By CATHY LOGG
MOUNT VERNON — The family of a slain Navy officer has been awed by the overwhelming support received from the community.
"This community has opened their arms, their hearts," said Mary Kinkele, mother of Lt. j.g. Scott Kinkele.
Her son was shot to death in a random attack July 28 as he drove along Highway 20 headed for Whidbey Island Naval Air Station after spending the day climbing Mount Rainier.
"One man offered to pay all my expenses. We were offered homes to stay in," she said during a family press conference Friday. A couple who live along Highway 20 and own the potato field where her son’s car rolled through a fence and stopped after the shooting has pledged to maintain the memorial Scott’s friends established along the highway with a cross, signs, flowers and other tributes.
"That’s a gift," Kinkele said.
She laid a stack of e-mail printouts about 2 inches high on a table.
"This represents only a fraction of the e-mails we received from the good citizens of your community," she said. She opened another envelope stuffed with cards and letters.
"They are beautiful. They are heartbreaking. More importantly, every place that I have stayed, from the desk to the maid service, they have offered condolences, hugs. The hugs really helped. But it was the mothers that really broke my heart, because if it could happen to me, it could happen to them. This community has been profoundly, irrevocably affected," she said.
John W. Kinkele Jr., the eldest son, received 75 e-mails from local residents, he said.
"They talk about their concerns, their sadness. The people here care. You have a beautiful chunk of country to live in," he said.
While the family is bolstered by the community’s outpouring, it remains angry and frustrated with Skagit County Prosecutor Tom Verge. Family members wanted Scott Kinkele’s killers to be charged with aggravated first-degree murder and face a possible death penalty or life in prison with no hope of release, a guarantee they would never walk free to kill again.
After Scott Kinkele’s death, Verge prosecuted another murder case in Skagit County Superior Court in which a man was charged with aggravated murder for killing and robbing another man. The defendant was convicted, but did not face the death penalty.
"They went into court with no evidence, no forensics," Mary Kinkele said. "This (the victim’s) is a mother who, for the rest of her life, will have an empty place in her heart, but part of her healing is that justice was done."
Family members found Verge’s explanation of why he allowed Eben Berriault, 36, and his half-brother, Seth Anderson, 23, both of Anacortes, to plead guilty to first-degree murder and first-degree assault unacceptable, they said.
Karl Kinkele, the second oldest brother, said he hoped something good would come from this tragedy — that the community would call for stronger laws regarding punishment.
The family also suggested that voters elect a new prosecutor.
Verge steadfastly believes justice was done, while he acknowledges that the family will never be satisfied with Berriault’s 55-year sentence and Anderson’s 35-year sentence.
"As an elected prosecutor, the tough decisions are mine and mine alone," he said. "I’m required to take emotion out of the equation and do what I believe is just."
His office’s goal was to see that Berriault never got out of prison, he said. He believes Berriault is likely to die in prison because he’ll have to remain there until he’s 85.
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