EVERETT — A Lynnwood man was sentenced to more than 21 years behind bars Wednesday — the maximum punishment under state law — after being convicted of attempting to kill his ex-wife by fracturing her skull and setting her on fire.
A tearful, trembling David Morgan spent several minutes during his sentencing hearing insisting that he was the victim of a rush to judgment by what he called a legal “lynch mob.”
To hear him tell it, he did everything possible to save his ex-wife from certain death during a fire at his home Nov. 16, 2014. The tragedy, he said repeatedly, is that she has no recollection.
“I do not apologize for any of my actions that night,” Morgan said. “I would have done the same for any of you.”
Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Joseph Wilson said the defendant’s story didn’t match the evidence and appeared to be “a fantasy created by Mr. Morgan to allow him to excuse the horror” of his own actions.
The maximum sentence under state guidelines was not only appropriate, the judge said, but he would have ordered Morgan to serve life in prison if that was allowed under the law.
A jury on April 5 convicted the former Boeing electrical inspector of attempted first-degree murder, assault and arson.
Morgan, 56, told detectives he fell asleep in front of the television and awoke to somebody striking him in the head, knocking him out with the second blow.
Then he staggered into the kitchen and discovered his ex-wife on fire, he told them. After a struggle in the smoke and flames, he fled the burning home, thinking she was behind him.
Brenda Welch, 46, has no memory of what happened. She had burns to her back, chest, shoulder and leg. Her skull was fractured and left eye socket crushed.
She was found in the garage. Paramedics testified that she smelled as if somebody had doused her with gasoline.
At sentencing Wednesday, the woman struggled with tears as she tried to put into words what it has been like since the attack.
Deputy prosecutor Paul Stern helped her present notes describing the pain, the surgeries and the slow journey toward rebuilding her life.
She told Wilson that what happened has been especially hard on her daughters.
The judge praised Welch, noting that the concern she had for her family was a quality lacking in the defendant.
“I thank her for her words today and her reminding us that there is something bigger than us,” Wilson said.
Jurors were told that Welch’s blood was found on Morgan’s left hand and the sleeve of his shirt. Morgan had dropped his daughter off at his mother’s house that evening. His car was loaded up with family keepsakes and tax returns.
Jurors deliberated for less than an hour before finding him guilty.
The verdict came in what was the second trial for Morgan. Wilson called a halt to the first in March after a fire investigator testified that he believed the blaze at Morgan’s home had been deliberately set, an opinion that had never been disclosed to the defense. Morgan’s attorneys argued that the attempted murder charge should be dismissed. Wilson declined but told Stern that he was considering sanctions for the prosecution. On Wednesday, the judge said there was no need to take that step. He said he was convinced the prosecutor had made an honest mistake.
At trial, Stern said he believed Morgan planned his ex-wife’s death to avoid paying her child support and sharing his Boeing pension.
Unlike other cases where a defendant’s behavior can be blamed on addiction, or a moment of aggravation, or carelessness or peer pressure, what Morgan did to Welch is in a class all itself, Stern said.
The man engaged in “actions of utter evil,” he said.
The maximum punishment was appropriate, he said in a sentencing memo.
“The horror of the crime and the massive and permanent injuries to Brenda Welch are obvious to this court,” Stern wrote. It was only the “brilliance and professionalism of paramedics and medical staff” that prevented the attack from becoming a murder.
“The crimes of this defendant impose a lifetime of consequences to Brenda Welch,” Stern added. “The defendant should not escape the same consequences.”