EVERETT — A 35-year prison sentence awaits a Snohomish County man who paralyzed another man for life, with a gunshot wound to the back of the neck in a botched robbery.
It’s the second time Tony Williams, 37, will go to prison for a crime that caused irreparable harm. In 2002, he helped carry out the abduction of Rachel Burkheimer, turning up the radio to drown out her screams, before she was stuffed into a hockey bag, driven into the woods and forced to watch as men dug her a grave in rural Snohomish County. She was then shot to death.
Some of the defendants in that case are serving life behind bars. Williams was handed a sentence of 9¾ years.
He’d been free for a few years in August 2018, when a close friend, Nicholas Naylor, concocted a plan to rob a man, 23, in a drug ripoff at a Brown Bear car wash off 164th Street SW near Lynnwood.
The pair got high on heroin, parked their PT Cruiser in a stall at the car wash, and approached the man in his driver’s seat around 1 a.m. Aug. 5, 2018. They shocked him with a stun gun through a window, but the man wrestled away the weapon. Then Williams returned to the PT Cruiser, where he whipped out a gun and fired a shot at the car. The paralyzed man’s car crashed into a fence and a building. The robbers fled.
The victim lost the use of his arms and legs. He underwent many surgeries, and he had to learn to breathe again, family wrote in statements to the judge.
Police found the abandoned PT Cruiser about two miles away from the shooting scene, with Naylor’s driver’s license on the floorboard.
Naylor pleaded guilty to lesser charges, and he testified against Williams at the accomplice’s trial. A jury convicted Williams in March of first-degree assault, attempted first-degree robbery with a firearm and unlawful possession of a firearm in the first degree.
After being convicted, Williams made phone calls from jail — recorded and later reviewed by detectives — acknowledging he’d fired the gun that night. He maintained, however, that it was a warning shot, and he did not intend to seriously harm the victim.
“Mr. Williams put a 23 year old (man) in a wheel chair for the rest of his life,” wrote defense attorney Thomas Cox. “As a result of his actions (the man) is paralyzed. Mr. Williams admits he is responsible, and understands that he must be held accountable for the deep pain and tremendous loss he has caused.”
His attorney asked for the lightest possible sentence, about 30 years behind bars, noting that Williams was addicted to drugs, he carried out the robbery to get drugs, and he was high at the time.
Superior Court Judge Janice Ellis gave him 35⅔ years. About half of that time resulted from mandatory sentencing enhancements, because two counts were found to have been committed with a gun.
The victim, the victim’s wife and his mother all wrote letters to the court. They asked for the sternest sentence possible.
“Imagine having a daughter and having to remind yourself every day that you won’t be able to teach … her how to ride a bike, drive, play sports, etc.,” read a letter signed by the victim and his wife. “No one should be able to take someone’s life away from them like this.”
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snocaleb.