51-year term in rape-murder case

By Scott North

Herald Writer

Wade Stewart said a prayer Friday. He talked about salvation, redemption and the ability of good to triumph over evil.

Then the former Edmonds man was led away to begin serving 51 years in prison for the rape and strangulation of a 70-year-old Everett woman in December 1999.

Stewart, 36, pleaded guilty early this month to first-degree murder, first-degree rape and burglary in the killing of Mary Jones, who lived alone in a unit at the Broadway Plaza Apartments. He had faced an aggravated murder charge, and prosecutors were considering the death penalty.

The plea agreement eliminated the need for a trial and all but guarantees Stewart will spend the rest of his life in prison. Even with time off for good behavior,he won’t be eligible for release until he is 83.

Friday’s hearing played out in a Snohomish County Superior Court room virtually empty of spectators. None of Stewart’s family traveled from his native Mississippi. No family was there for Jones, either. That’s because investigators were never able to identify any relatives of the slain woman, deputy prosecutor Mark Roe said.

"I think this case is particularly sad," Judge Linda Krese said.

She said she was troubled by Jones’ solitary life and death, and also by information she learned about Stewart’s difficult childhood and life of crime.

She also praised attorneys on both sides for seeking a just resolution. The case was decided in a life-or-death compromise. Stewart never took full responsibility for the killing. Instead, he entered an Alford plea, in which he denied killing Jones but conceded he likely would be convicted.

The evidence included Stewart’s fingerprint on Jones’ eyeglasses, genetic tests showing his semen at the crime scene, and a surveillance video showing Stewart in the building’s parking garage an hour before Jones was last seen alive, according to court papers.

The plea agreement was struck after Seattle lawyers David Roberson and Jacqueline Walsh presented evidence showing Stewart has such low intelligence that he is borderline mentally retarded. Stewart’s intelligence could have been an issue for appeals of a death sentence, because state law prohibits execution of anyone who is mentally retarded.

After reciting a prayer, Stewart told the judge he is a "remorseful person" who hopes to do good with what remains of his life.

"I acknowledge my sin to you," he said.

You can call Herald Writer Scott North at 425-339-3431 or send e-mail to north@heraldnet.com.

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