Man gets two-year sentence for manslaughter

EVERETT — Months of anger and sadness gave way Thursday to expressions of forgiveness in a Snohomish County Superior Court room.

Members of Elliot Carbajal’s large extended family took turns explaining what the 40-year-old Arlington man meant to them, and telling the man who took his life that their strong Christian faith tells them they must forgive.

In the end, Judge Anita Farris sentenced Robert L. Carlson to roughly two years in prison. That is the maximum punishment for second-degree manslaughter under the state sentencing guidelines.

Carbajal, one of 16 siblings, died from injuries suffered during a December 2009 street fight in Arlington.

Forgiveness for Carlson, said Elliot’s brother Joe Carbajal, “is the hardest thing I have ever had to do.”

Joe Carbajal said his brother was an honor student in high school who could quickly solve a Rubik’s Cube. He helped children learn to swim. He also was a generous man who gave blood for 20 years and who made arrangements to donate his organs so others might live, Joe Carbajal said.

Carlson initially was charged with second-degree murder. The 280-pound Stanwood man was accused of slamming Carbajal’s head into the asphalt, sitting on his chest and choking him.

However, a plea bargain was entered and the charge was reduced to second-degree manslaughter as the investigation progressed and new evidence cast doubts about what first was believed.

The Snohomish County medical examiner initially determined that Carbajal died of strangulation and traumatic asphyxiation and also suggested an injury on his scalp supported the theory that the man’s head had been slammed onto the ground.

But what was thought to be a scalp injury turned out to be a patch of psoriasis. There was damage to the man’s neck consistent with strangulation, but also evidence of significant heart problems that may have explained the victim’s demise, court papers said.

Carlson also maintained he’d acted in self-defense. During the plea hearing, Farris said that was important because the law would have required jurors to view what happened in the fight from the defendant’s perspective, and there was a good chance he would have been acquitted.

Many family and friends of the victim submitted letters opposing the reduced charge.

In court papers, deputy prosecuting attorney Cindy Larsen wrote, “It is the state’s position that, although the defendant was likely defending his son, and then himself, the defendant negligently went too far when holding the victim down for a significant period of time, while cutting off his airway and-or the flow of blood to his brain.”

Defense attorney Anthony Howard said Carlson has no history of violence and feels bad for the Carbajal’s family.

“That day will haunt me for eternity,” Carlson said before being sentenced.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446,

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