2 men get 34 years for Everett slaying

EVERETT — A judge called Forrest Starrett’s death an execution.

Starrett, 48, was kidnapped at gunpoint, forced into his pickup truck and then shot multiple times outside a south Everett crack house.

His life was snuffed out because he was suspected of being an undercover cop.

“Mr. Starrett, who was a decent man, certainly was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Michael Downes said.

Downes on Tuesday sentenced Steven Lee and Tsegazeab “Keylo” Zerahaimanot to nearly 34 years in prison for the 2007 slaying.

The judge said he couldn’t find any reason for leniency.

Starrett was “executed in the parking lot,” Downes said. “He didn’t do anything to anybody.”

Zerahaimanot instigated the incident and Lee jumped in the middle. Both men share responsibility for Starrett’s death, Downes said.

Lee, 26, and Zerahaimanot, 24, sat shackled in front of the judge. They declined to say anything before the judge handed down the sentences.

The men’s attorneys say the defendants plan to appeal the convictions.

A Snohomish County jury last week convicted Lee and Zerahaimanot of first-degree felony murder with a firearm and first-degree premeditated murder with a firearm. In a separate bench trial Downes found the men, both felons, guilty of unlawful possession of a firearm.

The murder charges were merged on Tuesday in order to avoid violating the double jeopardy clause that prohibits the men from being punished twice for the same criminal act.

Under the law, the men must serve at least 25 years behind bars without any time off for good behavior.

Prosecutors recommended the high end of the sentencing range. Lee and Zerahaimanot were “armed, antagonistic, and assaultive,” prosecutors wrote in court papers. Starrett was a stranger to these men and they callously disregarded his life, Snohomish County deputy prosecutors Lisa Paul and Sean Reay wrote.

“The only known motive was the belief that Forrest Starrett was a police officer,” they wrote. “Had he in fact been a police officer, the charge could have been aggravated first-degree murder, and the lowest possible sentence would have been life in prison.”

The fact that they would attack a man they believed was a police officer indicates how little regard these men have for the law, prosecutors wrote.

“The lawlessness of these defendants led to the death of a man who by all accounts was kind and generous,” Paul and Reay wrote.

Lee’s attorney John Crowley said his client has demonstrated a high respect for the law in the past. He has had one previous brush with the law and never been convicted of a violent crime until now.

He has the support of his family and many friends, Crowley said.

Zerahaimanot maintains his innocence, his attorney Robert Perez said Tuesday.

His decision not to speak at the sentencing hearing shouldn’t be mistaken for his lack of regret for what happened to Starrett, Perez said. He is unwilling to perjure himself by feigning remorse for a crime he didn’t commit, Perez wrote.

Zerahaimanot’s family and friends support him and don’t believe that he is responsible for Starrett’s death, the attorney told the judge.

The defendants’ families waited in the courtroom until the men were led away. Someone shouted “I love you, Steven,” and another yelled out, “See you on appeal, Stevie.”

Victoria Starrett sat in the second row. Tears streamed down her face as the men convicted of killing her husband disappeared behind locked doors.

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

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