By CATHY LOGG
MOUNT VERNON — Seth Anderson said there was no way he could win Friday. If he said nothing regarding his role in a so-called thrill killing, everyone would think he didn’t care. If he apologized, no one would believe him.
He’s pretty close to right.
Even Skagit County Superior Court Judge Michael Rickert didn’t buy Anderson’s remorse enough to sentence him to less than the maximum — 35 years in prison — for his role in the death July 28 of Navy Lt. j.g. Scott Kinkele and the assault of Rhonda Johnson. Rickert excoriated Anderson for what he didn’t do.
"You were the driver. You could have stopped the car, you could have gone back to the scene. I find you equally at fault as Mr. Berriault, who pulled the trigger," Rickert said.
Eben Berriault, 36, Anderson’s half-brother, gunned down Kinkele as he drove home along Highway 20. Anderson was driving when Berriault fired a single shotgun slug from the front passenger seat. The bullet shattered the back window of Kinkele’s station wagon and killed him instantly.
On Thursday, Rickert sentenced Berriault to 55 years in prison. Even on his best behavior, he will be 85 before he can be considered for release from prison.
Anderson, 23, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and first-degree assault, must serve at least 30 years and will be 53 before he could be released.
Struggling for words, Anderson said he’d been trying for several weeks to figure out how to apologize to Kinkele’s family. If he had it to do over, he said, he’d have driven his car into a ditch or taken his own life to save Kinkele, he said.
Anderson didn’t ask for mercy, but for justice. He told the judge he hoped the case wouldn’t be over now that he and Berriault have been sentenced. Rickert has one remaining defendant to sentence: Adam Moore, Anderson’s friend since grade school. Moore, 25, was riding in the back seat the night of the shootings.
When sheriff’s deputies arrested Moore, he gave a detailed statement of what he said happened that night. Anderson said Moore’s tale was correct as to who did what, but both he and Berriault say Moore lied about the brothers intending to kill Kinkele and other statements Moore claims they made.
Moore has been charged with first-degree manslaughter and is scheduled to change his plea to guilty next month.
Rickert acknowledged that Moore "may not be shooting straight with us," but said that didn’t lessen Anderson’s role in Kinkele’s murder.
"What you and your brother did sickens me," Rickert said.
"This particular case angers me and sickens me so much that I want to do something I can’t legally and ethically," Rickert said. "I think I will carry this forever."
This case "has affected me more than any one I have ever done. Last night and this morning was a very long day for me because I was angry, and I’m really angry now. I’m also really torn. I feel so powerless because I know that nothing I do here or the system does is going to fix it," Rickert said.
Anderson accepts responsibility for his acts, but he did not fire at anyone and would not have done so, said Roy Howson, one of Anderson’s attorneys. Howson urged the court to consider the good things that Anderson had done in his life before Kinkele’s slaying and not let one irrational, unexplainable act diminish those. Letters from Anderson’s supporters, which describe him as a good friend, reliable, a hard worker, compassionate and trustworthy, "attest to the fact that this particular night’s lack of reason and judgment — this alcoholic haze — was an aberration."
"All the good a person does can be erased by a single, final, evil act," Rickert said to Anderson. "You went over the bad side.c That evil deed will speak for you as long as you live."
Howson angered Kinkele’s family when he suggested that Kinkele himself, if he were in the courtroom, would say that in judging a man, one shouldn’t consider only the bad in his life and ignore the good.
After the court hearing, Kinkele’s brother Karl spoke for the family.
"It took all of us everything we had not to jump out of our seats," he said. "He had no right to speak on Scott’s behalf."
Navy officer Jason Pomponio, one of Scott Kinkele’s closest friends, said Scott’s attitude would be more demanding.
"If you do the crime, you’d better be able to do the time," Pomponio said his friend would say. "Scott was a perfectionist. He especially felt you had to stand up and take responsibility for what you do."
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