By Jim Haley
EVERETT — A man with seven previous felony convictions pleaded guilty Thursday to the December 1999 rape and murder of a 70-year-old woman in her Broadway Plaza Apartment unit near downtown Everett.
Wade Earl Stewart, 36, entered the plea on the eve of the prosecutor’s deadline to decide whether to seek the death penalty in his case. He pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, first-degree rape and first-degree burglary. He had been charged with aggravated first-degree murder, which carries life in prison or death as punishment.
The prosecutor is recommending Stewart spend 51 years in prison. The defense isn’t expected to fight that proposal. The plea avoids a long trial.
"We need to be sure Mr. Stewart is never free again," said deputy prosecutor Mark Roe. "This does that."
Under the sentencing recommendation, Stewart would be 83 years old when released, even if he is a model prisoner and gets time off for good behavior, Roe said.
Actually, Stewart didn’t take full responsibility for the death of Mary Jones. He entered an Alford plea, which denies he committed the acts but concedes evidence mounted by the police and prosecutor would result in a "substantial likelihood I would be found guilty," according to his plea statement.
Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Linda Krese is scheduled to sentence Stewart Sept. 28.
Stewart was represented by Seattle lawyers David Roberson and Jacqueline Walsh. Roberson said the court-imposed deadline today for the prosecutor to decide whether to seek the death penalty probably triggered the guilty plea.
Prosecuting attorney Jim Krider approved the plea offer Roe made to Stewart’s attorneys, Roe said.
Among other things, the former Edmonds man has low intelligence, what Roe described as being "borderline mentally retarded."
Although Roe said he doesn’t believe Stewart is mentally retarded, results of past intelligence tests could have been an issue with any jury deciding whether the defendant should be executed. In addition, he said Stewart’s intelligence could have been an issue for appeals of a death sentence. State law prohibits execution of anyone who is mentally retarded, he said.
Rowe said the state had an "overwhelmingly strong" case, including a Stewart fingerprint on Jones’ eyeglasses, DNA genetic evidence and his image on surveillance video camera tapes in the public housing facility’s parking garage an hour before Jones was last seen alive, court papers said.
Stewart had seven previous convictions in Washington and Mississippi for such crimes as burglary, robbery and auto theft.
An autopsy showed that Jones was beaten, strangled and sexually assaulted. She had several broken ribs. Her apartment and purse also were ransacked.
Under Washington law, rape and burglary are considered factors that could lead to prosecutors seeking the death penalty.
You can call Herald Writer Jim Haley at 425-339-3447 or send e-mail to email@example.com.