December 5, 1995 in City

Birnel Convicted In Wife’s Death Jury Rejects Self-Defense Claim, Finds Man Guilty Of Second-Degree Murder

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Thomas “Rick” Birnel, who repeatedly stabbed his estranged wife and claimed self-defense, is guilty of second-degree murder, a Spokane County jury decided Monday.

The verdict was reached after two and a half days of deliberation.

“It was a very meticulous jury,” said Deputy Prosecutor Dannette Allen. “They went through all the evidence, all the testimony.”

Birnel, 40, faces a minimum of 12 years in prison.

He stood calmly while Superior Court Judge Kathleen O’Connor read the verdict finding him guilty as charged.

But the decision jolted his friends and family, who filled half the courtroom, leaving the other half for friends of Mary “Cookie” Birnel.

“We believe in his innocence, we always will,” said a woman who would identify herself only as a lifelong friend. “We believe the evidence proved his innocence.”

High on methamphetamine, Cookie Birnel was stabbed 31 times with a butcher knife during the March 30 fight with her husband, the owner of Rick’s Carpet in the Spokane Valley. He was cut once on the hand.

The couple fought in Cookie Birnel’s home near the Idaho border, as their 10-year-old daughter watched and other children slept downstairs.

The girl, Lisa Birnel, testified she could remember little about the fight.

Rick Birnel told the jury he was trying to defend himself from his wife’s attack.

Both sides concede it was she who initiated the attack, coming at him with the 12-inch knife.

It somehow ended up in Cookie Birnel’s back, Birnel said. He pulled it out, then tripped over her, accidentally plunging the knife into her chest.

Allen called Birnel’s story unbelievable.

“I think the extent of the wounds speak for themselves,” she said Monday.

Family friend Ruth Reid sobbed as the guilty verdict was announced.

Reid said it only adds to the tragedy of the death.

“She was one of my best friends, Cookie was, and people wonder why I’m sticking up for Rick,” Reid said. “I love them both. She was a wonderful person. He’s a wonderful person.”

Taken from the courtroom in handcuffs, Birnel was jailed Monday night, despite a request from his attorney, John Rodgers, that Birnel remain out of custody until he is sentenced.

A sentencing hearing has not been scheduled.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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