Family confronts man who choked sleeping daughter

By SCOTT NORTH

Herald Writer

A Marysville father on Thursday talked about what it was like in April to point a handgun at a man who had invaded the quiet of his home and attempted to murder his daughter.

At the time, Otto Bruun did not know that Jeffrey Todd White, 20, had crept into the bedroom of his 14-year-old daughter, Maren, and choked her unconscious. The strangling stopped when the girl’s older brother, Ben, heard his sister’s struggles, went to investigate and wound up in a wild fight with the 6-foot-3-inch White.

Bruun told Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Richard Thorpe that he was awakened by the noise and wound up firing a single warning shot, which drove White from his home. Had he known about the attack on his daughter when he pulled the trigger, "I would have spent 35 cents, and the state would have saved $500,000 over the next few years," Bruun said.

"Every day. Every day I think back. Did I do the right thing? Should I have spared his life? I don’t know. I don’t know," he said a few minutes later.

White earlier this year pleaded guilty to one count of attempted second-degree murder and one count of first-degree burglary in connection with the attack.

Thorpe on Thursday sentenced White to a prison term a few months shy of 20 years behind bars.

The judge called the attack on the girl an "outrageously senseless act" worthy of the top punishment under state sentencing guidelines.

Under the plea, White openly admitted to burglary and choking the girl. At the same time, he entered a so-called Alford plea to the attempted murder charge, maintaining he does not believe he committed the offense but conceding he would probably have been convicted at trial.

His attorney, public defender Neal Friedman, told the judge that White pleaded guilty because he risked even greater punishment if prosecutors had made good on their promise to upgrade the charge to attempted first-degree murder before taking the case to trial.

A tearful White apologized for his crimes, insisting that while he’d broken into the home, it was never his intention to harm anyone.

The Bruun family spoke in detail about the devastation White had caused.

Ben Bruun knew White through another friend, and had allowed the man to sleep at his home previously.

He said that the attack on his younger sister and his frantic combat with White has left him wrestling with fear and anger.

"How can you do this to somebody who tried to help you?" he asked. "I was a friend. You tried to kill my little sister."

Maren Bruun spoke in a soft tones about the terror of that night and the flashback feelings of White’s hands wrapped around her neck.

"I didn’t even know you," she said. "What possessed you to do this to me? What did I ever do to you?"

Thorpe listened as other members of the Bruun family spoke about tears and sleepless nights and the destruction of the feeling of safety that once was part of their home. There was anger, but also compassion for a young man who is now facing nearly two decades in prison.

After Thorpe sentenced White, Otto Bruun asked the judge if he could make one more statement.

"Jeff, we just want to tell you how sorry we are," he said. He urged the young man not to let the years he’ll spend in prison go to waste.

"Come out a better man," Bruun told him.

White has prior convictions for robbery, assault and burglary, both as an adult and a juvenile.

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