EVERETT — As the man’s arm came over her head, Janine Shaffer screamed for her mother to run out of the house.
He repeatedly slashed at her neck with his knife. Shaffer, then 62, kept fighting him, until the blade severed the tendons in her thumb. Incapacitated, she played dead.
The man took off. She found her mother, Barbara Decker, on the kitchen floor. Her throat also was cut. Shaffer tried to stop both their bleeding.
When the medics came, she asked them three times why there was no second ambulance. Finally, they told her. Her mother was gone.
Decker, 78, was a great-grandmother who raised her children to believe in fairness and kindness, they told a Snohomish County judge on Friday. If she’d known the young man in her Maltby home that day was suffering from addiction, she would have tried to find him help, they said. She saw herself as “everybody’s mom.”
Instead, her life was taken. It was “a savage and senseless killing” in the place the women should have felt most safe, deputy prosecutor Adam Cornell said.
Shaffer is “incredibly courageous,” Judge Michael Downes said. “She is astounding in her towering strength.”
The judge then addressed the killer, John Kuljis Jr. 32. His uncle had been hired to make repairs to the home.
“But for the strength of that woman, you would be facing two murder charges here,” he said.
He sentenced Kuljis to 32½ years in prison, the higher-range sentence sought by prosecutors. Kuljis’ family had asked for less time behind bars, about 22 years. They said Kuljis was in a drug-induced psychosis during the February 2017 attack. They described a loving son and father who had lost control of his life.
Kuljis had been using heroin and methamphetamine and had underlying mental health problems, according to his public defender, Fred Moll.
He pleaded guilty in April to second-degree murder and first-degree assault.
“Due to extremely unfortunate circumstances, I believe I wasn’t myself at the time …,” Kuljis said in court Friday. “I severely give my condolences.”
But the drug use was voluntary, Downes said.
“That doesn’t make your actions society’s fault or society’s failing,” he said. “You’re not a normal guy. You’re a convicted murderer.”
Since the attack, the victims’ loved ones have felt “abject sorrow and terrible anger that may never subside,” said Mark Glover, Decker’s son and Shaffer’s brother.
Shaffer is reminded of what happened every time she sees the scar on her throat in the mirror, she told the court. She has to brace herself for hugs, and she can’t stand for anyone to come up behind her. At her mother’s funeral, she kept her back against a wall.
Her grief “festers and boils,” she said.
She still is recovering from the physical wounds, as well. Her injuries required 80 staples to her neck and more than a dozen to her hand. At one point, she thought she might lose her ability to speak, she said.
On Friday, her voice joined those of her family and friends.