,” Dingledy said.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com.

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