Impact Of Murder On Children Brings Longer Sentence For Father

In a ruling that could carve new case law, a Magnolia businessman who killed his wife has received an exceptional sentence because he was aware of the impact the murder would have on their two young children.

George Gehrett was sentenced yesterday to almost 17 years in prison for the Oct. 15 death of his wife, Stephanie Rooks Gehrett, 43. She had just served him divorce papers.

Her body was dumped into deep waters near the couple's summer cabin at Hood Canal and has never been recovered.

Gehrett pleaded guilty to second-degree murder promptly after surrendering to police in November. The standard sentence is between 10 and 13 years in prison.

Exceptional sentences have been imposed when a spouse kills another in the presence of children - such as in the case of Randy Roth who drowned his wife in Lake Sammamish and rowed her body ashore where her young children waited.

But King County Superior Court Judge Robert Alsdorf took it a step further when he agreed with Senior Deputy Prosecutor Rebecca Roe's argument that long-term devastation to the two sons, ages 7 and 9 was a "foreseeable" product of Gehrett's murder.

"The children were waiting for Rooks to come home in an hour or two," Alsdorf told Gehrett. "She didn't come back, and the void in their lives was forseeable."

Alsdorf said Gehrett, 39, killed his wife because she planned to take the boys from him.

"A spontaneous act can be a knowing act," Alsdorf said. "When you killed her you knew she was your wife, the mother of your children."

Gehrett's attorney, John Wolfe, said the murder was an impulsive crime devoid of foresight and its effect is not unique from the grief caused by other murders.

If the ruling is affirmed, said Wolfe, it essentially will make spousal murders involving couples with children automatic exceptional-sentence crimes.

Wolfe called it a case of first impression and said he would appeal, a move Roe welcomed.

Roe did not use the argument in a similar case she tried recently, involving a Woodinville man, Alan Dorenbos, who killed his wife leaving their two children without a mother.

But she said after the Gehrett hearing her office will use the argument aggressively in future cases.

"The person to whom the children should have been able to turn to support is the person who committed the crime," she said.

Gehrett gave a pained apology and asked Alsdorf for a sentence of about 10 years, at the bottom of the standard range.

He called himself a good man who performed a horrible crime.

"I did something I can only imagine in my nightmares, which are happening regularly and will probably occur throughout my life," he said.

"Fourteen years ago I married a woman I deeply loved. It was not until the moment I took her life I realized I could take her's or any life."

The couple lived in the View Ridge neighborhood and operated Tradeshow Convention Services.

The children are living with family.

Other King County Superior Court sentencings yesterday:

-- A former live-in nurse who killed her paralyzed patient in his Woodinville apartment was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Diane Wakefield, 52, pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter for the 1992 death of Robert Brockman.

Brockman, 40, was apparently smothered June 6, 1992, although the King County medical examiner could not give a precise cause of death.

Judge Norma Huggins agreed with Department of Corrections officials that an exceptional sentence of 10 years was merited because of Brockman's vulnerability and the abuse of trust Wakefield displayed.

-- Paul L. Sutton was sentenced to 30 years for killing a 20-year-old Seattle man last April.

Sutton, 21 of Rainier Valley, is a gang member who killed Edgar Williams for helping prosecutors build an assault case against Sutton.

Williams had been out of prison, where he was serving a drug sentence, less than 12 hours before he was murdered.

Williams' body was found on North City Elementary School property by a school janitor. He had been shot three times in the chest.

-- Two Tacoma men, Joe Macom and Steven Pagnano, were sentenced to 27 and 13 years, respectively, for killing an Enumclaw man who had the AIDS virus.

Glen Urpman was found dead in a wooded area of southeast King County in October 1992. He had been shot six times and his throat had been slashed.

Prosecutors said Macom and Pagnano killed Urpman because Pagnano thought he may have been infected by Urpman's wife.

Pagnano and Urpman's wife allegedly had an affair, and he found out only after having sex with her that she was probably HIV-positive and contracted it from Urpman.